'Curious, Joyous, Upright': Springdales School's Founder Rajni Kumar No More

Along with her husband, Rajni Kumar set up Delhi's Springdales schools in 1955. The 99-year-old died on 10 November.

5 min read
Hindi Female

"Whenever we would talk, she would say that her and I were connected through an umbilical cord -- one of life and learning. That is the kind of connection I had with her," said Dr Ameeta Mulla Wattal, former principal of Delhi's prestigious Springdales School, Pusa Road, about Rajni Kumar, the founder of Springdales schools.

Champion educator and Padma Shri awardee, Kumar passed away at the age of 99, on Thursday, 10 November.

The Quint spoke to her colleagues, ex-students, and parents about everyone's beloved "Kumar aunty," an iconic educationist in modern India.


'Came to India for Love'

Born Nancie Joyce Margaret Jones on 5 March 1923 in England, she fell in love with Yudhishter Kumar, a fellow student at the London School of Economics.

She followed him back to India at the age of 23, nursed him to health as he fought tuberculosis, and finally the two got married and Nancie Jones became Rajni Kumar.

In 1950, Kumar joined Delhi's Salwan Girls' school as principal, where she worked for five years. In 1955, along with her husband, she founded the Springdales Schools at their rented house in Delhi's East Patel Nagar -- with 24 students and three teachers.

"When she came to India in the early '50s, she brought with her a breath of fresh air in terms of learning. She brought in a new form of education. Things that we are talking about today, she brought them then. The New Education Policy we talk about today, she spoke about it then," said Wattal, who calls Kumar her "mentor."

Wattal said that Kumar emphasised on "holistic development of a child, not just marks." She said, "With these ideas in mind, she set up these schools."

There are four Springdales schools now - two in Delhi, one in Jaipur, and one in Dubai.

Wattal spoke about Kumar's 2019 autobiography, Against the Wind: A Life's Journey, which details her time in England, falling in love, moving to India, setting up Springdales, and retiring as principal in 1988.

In the memoir's preface, Kumar wrote, "No doubt the greatest event in my life was leaving England, the country of my birth, to follow the stirrings of my heart and to make my home in this wondrous and fascinating country -- India -- with the man I loved. So there is where I shall begin my story."


'She Stood Up for What Was Right': Activist Shabnam Hashmi

Social activist Shabnam Hashmi, whose children studied at The Springdales Schools, recalled Kumar as someone who stood up for what was right -- and “a rare woman.“

"There are very few schools that are giving democratic values to the students, exposing them to major democratic struggles, not just in India but across the world. I can't think of many schools in Delhi which celebrated Nelson Mandela's progress or spoke about the Russian revolution of 1917 to students. They were constantly making students sensitive to issues related to gender and communal harmony, and that was mainly because of Mrs Kumar and her husband," said Hashmi.

In 2012, Kumar was conferred with National Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo (Silver) by the South African President Jacob S Zuma for advancing the fight against Apartheid, in India.

"Our school started an Africa Club. When Nelson Mandela was incarcerated in Robben Island, our students used to write letters to him. And the first school that he visited, when South Africa got freedom was our school in Delhi," said Wattal.

  • Dr Ameeta Mulla Wattal with Springdales founder Rajni Kumar and the Dalai Lama

    (Accessed by The Quint)

Meanwhile, Hashmi recalled how Kumar stepped in to help educate children of a woman -- who was being subjected to domestic violence -- in Delhi. "We rescued the woman and I met Mrs Kumar and told her that the education of these students have been disrupted. They need to go to school. She immediately gave admission to both of them. They were allowed without a uniform, as their mother couldn't afford it at that time," said Hashmi.


Mother-Like Figure to Many

Hiroo Mirchandani, an alumnus of the Springdales Schools, told The Quint that Kumar was like her godmother.

"She knew my mother as a parent of a Springdale student. I lost my mother when I was young and Mrs Kumar became like my godmother. She often narrated stories about my mother and I absolutely loved that," Mirchandani said.


Curious, joyous, and full of life -- this is how Mirchandani remembered Kumar. She reminisced about the time the two went out for pizza. "Mrs Kumar was 95 years old at the time and ordered the most 'dangerous' things on the menu. When I asked if she'd like a salad, she said, 'Who eats a salad?' and went on to have a hearty Italian meal with a glass of wine," said Mirchandani.

She said that Kumar often asked her about the corporate world and what plagues it. "She would ask how it felt to be a woman in a male-dominated world? She was always so curious," she said. Kumar would have turned 100 next year -- a milestone that many, including Mirchandani, were looking forward to celebrate.

  • Hiroo Mirchandani with Rajni Kumar some years ago at her house

    (Accessed by The Quint)


Meanwhile, Yamini Malik, a Springdales alumnus, fondly recalled receiving Rs 500 from Kumar after she got good results in a competition. "I told her it was such an important achievement for me and so, she sent me an envelop with a Rs 500 note. Even as a child, I never planned to use that money. Even when Demonitisation happened, I did not want to exchange that note because it came from her," she said.

Malik's great-grandfather was also friends with Kumar and her husband, and helped set up the school.

"She had a sharp memory and everyone who met her felt that they have a personal relationship with her," said Mirchandani.

Along with her husband, Rajni Kumar set up Delhi's Springdales schools in 1955. The 99-year-old died on 10 November.

Yamini Malik with Rajni Kumar

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Along with her husband, Rajni Kumar set up Delhi's Springdales schools in 1955. The 99-year-old died on 10 November.

The Rs 500 note Rajni Kumar gave to Yamini Malik

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)


'She Encouraged Me To Embrace Music When It Wasn't An Acceptable Profession': Music Composer Shantanu Moitra 

In a social media post, well-known music composer Shantanu Moitra shared how Kumar pushed him to embrace music when it was not an acceptable profession. 

"As a Springdalian, I am ever indebted to Madam Rajani Kumar for instilling in me the ethos of freedom, equality, unity, fraternity and peace … thank for shaping so many of us and the future … you made the world better. RIP," said Sarit Arora on Twitter.

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