Educationist par excellence (1925-2019)

Rajalakshmi Parthasarathy was born on the 27 November 1925 in Madras ( now Chennai ) in an affluent and educated family as the daughter of R. Parthasarathy and Alamelu Ammal. She pursued her early education at the St John’s School and later joined the Holy Cross College in Madras for her graduation.

A fascination for the written word saw her enlist for a journalism degree in the Madras University at a time when few women ventured to undertake higher studies. She was the only woman in her class and also had the distinction of being the first woman in her family to complete her graduation. Later when she felt a desire to divert to the educational mainstream, she finished her Masters in Education ( MeD) and also acquired a post graduate degree in History as well.

As a journalist, she did a short stint with of one of the premier newspapers in the country ‘The Hindu’ before leaving the journal to join the weekly Tamil tabloid ‘Kumudam’.

Sensing that there was a need for a sound educational system in the city of Madras where she had settled down after her marriage to the well-known playwright Y G Parthasarathy, Rajalakshmi started a school which she named the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan (PSBB). When it first commenced operations from a shed in the terrace of her house in the year 1958 it had just 13 children on its rolls. Enthused by the spontaneous response to her maiden venture she later shifted the school to a more spacious building and in 1971, a new branch of the school began functioning in Nungambakkam, a well-known locality in the city.

Since then Rajalakshmi never had to look back as by then the school had earned a reputation for quality education and students flocked to it in large numbers. She served as the school’s Dean right from its inception in 1958 till she passed away on 8 August 2019 at the age of 93. By 2009 the school had five branches and a student strength of around 8000 with a faculty of over 500 all imbued with the same spirit for quality education as the founder. Today PSBB has grown even further and is imparting education to over 10000 students and has expanded its network to neighbouring states like Karnataka. Several of its alumnae have risen to great heights in their careers, thanks to the good grounding that they received at Padma Seshadri. Rajalakshmi’s contribution to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has been acclaimed and the Board has over the years largely benefited from her valuable inputs.

A number of honours and awards have come the way of the dedicated educationist and apart from the Padma Shri conferred on her by the Central Government in 2010 for her contribution in the fields of literature and education, Rajalakshmi also won the Achievement Medal for Leadership and Commitment to Excellence in Education awarded by a US-based Center for Excellence in Education. She was also a recipient of the Government of India’s Vayoshreshtha Samman and the Rotary Club of Madras honoured her with the Paul Harris Award. Her autobiography titled ‘Excellence Beyond the Classroom : A memoir’ highlighted her experiences in the field of education, the pitfalls that she encountered on the way and her views on how students should shape their careers and rise and shine in life. One of the most eloquent tributes on her passing came from the double Oscar Award winning composer A R Rahman, an alumnus of PSBB who hailed her as a visionary educator who changed the lives of thousands of young men and women. An avid patron of the fine arts Rajalakshmi, even in her advanced age was a regular at drama festivals in Chennai and always had a pat for the artistes and the troupes.

C.V. Aravind

C.V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.