Lt. Cdr. (Retd.) Deepak Sikand
Mayo College, Batch of 66-67
March 3, 2005
Lt. Cdr (RINVR, Retd.) John Travers Mends Gibson, Padma Shri, OBE would have been 97 years old today if he was alive. I really got to know him during my last year at school. Thereafter, I was a regular visitor to "Shanti Niwas," Jack's Residence in Gulab Bari, after he retired as Principal Mayo College, Ajmer. We discussed a wide range of subjects including life (Quality of) and Death, something from which we shy off. His memory began to fade towards the last few months of his life. He would then remember me only as someone who had come to "Cheer him up." I was present at his funeral at Delhi’s Electric Crematorium in October 1994 to say goodbye to "Mr. Chips." Let me share with you some of the happy memories I have of Jack.
"Deeepak, You Uuluu!" "Please don’t call me an Uuluu, Sir." "But an Uuulu is an intelligent bird!"
"What is a quarter of a Quarter?" "I don’t know, Sir." "You Booby! No good chit for you, go away."
“Wish me something!” "Goo…. good evening, Sir!" “But this is only morning!”
These may sound all too familiar to those who were students at Mayo College.
In junior school one hardly interacted with him unless you saw him in his office to get your "Good Chit" signed or receive "Six of the best" on your bottom for breaking bounds or "Mischipis" or some such thing. Of course, he gave you the option of receiving whacks from his cane with either left or the right hand. Those who opted for the "Left Hand" would later realize to their disadvantage that with Jack Left was Right and Right was Left.
We would be taken to the Central Mess to watch the Kendall family’s "Shakespearana" perform short pieces from the Bard’s plays. Remember the young bachelor Shashi Kapoor kissing the beautiful Jennifer Kendall on stage? Jack would direct the annual Shakespeare play prescribed for that year's Senior Cambridge class syllabus. I got to know all my Shakespeare, thanks to these plays.
In middle school, interaction with Jack became a little more. He taught geometry lessons once a week and with that, you learned logic. Remember Pythagoras, Eratosthenes and the Greek cove who determined the circumference of the Earth or the feller who jumped out of his bath tub yelling "Eureka!" or some such thing.? The luckier ones amongst us also got some Geography lessons from him. Then the end of the term social at Colvin House where we sang "Dear Lisa, Dear Lisa, there is a hole in the bucket" with him or the weekly Cinema show at the Bikaner pavilion. When the lights failed we were singing "The Animals went two by two, hurrah, hurrah!" to pass the time until the show could be resumed. There was also this Firang lady from "Animal Friend" who came every year with her guitar and sang songs to inculcate in us the love for animals.
Pocket Money was Rs 8/- per month in Junior School and Rs 12/- in middle school. "Tuck’" from home was banned though most of us got it anyway. We had to wear "Peshawari" sandals and Grey shorts made of "Malaysia" the cheap material used for inner lining of garments in Jack’s economy drive. He treated us all as equals. It did not matter to him if you were a Maharaja from somewhere or a business tycoon's son. I studied at Mayo under a Government of India Scholarship.
We carried out the annual "Harvesting" at the school farm and the "Chowkidari" on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday when all the servants were given a holiday and we had to do everything by ourselves including make our own beds. October the 2nd was also the "Annual Sports Day" for the servants and their families at the Central field. Also, there was this feast for the servants in the evening where we served them Aloo Poori in pattals. Yes, Jack had a lot of "Gandhigiri" in him and we did manage to soak in some of it. Who can forget "Labour Quota" as it was called. We had to put in a certain number of hours every term doing social service. We were digging trenches and covering our window panes with black paper for the "Black Out" at night during the '65 war with Pakistan while the Physics master maintained a "Tote Board" for all the news on the day's action. Jack even brought "Shastriji," Lal Bahadur, India's best Prime Minister, to address us in the assembly hall. Jack was so influenced by LBS's austerity drive when the country was facing severe famine and food shortages that every Tuesday we were having meals without any grain.
The school needed a bus. Jack persuaded the army to part with one of their surplus trucks. It was given a body, fitted with seats and painted yellow to give it some resemblance to a bus. The naming ceremony took place in front of the main building where this "Bus" was made to run over a coconut and Jack proclaimed, "I name this Bus "Haathi Bagula." "Why Haathi Bagula, Sir?" "Because she is as strong as a Haathi and beautiful as a Bagula!" was Jack’s logic
Jack inculcated in us a value system which one finds absent in today's society. Honesty, Integrity, Fairplay and standing up for your beliefs above all, was Jack's mantra. "Example is better than precept" was Jack's advice to newly appointed College Monitors before he administered on them the oath of office.
Let me recount a story from Admiral Satayendra Singh’s book "Between Two Ensigns." Jack was a RINVR officer on board the HMIS Bombay during the Second World War. He found the Chief Steward siphoning off money from the Ward Room Mess account. Jack reported the matter to the Exec (Mate) of the warship. Nothing happened. He then took up the matter to the Captain. Still nothing happened. He kept reporting the matter to the next superior in the Naval Hierarchy until he shot off a letter to Admiral Mountbatten, the supreme commander of forces in the Eastern theatre of war. Mountbatten wrote back to Jack advising him to overlook the Chief Steward’s misdemeanors and get on with the serious business of fighting the war. Jack was also very close to the "Auk" -- Field Marshal Auchinlek. Some of their correspondence appears in his autobiography "As I saw it."
By the time I was in the last term at school, I had become quite a favourite with Jack. He advised me to join the Navy, the noblest profession a Britisher could think of. Since it was too late to join the NDA in the first term, I opted to join the Special Entry scheme where I could join the 5th term directly. I stood all India first. Jack read it in the Newspaper and came all the way home to personally congratulate me. In later years, we the Old Boys from Mayo who were in the Navy would make it a point to invite him at our Naval Mess or meet up with him at the residence of Captain Martin Howard, the British Naval Attaché, with prior permission of Director of Naval Intelligence, of course. Sadly none of us could fulfill his cherished dream of making it to the rank of an Admiral.
Jack had earlier taught at Joint Services wing (JSW) of the armed forces which was the forerunner of the NDA . There was a time in early nineties when all the three Service Chiefs were his ex students. They took time off from their busy schedule to come to Ajmer where he lived in retirement and honour him. No wonder that the Navy was officially represented by the Commanding Officer of INS India to lay a wreath at his coffin. There were eminent Doscos, JSWites and Mayoites at his funeral. I could see a tear in many an eye as they paid their last respects to "Mr. Chips." The last to lay his wreath was none other than Mr. Tansukh Lal, his Butler who served him faithfully to the end.
We shall miss you Jack, always.