An Indian Englishman

Jtmgmemoirscover Anvar Alikhan, Amitabha Sen and I have republished an edited version of Jack Gibson's memoirs As I Saw It as An Indian Englishman Memoirs of Jack Gibson in India 1937-1969. Brij Sharma a journalist based in Bahrain edited the original. Brij spent much of his childhood and youth in Dehra Dun, and while not a product of The Doon School, he has known its campus, the surroundings of the city and much of the mountainous terrain described in Gibson's letters.

They say the journey is the reward and for the three of us, this was certainly the case!  I accomplished this project without ever speaking to all those involved and relied instead on email and web sites.  All this started a year ago, when we embarked on the creation of this web site to record memories Gibson's students and colleagues had of him.  Anvar thought the best way to ensure Gibson's legacy was to have his memoirs republished and available to anyone who wanted a copy.  In some ways this would make Gibson's letters home over 42 years last forever.  Dinesh Bhatnagar tracked down a copy of the original in the Mayo College library, and had all 700 pages scanned as pdf files and emailed to me.  Nikhil Khattau, my partner in India,  had his former secretary N. S. Rengathan retype the pdf files I emailed him as Microsoft Word files.  He emailed them back to me and I emailed them to Brij Sharma in Bahrain who edited the Word document.  I was introduced to Brij by Omar Khan, a friend in San Francisco, who knew Brij.  It was only after Brij had started reading the original memoirs that I learned he grew up in Dehra Dun!  The communication Anvar, Amitabha and I had amongst ourselves, and I with all those who provided the material that went into the book was all by email that criss-crossed 3 continents.

Finally the book was put into its current form by using the web services of My communication with my project coordinator, the person creating the layout and the graphic artists designing the cover was all via email and the web site.

Gibson could never have imagined this would be possible even 14 years after he passed away.

Mayo Then and Now

Dinesh Bhatnagar
Mayo College, 1958-1967


On a dry cold winter morning in January 1958 my father and I arrived at the Ajmer railway station from Delhi. He to drop me (a seven year old) and I for spending the best decade of my life at Mayo College.  We freshened up in the Upper Class Retiring Room (as it was known those days) and took the only available public transport those days -- the horse drawn “tonga.”  We entered the portals of Mayo and I was hit by the enormity of the imposing main building as well as the vast expanse as compared to the limited campuses of Delhi Schools.  We were directed to the Principal’s office in the main building and were met by none other than Jack Gibson himself. I can’t recall the conversation we had but distinctly remember his scrutiny of my three-feet-nothing skinny frame, perhaps thinking how will this tiny creature survive in the boarding school. Nevertheless, he directed us to Jaipur House which was the house for prep school boys. We were met there by Mrs. Madan Raj the House Mistress and Mrs. Monterio the Matron. Their welcome wiped away all the apprehensions that I may have had and in no time I had mixed in with the boys playing around. I don’t know when my father left, and settled down quickly in the set up. That’s how my journey at Mayo began.

Cut to Circa 2001 – a dusty 21st May afternoon when the School was closed for summer break, my wife and I drove in from Dehradun in our Maruti Esteem VXI (there were no competitors for this car back then!!)  This time it was to take up the position of the Bursar. The only person who met me at the main gate was an aging chowkidar with a garland of marigold which took me by surprise! He stopped my car and introduced himself as Prabhu Dayal who was a games coolie in my student days. Memories came flooding back and I recalled that my welcome man was none other than “dhakkan” as we called him then. We then proceeded to Sherring House which was to be our home for the next thirteen and a half years.

Although it would be unfair to compare my student days during the Gibson era and the 21st century Mayo, I cannot help comparing the two stints I had there. The striking contrast was the physical appearance of the campus. While one remembered a dry but neat campus as a boy, I remarked to my wife that Mayo now looked like a village with unkempt fields, stray cattle and pigs all over. The imposing Sherring House then occupied by the longest serving Bursar – Mr. SL Saigal appeared like a haunted house abandoned as there had been no replacement for my predecessor over six months. After a settling in period of half a day, I got down to sprucing up the Campus as I believed that a pleasant campus makes the residents feel happy. We managed to make it appear more presentable during the summer break.

Boys returned from their holidays in early July and the campus was once again abuzz with activities. The day’s curriculum remained more or less the same as in “our times.” A quick assessment of boys and the teaching faculty revealed a disconnect which I found strange. It was unfair of me to expect Masters of the stature of Messers NC Sharma, Goofy, BML Sharma, SSN Ganju, CG Joshi, PK Sahajwala, Ramesh Shah, BC Gue, Gurudev TD Pant, RN Chatterjee, Nahar Singh, RRS, Dr, Manohar Singh, Sr. D’Souza and a host of others. They were caring but the present day masters were more self-centered. The boys appeared disheveled and were quite happy to stay away from their masters. The support staff was unionized and uncaring. It was a paradox. Perhaps my initial reaction was harsh because I should have taken into account the changed values the world over. Mayo College could not remain insulated from these present day values which appeared strange to an Old Boy nose deep in nostalgia! My views, of course, mellowed over the years as Mayo took an upward turn within a short span of next two years. I realized that Jack had the luxury of a Board which pretty much left the School to him without interfering in it’s day to day functioning. The present situation was in contrast with very frequent “Committee meetings” which left little time for the Principal to carry out the actual task of running the School. Once I gained the confidence of the Board of delivering results, my second decade at Mayo turned sweet. I can now look back at this period with a sense of achievement. My guideline was my student tenure at Mayo. Perhaps this is where my being a student of the Jack Gibson era helped me tide over the situations. Despite my tumultuous final three years as the Bursar, I hold very fond memories of what I still call “Jack’s Mayo.”

Jack Gibson and Aung San Suu Kyi

An excerpt of a letter from Jack Gibson:

October 20, 1970
Dear Charles [Clarke] -
I had a wonderful time in Bhutan starting off surprisingly well by crossing the King as we reached Thimpu. He jumped out of his jeep to welcome us, which I hadn't expected. On another occasion he came to the guest house to speak to me, and I wanted John Levy who was with me to record their folk and religious music to have a word with him about getting to Tongsa and Bumtang, so I sent a message quickly to John to come quickly and speak to the King.  He was in his bath (it was only 0730) and thought I meant on the telephone, so down he came in an ancient dressing gown!

We met a very good fellow there, Michael Aris, who speaks Bhutanese and is much better at looking after John than I could be. I had to get back here [Mayo College, Ajmer] as I have guests arriving tomorrow, so have left John with Michael to look after him. It's a small world. Michael is engaged to the daughter of Aung San the Burmese general who was murdered and was much loved by his people. The girl's guardian in England is Paul Gore-Booth, and he is to marry them in the Burmese way later this year. Paul is also the English guardian of Winston - Hso Khan Pha - son of the first president of Burma. I can't remember whether you have met him, one of my Doon school climbers, now in Canada."

1. Dr. Charles Clarke was a British climber who scaled Swargorohini II (6247 m) in 1974 and was the expedition doctor in Chris Bonington's Everest attempt without oxygen in 1982. Dr. Clarke and his wife spent two weeks with Jack Gibson at Mayo College in June 1971.
2. John Levy was a musicologist. Gibson's description of him:"A very rich Jew who could afford the best possible equipment for his hobby of recording folk music all over the world. I first met him when he turned up at Mayo College looking and smelling like the lowest class of hippy after spending a week in the Dargah here recording the music played at the Urs. He had a letter from a friend, and we got to know each other well. Eventually I wrote to the King of Bhutan suggesting I should bring him to record there and it was a great success. He gave me tapes of the music which the BBC played in the third programme." Some of his recordings are in the British Library and the original recordings and remainder of the collection are housed at the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh [].
3. For more on Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi see the article in

Crishna: Unfurling Mayo Flag at the Antarctic

Vijay Crishna (No. 366)
Mayo College, 1957-1961

Mayo Flag

Vijay Chandra

Here are some reasons for unfurling the Mayo flag at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Feb 2008 and on the Antarctic mainland in March 2012. The reason that I did so was very simple and can be contained in two words -- JACK GIBSON!

I went to Mayo in the summer of 1957 it was because I was being shifted from Bishop Cotton School Simla - where I had been since late 1952 -- after my father died too early in Government service (as a result of an unfortunate accident) and my mother moved to a job in Delhi. Her brother, General K S Thimayya, had just become Army Chief and recommended that I go to Mayo because the Principal Mr. J T M Gibson was an old associate of his from the war years when they had formed the JSW together in Dehradun. I went through the Entrance exam and landed up in a totally different environment from my previous school. I joined Jodhpur House and quite quickly adapted to the new atmosphere, all the chaps in my House and my classmates. It was nowhere near as strange as I had feared when I joined, and I was soon at home. Though my House Master Mr. Raghubir Dayal was the soul of kindness and good guidance, it was Jack Gibson who was clearly the Reigning Spirit! In fact his spirit infused the whole place and provided us with a kind of glowing inspiration that we would, as school boys, have been at a loss to put into words! But I know that that's what it was, as I look back across the years. His red jeep driving around, his sharp, sharp eyes noticing the width of trouser legs and what it meant to see the letters DS appear in the column of your English homework. His hard hand dealing out punishment became, pretty much, a badge of honour albeit a painful one.

There were so many fine masters who leap immediately to mind looking back - Mr. Dan Mal, Mr. S C Ghosh to name just a couple and many others - but it was Gibby who we all began looking up to instinctively. There was something about the man that impressed itself upon all of us young school boys. I remember being equally proud and embarrassed when my uncle was the Chief Guest at the 1959 Prize Giving - particularly because that was the only time in my school life I ever won a prize, and that year I won two! The Senior GK prize and the Middles All Round Trophy for Sports.

 In fact, in the run up to the Awards for that year I got another lesson in equity and fair mindedness that stayed with me a long time -- when Mr. Naidoo our Sports Master called me to the Pavilion where he sat and told me that I was in the running for the All Round prize and then told me to sit down and, in a detailed format, compare my own performance with the other 3 in the running - on a sport-by-sport basis. I was surprised to find how quickly I began to temper how I marked the others with relation to my own perceived performance. It was the kind of inherent thinking process that the school encouraged -- and Gibby was very much in the forefront of that. When I left school in 1960 he took me aside and gave me some warm encouragement for the future. And, after I finished College and had gone to work, and paid a couple of my younger brothers' school bills with my first pay checks- it was to him I wrote and thanked for pushing me in the right directions. 

So it should come as no surprise at all that, after all these years -- 48/52 years to be precise - I was delighted to take the old school flag to both these special places and unfurl it proudly there! Not just out of pure sentiment, though of course there was a good bit of that too, but because I fancied I could see him smiling gently at me from down the years!

People of my generation took away a lot from Mayo, thanks to Gibby, and I am delighted to pay him some heartfelt homage here.

Aravind: Recollections of Mayo and Gibson

Padmanabhan Krishna Aravind (No.501)
Mayo College, 1964-67

I was a student at Mayo from 1964-67. My younger brother, Srinagesh, joined at the same time as me but graduated a year later. Mr.Gibson retired two years after I left. His timing was perfect because it allowed both Nagesh and me to enjoy him as principal during our entire stay at Mayo (without any idea, at the time, that we were also witnessing the end of an era). Mayo in those days was a wonderful place for a young boy to be growing up and getting an education. I would like to recall a few incidents from that period that still stand out in my mind after all these years.

A recurring incident involving Mr.Gibson that is etched in my memory, and doubtless that of many others, is the story of Eratosthenes and how he measured the radius of the Earth. When Mr.Gibson dropped in unannounced in our class, as he sometimes did, and temporarily took over the reins from the teacher, the conversation was likely to drift to Eratosthenes. Gibson would begin telling the story, but then insist that we all participate in the telling. Suddenly, without warning, he could turn towards you and ask you to pick up the tale where it had been left off. And woe to the unfortunate boy who couldn’t! By the time we graduated, we all knew the story backwards. Recently I was stimulated by this old remembrance to write a paper in Mr.Gibson’s honor on the occasion of his birth centennial. As a variation on his favorite theme, I showed how it is possible to determine the earth’s radius by using a tall building. The idea is to go up the building and observe sunset repeatedly from higher and higher floors, and then use the times of the sunsets and the heights of the floors to determine the earth’s radius. Although the idea didn’t originate with me, I thought it might be worth publicizing to a new generation of schoolboys as a fitting tribute to Mr.Gibson’s memory.

Another incident I can recall involved our Vice Principal, Mr.Dan Mal, who was also our geography teacher.  One day Mr.Dan Mal told us about the tides and how they are caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon on the earth. Then he went on to say that the tides caused by the moon are larger than those of the sun. “But, Sir”, one of the boys objected, “the sun is so much bigger than the moon, so shouldn’t its tides also be bigger?” Mr.Dan Mal, not at all upset by this challenge to his authority, replied, “You are right that the sun is bigger. But it is also much further from us, and so its force on the earth, and its tides, are weaker.” However the class didn’t seem entirely convinced by this explanation, and Mr.Dan Mal seemed to sense this. Just then our mathematics teacher, Mr.N.C.Sharma, happened to be walking past the class and Mr.Dan Mal decided to enlist his help in settling the matter.

Mr.Sharma was invited in and the problem was explained to him. He was given the masses of the sun, moon and earth and all the distances involved and asked to determine if it was the sun that exerted a larger force on the earth or the moon. It didn’t take Mr.Sharma long. He did a quick calculation on the board, mainly counting powers of ten, and came back with his verdict:  the sun’s force was larger, and it wasn’t just a bit larger, it was a lot larger. There was no doubting the correctness of Mr.Sharma’s calculation, whose details he spelt out for our benefit. Yet Mr.Dan Mal stood his ground. He didn’t contest Mr.Sharma’s mathematics, but maintained, with that air of sagacity he always managed to radiate, that the moon’s tides were definitely larger. So there was a standoff between Mr.Dan Mal and Mr.Sharma. They stood facing each other, neither man willing to yield. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Before we could find out, the bell rang and class was dismissed.

I discovered the answer to the puzzle only several years later when I studied physics in college. I learnt that the tides are caused not by the sun’s (or moon’s) force on the earth, but by the variation of this force across the earth. Although the sun’s force on the earth is much larger than the moon’s, it is the moon’s force that varies much more dramatically across the earth, causing its tides to be larger. So Mr.Sharma and Mr.Dan Mal had each been right, but only up to a point: Mr.Sharma had been right in insisting that the sun’s force was larger, and Mr.Dan Mal in maintaining that this fact was irrelevant. (In retrospect, Mr.Dan Mal’s lesson was the deeper one: don’t get blown away by mathematics if it contradicts well established facts). Though this discovery was no great leap of knowledge, it did play a certain role in my intellectual evolution.  I mention this incident to bring out what I think may have been Mr.Gibson’s most important achievement at Mayo: creating an atmosphere of openness that was conducive both to the pursuit of knowledge and one’s personal development. No boy was ever chided for questioning the wisdom of his teachers or advancing contrary or unpopular views, provided he was willing to defend his position. This had a truly liberating effect on us and made us learn and grow in ways that might otherwise not have been possible.    

We didn’t just learn from our teachers, we also learned from each other. I remember a boy, Amit Mitra, a year my senior, who made a great impression on me. Amit was very smart, but also very crazy. He was always cooking up some fantastic scheme or the other or advocating some outrageous position.  For example, he had the idea that it is possible to train the human body to be subjected to large voltages without suffering any injury. His reasoning was that if the body was subjected to gradually increasing voltages, it could be trained to increase its resistance as a result, and the current could thereby be limited to a safe value. In pursuit of this idea, he planned to hook himself up to four batteries one day, six the next, eight the third, and so on. Then, one day, he would be able to plug his fingers into the wall outlet and remain unhurt. Fortunately for all of us, Amit soon tired of this project and his interests drifted to other matters.

Amit returned from vacation one year in a state of high excitement. He told us that he had mastered Einstein’s theory of relativity. He lectured excitedly, to all who would listen, about length contraction, time dilation and the equivalence of mass and energy. I found myself fascinated by what he said. Because I was one of the rapidly dwindling band of devotees who longed for more, he favored me with several private lessons of my own. I can remember his sitting next to me in the dormitory as I worked my way through his derivation of the length contraction formula, providing me with help and encouragement when I stumbled and heaping warm praise on me when I reached the goal. However it was clear to me that I hadn’t really understood the theory and had only succeeded in reproducing the steps of Amit’s derivation. But the experience fired me up like nothing else. I promised myself, with all the passion of youth, that I would return to the theory of relativity one day and master it, and not rest until I had done it, and that I would rather do this than acquire all the riches in the world.

It wasn’t all work and no play, of course. There were sports and all sorts of other activities that we participated in. We all had to do everything, not just the things we liked or were good at. I was only a modest athlete, but good enough at tennis and squash to become school captain in the first and get colors in the second. One of my great regrets at the time was that I never got to play Gibson at squash. He would show up at the old stone courts from time to time and challenge one of the boys to a game. He would invariably be stripped down to nothing but his shorts when he played, and his huge, naked body would be glistening with sweat, making him appear like some fearsome warrior of old whose conquest was a most desirable feat. Though in his mid fifties, he was a wily competitor and certainly no cake walk for his much younger and fitter opponents.

Mayo did a lot for us boys. In addition to developing our bodies and our minds, it opened our eyes to the world beyond and taught us how we might fit into it. That was particularly important for me, because I found my world expanding rapidly after I left Mayo. After college at St.Stephen’s and Delhi University, I came to the US for higher studies and ended up living and working here.

In the 1990s (I forget exactly when), more than two decades after I had left Mayo, I heard that Mr.Gibson was not doing well. Although I had not kept in touch with him, and he had surely forgotten me, I decided I would write to him. I began by reminding him who I was, told him what I had done after leaving Mayo and then described some of my activities that I thought he might find of interest. Then I recalled some fond memories of Mayo and said how grateful I was to him and all my teachers for all that they had taught me. I mentioned many of my teachers by name and the subjects they had taught me, and wondered how many of them were still there and how they were all doing. I quoted a stanza from the poem Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning that accurately captured my feelings:

            Yet gifts should prove their use:
            I own the Past profuse
    Of power each side, perfection every turn:
            Eyes, ears took in their dole,
            Brain treasured up the whole;
    Should not the heart beat once ‘How good to live and learn?’

I didn’t really expect to hear back from Gibson. In normal health he would surely have replied, but his present condition probably required him to conserve his energies for more pressing demands. So I was agreeably surprised and very touched when, a month or so later, I received a letter from him. The letter had not actually been written by Gibson, but by someone who took down his words and typed them up. Gibson thanked me for asking after him and for my words of appreciation for him and my teachers. He then gave me news of himself and some of the teachers I had mentioned, and also of recent happenings at Mayo. His letter filled me with the greatest delight. When I reread it for perhaps the third time, I fancied I could almost hear his voice speaking out the words to me. I then put the letter away safely, so safely that I have not been able to find it since that day.

With that I will bring this account to a close. I thought I ought to share these reflections with this audience, for whatever interest they might have, rather than simply letting them fade away along with me. On a broader note, I am constantly amazed to discover all the things that Mr.Gibson’s students – really, his extended family – have done, and are continuing to do.  Gibson’s students have ventured into areas, and done things, that he never dreamed of – just as he himself once did. Mr.Gibson may be gone, but his spirit and legacy live on.

Hasan: Mayo College Revisited

Sirajul Hasan
Mayo College, Batch of 1966-67

Siraj&Sultana Hasan When I left Mayo in December 1966, I never thought that it would be another 43 years before I would go back there again! Several times I came close to visiting my alma mater, particularly to show it to my wife Sultana and our son Sharik. I had narrated to them a few of my experiences at Mayo, especially about Jack Gibson, who was one of my heroes. Several years ago, when we lived in London and Sharik was just a few years old, we saw a television documentary on Mayo. I still remember the look of amazement on Sultana’s face when she said “Why didn’t you tell me that you went to such a spectacular school?” Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, that historic journey had to wait till the prize giving of February 2010, when I went to receive the JTM Gibson award for excellence - 2009.

It was a nostalgic visit and I was determined to savour every moment of it. We decided on the morning of February 21 to drive from Jaipur to Ajmer, a familiar route that I often took with my parents during the 1960s. We stayed at the Mayo Girls Guest House and reached in time to snatch a few moments to visit Colvin House, my Middle House during 1961-64. Colvin House looked in impeccable condition and I had no difficulty recognizing my old rooms. Many memories of that period flooded my mind, particularly those of our housemaster B. C. Gue, an accomplished artist and a fine human being. Just as I was telling Sultana, about life at Colvin House, we received anxious calls from my friend and batch mate Dinesh Bhatnagar, summoning us for lunch with the Mayo College General Council at Oman House (one of many new additions after I left school). It was really embarrassing to realize that no amount of rocket science was going to help me figure out the way there -- it needed the help of a little boy to guide us to our destination! As we wandered towards lunch, crossing manicured gardens and grounds, many familiar fragrances and sounds resurfaced in my memory.

At lunch it was wonderful to meet my old history teacher Mr. Nahar Singh --- interestingly, despite all these years, we chatted as though we had met only yesterday! Another teacher and now a good friend, Mr. Raghu Raj (affectionately RRS), who taught us General Science, unfortunately could not make it. It was a real pleasure to meet HH Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, who was the Chief Guest for the Prize Giving. After lunch, we went straight for the equestrian competition and polo match, which were most impressive. My wife was seated next to a lady who, otherwise somewhat low key, whispered that her son had bagged all the prizes! This was really a most enjoyable event and I couldn’t help thinking how fortunate this generation was to play polo and ride horses unlike ours.

We spent part of the day going around the school as well as making a quick visit to the Dargah and later to Pushkar. We rushed back in time to attend a delightful dinner hosted by Samar Bhaduri, the Principal at his house, where we met several parents and old boys.

The next day was Prize Giving – it was preceded by lunch at the Principal’s house for recipients of the JTM Gibson awardees and other dignitaries. After lunch we went to Dinesh’s house to get our safas tied. The piece-de-resistance was, of course, the prize giving ceremony with all its fanfare and vibrant colours at the Bikaner Pavilion – this brought back many childhood memories when I witnessed so many eminent personalities such as M.C. Chagla and Karan Singh giving away prizes. On a personal level, it was a real honour to receive such a prestigious award from HH Gaj Singh.

Our whirlwind visit to Mayo seems a wonderful dream that faded away far too quickly. I had not expected to find the school looking so resplendent, and especially having achieved such a high academic level and still going from strength to strength. As we drove away, the silhouetted turrets of the Main Building and Lord Mayo’s statue against the sunset filled me both with nostalgia and a deep sense of pride.