Shilpa CB has contributed this profile to The PSW Weblog. An edited version of this was published in the Daily News & Analysis, Bangalore edition, Sunday, February 28, 2010. Shilpa was unable to locate the URL to either the web or the e-paper edition.
First came Srirangamma
Tucked away in Malleswaram are many pieces of the city’s history. One such piece lies on 17th cross, 4thmain within the compound walls of a residence called Kusum Bhavan, now shortened to KB by residents. Disappointingly, it reveals no visible evidence of the iconic personality — Srirangamma, popularly known in her time as BA Srirangamma—who built the house and lived here till she passed away in 1959.
Srirangamma was the first woman to graduate from Mysore University in 1883. Needless to say, her fame spread to every household in the city and beyond much before she earned her honours in English Literature. “When she walked or cycled in her nine-yard saree to Central College, people would open their windows, peep out to look at the lady who had defied norms to get a college degree,” says Sujaya S Bhagawan, the grand-daughter who inherited the gold medal Srirangamma received. “Grandmother was the first to get a BA honours degree in the whole of Madras presidency; hence the popularity as BASrirangamma. She was sent on a royal procession by the then Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar. She also received a gold bracelet or thoda with the royal emblem,” she recollects fondly. The bracelet, however, was stolen during the time Srirangamma’s youngest son, one of the four children she had, died suddenly.
Sujaya’s association with her grandmother became stronger after the shocking incident; she had lost her mother and sister too and so, Srirangamma and an aunt took the orphan under their care. “You would find many people who would provide food to nurture your body. Srirangamma fed my soul. I turned beautiful because of these two people, I truly blossomed as a person,” she says, referring to the “great ladies”. Sujaya now runs a play home in memory of her beloved grandmother who touched the lives of hundred of women.
“Soon after she graduated, the British government employed her in the education department. As a school inspector, she would drive her Ford hatchback car from village to village, town to town,” she recollects. But it was more than just a job for the educationist who went door to door “like a social worker” urging families to send their daughters, teenage widows to school. She advanced in her career because of her work.
Educating young girls became a mission for her. She started the Vani Vilas School in Bangalore. Srirangamma went to Mysore to take the patronage of the royal family and start the Maharani’s college. Eventually, she returned to Bangalore and started the first teacher training programme for women so there would be lady teachers and parents would send their daughters to school, remembers the granddaughter who for the last 28 years has been running a play home called Kreedaranga named after Srirangamma.
“Many people who had known my grandmother have come up to me, placed their hand on my head in blessing and told me stories of her heroism, her inclination, her zeal for education, how she changed the lives of countless young girls,” she says. Srirangamma passed away at 84 when Sujaya was just 13. But talking about the woman who was a “riot of a person,” who left behind a “wealth of a legacy” still gives her “chill bumps”. That there are few records of the pioneer’s achievements should concern every one of us.