About School
The school which formally came into being in July 1947 is the dream child of Bharat Ratna Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant - the renowned statesman and patriot. At the wake of the independence he was keen to have a public school for the new generation of India, in which love for the motherland and its heritage would constitute bedrock of modern education imparted with the devotion and parental care of the Gurukuls of ancient India. The vision of Pt. G. B. Pant ultimately got materialised by the timely and generous donation from Sri G D Birla - The renowned philanthropist and industrial doyen. The then deserted estate of Philander Smith, which during the war years had housed the Hallet War School thus became the seat of BVM. BVM, THROUGH THE CORRIDOR OF TIME by- Rajshekhar Pant The year was 1889. Those were the halcyon days of Nainital. One Rev. FW Foote -who was then the Principal of a small school opened by Dr JW Waugh on the premises in close proximity to where now stands the GB Pant Hospital (Ramsay Hopital) -purchased from Mr Petman, a prominent layman of the Methodist Church, the Oak Opening Estate. Moving the school to this new location he rechristened it as Oak Opening High School. “Situated just below the summit of Sher-ka-danda, the most easterly of the peaks surrounding Nainital and just above St Asaph Road” writes Martin Booth, “it commanded a stunning panoramic view of the town, the tal and the drop to the plains of India.” The much expanded Birla Vidya Mandir stands in the hoary campus of the Oak Opening High School the vestiges of which still survive in the guise of much renovated Gandhi House and in all probability the Administrative Block and Library, described by Martin Booth (Carprt Sahib, pp 55-56) as “Jims original school surviving as a house close to the main building.” Yes, Jim Corbett, the famous naturalist and story teller from Nainital had in Oak Openings his first school. Some of the Jim’s biographers speak of the school being operated and co-owned by a ruthless and cruel ex-Indian Army Officer who was known to his seventy pupils as ‘Dead Eye Dick’ “for his aim both with a rifle and a bamboo cane was exceedingly accurate. …….” It became a favourite memory of Jim’s, in his later years, to remark how Oak Openings was the site of the shooting of the last mountain quail ( Ophrysia supercilosa) in 1876, driving it into extinction. In the year 1905 the Philander Smith Institute of Mussoorie, founded by a Mrs. Smith, widow of Mr. Philander Smith of Illinois was moved to Nainital and “amalgamated” with the Oak Opening Boys’ High School and the result was the Philanders Smith College with Rev. FS Ditto as its first Principal. Describing the development and expansion of Philander Smith College JM Clay, the Deputy Commissioner of Nainital writes in his monograph entitled Nainital, A Historical and Descriptive Account ( pp27, 1927) “The extensive buildings which now exist have been built gradually since then, and a large dormitory block has recently been constructed. The site is over 7,500 feet above sea-level and is the highest school site in India, probably in the world.” Here the building being referred to is the imposing ‘Ashok Bhavan’ then called the ‘Hurricane House.’ Incidentally, Brigadier Orde Wingate of ‘Chindit Circus’ fame (Defeat into Victory, by Field Marshall William Slim, pp162) who was born on 26 Feb 1903 in a house called Montrose in Nainital had his early schooling in all probability at Philanders Smith College. It is further of interest to note that despite their birth place being common Jim never met the “sword and Bible” general, as Wingate was often called. However, as a Lieutenant Colonel and senior instructor in jungle Craft he trained some of Orde Wingate’s ‘Chindits’ (pp 225, MB) at Chhindwara in the then Central Province. An article by Rev AG Atkins -the pastor of the Union Church for two Summers at Nainital and better known for his translation of Ram Charit Manas- published in the Hindustan Times Sunday Magazine dated 14 Aug 1956 reveals that Jim along with his spinster sister Maggie happened to be the most awaited guests at the Philanders Smith College and its sister institution the Wellesley (now the DSB College of the Univ of Kumaon). Installing Maggie on the dais in the central hall of what now is known as Gandhi House he would lecture on his favourite subject -the Jungle Telegraph. “ A tiger is coming, he would announce, and then mimic a series of bird calls- the jungle babbler, drongo, peafowl…… (DC Kala, pp111). Interestingly, One evening after Corbett had screened his first tiger film and given his wildlife lecture at Philander Smith College, the pastor walked Corbett half way home to the lake from the college. After sometime the priest asked him what made a hunter a photographer, and the response of Jim as records Rev AG Atkins, was “. ….It required much more of my skill and gives me an even greater thrill to get good pictures of my animals than when I used to hunt just to kill.” ( HT Sunday Magazine 14 Aug 1956)


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