By Shreya Ganguli Mukherjee
Like every other girl, this was nothing new. My father has always been my hero, the most charismatic, determined, focussed and the list is endless. It is only, when I faced motherhood myself, I realised that there is no other relationship that can even closely surpass the emotional connect and the responsibility that comes with motherhood. However, for me, even though I lost my mother at the age of six, my father was the one who made me learn that every challenge or personal loss can be transformed positively into a tsunami of creation. It was in 1994 that the fictional idea of creating a school was converted into reality. My father took me to the front office and said, “Shreya, from now on, this is your mother, you love and respect her and she will always take care of you.”
Seven Oaks School started back in April 1994, in the loving memory of my mother, Somita Ganguli, who herself was a teacher of English and worked in many renowned schools of Doon; Marshalls, Brightlands and Cambrian Hall. It was her belief that children from every background and economic strata deserve quality education. As she passed away, Dr Ganguli took it on himself, with limited funds but unlimited passion, to start a school in her loving memory. Being a master at The Doon School, himself, obviously no matter how noble the idea was, funds were an issue, but he received immense moral support from his seniors, friends and family members. Ahmed Patel, Kamal Nath, Nar Bahadur Bhandari, Mahesh Inder Badal, MK Bansal, Ashok Kapur and Rajen Nanda were a few who formed an integral part of his support system. The school got its first commendation from the former President, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma. Of course, it was I who sat behind him on his yellow LML Vespa and went across various departments, offices, stores and many other places and stood behind him, as he fought tooth and nail to bring this philanthropic ideology into action!
The school finally started with 18 students under the Somita Ganguli Educational Society with the first Chairperson, Prabha Devi, my grandmother, who was yet another dynamic visionary. In the subsequent year, the school population went up to 250 students, accommodated in a few rooms. The school got the NOC from the UP Board for affiliation with the ICSE Board in 1996 and ISC in 1999. The first ISC batch passed out in 2001-02.
I will always remember the small talk that used to go around the corner about the name of the school. I am glad I have finally got a platform to reveal the story. Regretfully, my parents’ marriage lasted only for seven years. Their marriage was solemnised around Oak trees in The Doon School campus. It was out of those sentiments the name was conceptualised as Seven Oaks, whose motto has been ‘Growing and Serving’, which the school and its staff members have executed in letter and spirit.
LC Barua was the first Vice Chairman and Bharati Barua the first Secretary of the newly established organisation. It was in 1996 that the school took a new turn under their guidance. As a couple, they took keen interest in the personal growth of each and every student. They built a close relationship with every parent. An affordable dream for an unaffordable pocket became the USP of this small school. With no funds or subsidies, my father started contributing from his own salary towards the infrastructure and also salaries of the staff.
Since my father spent twenty-four years at The Doon School, he always had a deep-rooted affection for that institution. He ensured that children of its support staff received subsidised education. In fact, many from the administrative and support staff team got employed at Seven Oaks, post-retirement. It was not only The Doon School children but other deserving students also who got fee-waivers and scholarships at Seven Oaks School. Today, many of our students are placed across the globe. We have entrepreneurs, government officials, engineers, bankers, defence officers, doctors, teachers and so on. All these students have not only brought socio-economic changes to their families, but also a lot of pride and honour to the school. Every student who passed out from our school has given us motivation to move ahead, keep serving society and bring a change in the lives of those who could not afford or did not believe they could get this quality of education.
It has been 29 years since, but the values and ideas with which my father started this organisation have not been diluted. My father, till date, has been tutoring and mentoring me to understand and learn the nitty-gritty of education. He firmly believes that one needs to know and master each and every basic rule of educating a child before one can head an educational institution. Even though I have completed ten years in this field, I am still far from learning the Seven Oaks School ethos completely, as it has been built with such high morals and integrity.
Chestnut, Olive, Maple and Willow are the four Houses of Seven Oaks, named after the common trees found in Uttarakhand. My father, being a nature lover, has ensured that the landscape surrounding the school mirrors its ethos – a lush green campus providing serene backdrop for learning.
In this competitive era, where everyone is running after the online world or the mad materialistic rat race, there is Seven Oaks School where the students are kept away from all kind of unrealistic competitions. The children have been kept away from religious, racist, socio-economic taboos. Even now, our students find joy in life’s little pleasures. We ensure that they all come onto the same platform and look into the bigger and better picture of life.
Sadhana Mohan Kumar was our first Headmistress, a firm disciplinarian who kept the entire staff together as a team. She had a loving relationship with all the students. Later, Subuhi Siddiqui joined as the Headmistress. She continues to bless the school with her unstinted support. In 2001, Lalit Mohan Kumar joined the school as the Principal. He, being a dear friend of my father, was always aware of the passion and the morals behind the school and took the institution to its peak of glory.
We had initially started with a brilliant team of teachers. The team might have changed over the years, but the organisational values never did. In fact, during the latest COVID pandemic, despite massive financial challenges, we never downsized the staff of the school. The salaries of the entire team went by the last day of each month and the staff above sixty, who were staying back home, received their salary on the due date.
There is a lot, we, as Dr S Ganguli’s team want to achieve for our teachers, students and society, as a whole. There are difficult days, but then there are days when my father meets enterprising progressive old students, during his morning walk, who greet him with utmost affection and gratitude. We feel motivated to go ahead with this noble and grand thought my mother left for us and my father is taking it forward!
(Shreya Ganguli Mukherjee is Director, Seven Oaks School, Dehradun)