Written by Harsh Vardhan Khimta
As The Lawrence School at Sanawar completes 175 years of its glorious existence, it is only appropriate that one looks back at this school on magical hilltop not just with fond memories but also with a keen eye on what this unique way of life holds for the future for thousands of its stakeholders; both, practically and sentimentally.
Started by Sir Henry Lawrence in 1847, the famous Lawrence of Lucknow and the elder brother of the Sir John Lawrence who went on to become Governor General of India, as an asylum for orphaned children of the British soldiers, Sanawar rose to unprecedented heights a few decades later to The Lawrence Royal Military School, having been bestowed with the highest honours (parallel to the iconic schools in England) the British Empire could shower on an institution whose pupils sacrificed themselves to serve the ideals of freedom and justice.
The Lawrence Royal Military School was transferred to the Ministry of Education in 1947 as the last batches of Englishmen and women began to leave for home and the first Indian students arrived at the hilltop that opened its doors to aspirations of natives for the first time in a hundred years. The slopes of Sanawar that generations of Sanawarians dwelled upon for a few formative years of their lives were to remain a part of their consciousness for all the rest of their years. What makes life at Sanawar so special, one wonders.
I joined as a student in 1990 as a Government of India’s Merit Scholar, son of a schoolteacher from a lower middle class family who found the vast 139 acres of thickly wooded campus big enough to wander around. Such was the mix of gentle touch of the velvet gloves covering an iron fist and the stern glare of magnanimous tenderness of the teachers and trainers that most of the new students felt at home within a month, as if they belonged nowhere else apart from the home they had begun to call their own. What made the place, the school and the way of life so special for me was that it was a level playing field; a thoroughly egalitarian system that allowed you to compete and excel with others on your own terms without any hindrance, whatsoever, of caste or class and region or religion, a system of values very painstakingly built over decades and generations that taught you to believe in not where you came from but where you wanted to be. The excruciatingly Spartan spirit that Sanawar has been known for nearly two centuries was possibly the reason why Rudyard Kipling mused in Kim – “Send him to Sanawar and make a man of him”. Sanawar does not rest on laurels of the past, as recently it became the first school in the world whose team of students conquered Mt Everest, the youngest team ever to have accomplished the feat.
Sanawar has produced leaders in every sphere of life with an impressive continuity, generation after generation, decade after decade, year after year with Sanjay Dutt, Maneka Gandhi, Arun Khetarpal (youngest recipient of Param Vir Chakra), Omar Abdullah, K C Kariappa, Vishnu Bhagwat, Jehangir Wadia, Saif Ali Khan, Rahul Roy, Pankaj Munjal, Ness Wadia, Capt Amarinder Singh, Sukhbir Badal, Dushyant Chautala, Iqbal Khan, Jetsun Pema (Queen of Bhutan), Shiva Keshavan, Papa CJ, Manavjit Sandhu, Vir Das and many more leading their respective fields.
What makes this institution nearly unparalleled is that it offers not just a glorious legacy to be a part of but also prepares the students for the distant future.
(The writer, an alumnus, is Addtional: Assistant Professor with the Department of Higher Education, HP)