July 9, 1976 was the turning point of swimming in Karnataka. The swimming pool in Baldwin Girls’ High School (BGHS), Bangalore was inaugurated, and looking back, it definitely impacted competitive swimming in India as well.
Back in the 1970s, there were only a handful of swimming pools in Bangalore for the public. The Corporation Pool at Corporation Circle, a 30 yard pool, was one of the most popular ones. It’s gone now, and buildings occupy the place where it once stood. Kensington Pool, next to Ulsoor Lake, is another old summer time recreation spot, still a sought-after swimming space, especially because it’s a 50 metre pool, ideal for competitive training.
My dad used to tell us that he and his friends learnt to swim in the neighbourhood wells in Vishveshwara puram, in the 1930s-40s. No fancy pools at that time. By the 1970s, quite a few of the city’s lakes and tanks, where people would swim for relaxation, had vanished and the ones left were in a state not fit for swimming. There were stories that if you entered the water, the weeds would pull you down and you would drown.
Clubs like Bangalore Club, Century Club and Bowring Institute had pools but entry to these places was restricted. A few schools/colleges like Baldwin Boys’, St Joseph’s Boys’, National College also had pools where students could go for after-school swimming lessons. There was this dream in Baldwin Girls’, to have a swimming pool within the school premises, just like the boys’ school. There was space for a good 25 m pool. With the school fees being nominal, a project as big as building a swimming pool would need money to come separately from somewhere.
The school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) undertook this as a project and started the Swimming Pool Construction Fund. As per school newsletters, fund raising was done from 1970 till 1977, with donations coming in from well-wishers including parents of present and past students at that time.
Not many may be aware that the premiere of the film Sholay in Bangalore, was hosted by Baldwin Girls’ High School. It was a fund raising benefit show in aid of the swimming pool, with tickets priced at Rs 50, 25, 15 and 10. These were princely amounts, given that we could see movies sitting in the balcony for Rs 3 or so those days. It was hoped that Rs 50,000 would be collected from ticket sales and advertising in a souvenir brochure for the completion of the first phase – which was basically the pool. While the film was released in Bombay on 15th August 1975, the Bangalore premiere was held on 22nd August 1975, at Galaxy Theatre on Residency Road.
It was a very special occasion for the school, because apart from fund raising, it found itself associated with a film that was very close to Bangalore’s heart – much of the shooting had been done in Ramnagaram on the city’s outskirts. With the actors having spent a lot of time in Bangalore during the shooting, it was not surprising that the cast was so drawn to the city – many of them were present at this premiere show.
Edit: If you were wondering how BGHS got connected to Sholay, Sheena Malhotra, our champion swimmer, who was barely six years old at that time, says, “The ironic part was that Dad was the distributor of Sholay and donated the premiere to BGHS. He loved sports. Little did he know that years later that pool would become the foundation for my swimming career and those of many others.”
The first phase of the pool construction began with the ground-breaking ceremony on 23rd April 1975. While it was targeted to be completed in early 1976, it took a few months more. The pool was inaugurated on 9th July 1976.
Six years of Fashion Shows, a premier movie, an “India though the Ages” pageant, weekly Tuck Shops and generous donations from one and all add up to this colossal memorial – the Baldwin Girls’ High School Swimming Pool!
Phase two, which included the changing rooms, and the viewing gallery was opened on 7th February 1978.
Now there was no looking back. With Mr M.R. Mohite appointed as the coach, the progress of the girls from learners to serious competitors was brisk. A pool in the school was ever so convenient. Many of the girls started out very young, just toddlers. We would see the little ones in tears at the start of the year, fearing to get into the water, teeth chattering in the Bangalore cold, and by the end of the year they’d be confidently diving around. For the older ones, training was rigorous. They’d enter class with wet hair after early morning practice. Then they’d be off to the pool again in the evening. As we saw, parents played a huge role in the lives of these girls, being by their sides for everything. They’d be in school for the daily training, carrying their food boxes to ensure they got the best nutrition, shuttling them around for outside swim meets, helping catch up with missed lessons.
Every year, the swimming meet was a key event on the school’s calendar. When I was in Std X, it was the Eight Annual Swimming Meet that was held – on 6th December 1985. Our swim meets were (and still are) professional in every respect, with races in all the strokes and different distances, complete with official timings and record books. There were also a few fun-sort of events and water drills as well. Even a water polo match.
By this time, Baldwin swimmers were dominating the local and state swimming scenes. There were many who had already shot to national and international prominence, my classmates Loraine Verghese and Shanaz Shacoor, one year Junior Punita Gupta, and one year senior Sheena Malhotra included. The pride of Baldwins, Karnataka, and India! The school magazine, The Baldwinian, always had good coverage of our swimming achievements. Here are some pages from the 1985-86 issue.
The Karnataka Swimming Association website says:
Karnataka’s swimming became very prominent from the early part of 80s when Karnataka Girls had shown tremendous progress in the Indian Swimming. In fact they were the motivating factors for many young boys and girls to take up swimming seriously and today Karnataka boys and girls are leading champions in Junior and Senior categories.
From mid 80s till today Karnataka Swimmers are dominating in the National championships and National Games. Many Swimmers have won medals at Asian Age group championships, Asia Pacific Championships, SAF games and many of them have represented the country in Asian Games, Asian Swimming championships, Olympic Games and World championships.
Karnataka Swimming has come a long way in establishing its supremacy in the country. The credit should go to the forethought of many swimming enthusiasts in the state who could visualize the development of the sport in the 21st Century and created a good strong base for the future generation.
Now we know how that started, don’t we!