Acclaimed educationist, journalist and patron of the arts, Mrs. Y.G. Parthasarathy, who founded the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan Group of Schools driven by her desire “to Indianise school education”, died in a city hospital on Tuesday afternoon. She was 93.
Her son Y. Gee. Mahendra, actor and theatre personality, said she was taken to the hospital on Monday after she complained of breathlessness. “She was stable and talking to us. In the afternoon, she asked for something to eat, but then just collapsed. It was a cardiac arrest,” he said.
She received several awards including the Achievement Medal for Leadership and Commitment to Excellence in Education by the U.S-based Centre for Excellence in Education, the Union government’s ‘Vayoshreshtha Samman’ award, and the Rotary Club of Madras’ Paul Harris Fellow Award. She was conferred with the Padma Shri in 2010.
Born as Rajalakshmi in the family of Diwan Bahadur T. Rangachari, Mrs. YGP, as she was popularly known, was the first woman in her family to graduate. In 1948, she married Y.G. Parthasarathy, the doyen of Tamil theatre and the founder of United Amateur Artistes, the theatre group that became the launchpad for many film personalities. The only girl in her batch of postgraduate diploma journalism class at the University of Madras, she was one of the first women in the field of journalism in Tamil Nadu.
In 1958, she started the PSBB Group of Schools in an effort to impart education intertwined with Indian values. In an interview to The Hindu in 2001, she said her humble contribution was towards “changing the school system from a convent or an Anglo-Indian culture to an Indian one, which takes pride in Indian culture”. What started as a humble beginning in a thatched-roof set up in 1958, has now become a reputed group of schools with campuses not just in Chennai. The school also started Bharat Kalachar as its cultural wing in 1987, a unique initiative then to promote arts among students.
Mohan Rajan, chairman and medical director of Rajan Eye Care Hospital, a student who went on to be her associate for nearly five decades, said she was a source of inspiration and motivation for all. “I admired the determination and conviction she had. She started the school in 1958 with 13 students in a hut, but she had the determination to make it big and established the gold standard in education in this part of the world,” he said.
As a person who broke many gender barriers, Mrs. YGP, when she was disallowed to become the principal of PSBB school since a woman was not allowed to become the principal of a boys’ school (PSBB was a boys’ school then), did not hesitate to escalate the matter to the highest level, directly with Indira Gandhi, to get permission.
Hundreds of students, both past and present, their parents, and teachers, congregated at the Bharat Kalachar auditorium, where her mortal remains were placed, to pay their respects. Mr. Mahendra said this was telling of how many lives she had impacted. “I thought her death was a loss for my family but I now see how many more lives she made a difference to. She had a significant role to play in the formation of our drama troupe too, which had many actors like former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and Cho Ramaswamy,” he said.
“We can never associate some people with death and there was a certain permanence about her. She will live on through the institutions she has founded and her students. She will always be remembered,” said actor Kamal Haasan.
She is survived by her sons Y. Gee. Mahendra, Y.G. Rajendra and their families. Her last rites will be performed at her T. Nagar residence and the cremation will take place at 4 p.m. at the Besant Nagar crematorium on Wednesday.