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A principal who lived by her principles

Sunday Times July 22 2007:

Visakha Vidyalaya celebrates Susan George Pulimood's 100th birth anniversary on July 22

Pulimood Memorial Oration
This year the Susan George Pulimood Memorial Oration will be delivered by Sita Kulatunge on July 23 at 5.15 p.m. at the Jeremias Dias Hall at Visakha Vidyalaya. Her theme is, "The Creative Writer and Social Change".

Susan George Pulimood started her career at Visakha in 1941, during the years of the World War when she taught at the Bandarawela branch of the scool. She arrived in Sri Lanka, as a young married Indian lady and taught English and Mathematics. Sadly, she lost her husband after a short married life.

In 1945, Mrs. Pulimood was appointed as Principal of Visakha Vidyalaya, in Colombo. She found a genteel school where the curriculum was not wide-ranging. She took this rough clay and moulded and sculpted it to her own high academic standards.

She developed the aesthetic aspect and during her era, sports developed to an amazing extent. It was however, the academic aspect which burgeoned under her guidance. She displayed an instinctive approach to obtain the highest degree of academic attainment.

Her textbook of Botany co-authored with her sister Anna K. Joshua was used island-wide and still is a useful reference book. The annual Battle of the Blues brought a great deal of excitement. There were riotous schoolboys on the rampage, singing raucously 'Varaka madula mage Susano', and Mrs. Pulimood used to nod and knowingly say, “They are singing it for me?”. They yelled ‘Polmuddo!’ and she used to say complacently, “They don't know how to pronounce my name”. She was annoyed however, when they dumped her faithful Raman in a dust-bin.

A strict disciplinarian, she was at times a martinet. One felt on occasion the lash of a sarcastic tongue when a student gave a sloppy answer in class. Many she punished; you could see miserable girls shuffling their feet sheepishly outside her office door.

However the recipients of these barbs are now distinguished academics, doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects and respected teachers. Being an excellent teacher she brought out the best in her students. She brought her lessons alive and her Botany class resembled a tropical jungle. She had a deplorable habit (from our point of view) of questioning her students daily, one by one!

The introduction of Science has been dealt with many times. Mrs. Pulimood's indefatigable attempts bear witness to the success she achieved in her 22 years of devoted service.

She died in April 1989.

100th birth anniversary today: DN July 23 2007

Susan George Pulimood

HONOUR: Years have sped by - in retrospect one can say - this was she - Susan George Pulimood - veteran educationist, strict disciplinarian, stern moralist, a person both humane and compassionate.

She was a botany teacher of excellence, co-author of “the Text Book of Botany.” She was a terror to the slack student - she was all of this, but beyond this was her vision to see Visakha Vidyalaya as a leading girls’ school in Sri Lanka, at the forefront of all imaginable disciplines - mathematics, biological sciences, arts, commerce and aesthetic studies.

Although Visakha had a good reputation for studies in the arts field, she woefully lacked science.

Mrs. Pulimood whose roots lay in Kerala, a Syrian Christian by religious persuasion took this fledgling Buddhist Girls’ school under her wing, and very slowly at first, and then with astonishing rapidity constructed the Science stream - complete with laboratories, equipment and most important, a dedicated staff.

The first science teachers were from India, recruited by the indefatigable Mrs. Pulimood herself: I recall Miss Grace Kurien (later Mrs. George) who taught zoology, Miss Abraham and Miss Gnanam, the physics teachers, Miss Bano who taught chemistry and home science and Mrs. Korathu who taught home science.

Few science graduates in Sri Lanka gravitated to science teaching. Dodwell Rodrigo, Jayasekera, Devadason, Kumaraswamy and Samuel served on the staff at Visakha Vidyalaya.

Later, past pupils from Visakha took over the teaching and the administration of the science section. The early years of science teaching were fraught with problems and practical classes in physics and chemistry were conducted at Royal College until the laboratories were ready.

It is a tribute to Mrs. Pulimood that a large proportion of the present doctors, engineers and arts graduates had their education at Visakha.

Mrs. Pulimood dealt sternly with miscreants who slid down hostel banisters, harassed the hapless matron, climbed mango trees and ate the fruit “before it emerged from the flower.” She called them rapscallions and in a bad mood “children of uneducated parents,” but her sense of humour robbed the words of their sting.

Once she called a colleague “a bad brick” and the diminutive recipient of this appellation did not hear the end of it. Mrs. Pulimood was a well loved Principal - she is remembered with awe and gratitude by all her past pupils.

The golden Age of Visakha

DN Mon July 23 2007: Today is the 100 birth anniversary of Mrs. Susan George Pulimood, Principal of Visakha Vidyalaya for 22 years (1945-1967). This excerpt from the school’s 90th anniversary souvenir is a tribute to her long and selfless service made to the school and to two generations Sri Lankan Buddhist girls.

GOLDEN AGE: Mrs. Pulimood’s tenure as principal was the golden age of Visakha Vidyalaya. No one disputes this. Neither her predecessors nor those who came after her, have been at the helm as long as she did 22 years.

Like Miss Pearse before her, Mrs. Pulimood came to the helm in stages. She joined the staff in 1941 as a teacher of Botany and Mathematics, was in charge of the Bandarawela branch in 1943-45, acted as Principal subsequent to Mrs. Motwani’s resignation in April 1945 and was appointed Principal in January 1946.

In April 1945 the school was still housed in the Mallika Home in the next lane and some classes were held in a house across the road.

The Government handed back the buildings taken over in the war years, to the Trustees only in January 1946. Mrs. Pulimood had the cumbersome task of supervising the shifting and re-settling.

The role of a girls’ school had changed with the inauguration of the University of Ceylon in 1942. Girls were keen to enter University and qualify for a professional career, especially as a doctor.

A university entrance class had been started at Visakha in 1943 but only for arts subjects. Visakhians who wished to enter the science faculty of the university were compelled to join other institutions to study science.

It was Visakha’s good fortune that she had Mrs. Pulimood at the helm at this crucial time, and a Manager, N. E. Weerasooria who supported her.

Mrs. Pulimood saw the urgent need for the teaching of science, and knew that unless science was introduced Visakha would lag far behind schools that had taken the forward step.

With her vision of a new generation of Visakhians, she set about restructuring the school, to gear it for the future. She was well-qualified for this task. She came to Ceylon with an MSc and LT from the University of Madras and had written a book on Botany - The Textbook of Botany - which became the standard textbook in schools until the switch over to Swabhasha.

Mrs. Pulimood took two important steps. First she recruited a number of graduates to improve the quality of classroom teaching in the upper-school. Secondly, in February 1946, she introduced science into the curriculum, ‘importing’ graduate teachers from India, as there was a dearth of women science graduates in Sri Lanka. (She was not in favour of male teachers at Visakha).

There was only a temporary makeshift laboratory until the permanent lab was opened in November 1946. These two far-sighted steps elevated Visakha from B Grade to A Grade in January 1947 - a welcome birthday gift to the school on its 30th anniversary 16.1.47.

Mrs. Pulimood organised the Visakha Jayanthi, a three-day exhibition and carnival (Jan. 16, 17, 18) in the school grounds, to celebrate the anniversary. Visakha had never had such celebrations before and many more were to follow.

The Principal and Manager working with mutual respect and mutual trust improved classroom facilities and enthused the staff. The rise in students’ performance at public exams vouched for the excellent classroom teaching.

Tuition classes were a long-way off. Students’ performance at extra-mural activities was no less impressive. They were ‘first’ in all-island quizzes, inter-school drama competitions (Sinhala and Shakespeare drama), solo singing, elocution and speech exams.

The negative attitude to sport, undoubtedly influenced by spiritual mentors who wanted Visakhians to emulate Visakha Devi, who didn’t run even in a shower of rain, had changed in keeping with the times and Visakhians were tennis champions, the winners (many times) at AA and Provincial Sports Meets and one year the Best Athlete was from Visakha - Chitrangani Herath.

In 1957 Visakha was elevated to Super Grade. As more and more students sought admission to Visakha, the classes overflowed into corridors.

The Board of Trustees bought an acre from the adjoining Kathiresan Kovil land and built a new block for the office, labs and classrooms. It was opened in 1959. Another acre was brought in 1964 and the foundation laid for the library, a gift to the school from Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Amarasuriya in memory of their daughter Gitanjali.

When Sita de Saram Joseph suggested having a school band to play at sports meet etc. Mrs. Pulimood ‘waxed enthusiastic and gave her whole-hearted support’. The next year 1963, the Visakha Band was at the head of the March Past at the sports meet. The Visakha Band was the first girls’ school band in the island.

The Visakha Geeta Nataka, the school’s own Sinhala operetta, staged in March 1959, was composed by Sri Chandraratna Manavasingha on the request of Mrs. Pulimood. It is now part of the school’s heritage.

On 20 December 1961 Visakha Vidyalaya was vested in the Crown. The number on roll was 2,239 and on the staff 88.

On 16 January 1967, Visakha Vidyalaya’s 50th anniversary celebrations commenced with a Buddha Pooja at the Bodhi Tree in the land bought from the Kathiresan Kovil.

At the foot of the tree was the Buddha statue - gifted by the OGA to mark the school’s Swarna Jayanthi. The Swarna Jayanthi was celebrated as planned by Mrs. Pulimood, with a week-long carnival and exhibition at the old race course grounds.

When Mrs. Pulimood relinquished office on 23 July 1967, the number on roll was 4,327 and the number of teachers 238. The momentum Visakha had acquired in the Pulimood era kept pushing her up until she reached the apex of the pyramid of girls’ schools in the island and became the equal of the best boys’ school.