« August 2007 | Main | October 2007 »

September 2007

P. Sen: Grand Old Man Roaring Around in His Jeep

Probir Sen
Mayo College, Batch of 1959

Probirsen Since I was on leave and had heard that Mr. Gibson was unwell I decided to go down to Ajmer and spend a few days with him.

The drive was uneventful till we approached Ajmer town.  Quite suddenly, and instantly, memory raced back over thirty years, to when my father drove a nervous thirteen year old, sick with the prospect of leaving home.  I remember my first glimpse of Jack Gibson - pipe, windswept grey hair, mountain fresh and fit, driving an open red jeep filled with two Labradors and innumerable boys.  And then came a flood of a thousand other images and memories – the constant and keen excitement of Jack's classes, an atmosphere electrified by his tremendous presence before you, communication of his passion for what he taught, and his never falling to do the unexpected.

"Do a somersault you ooloo to get some fresh blood in your thick head," he would roar at one of us who fumbled with his reply.  Then, one day, when one of us hesitantly pointed out an error in what he had written on the blackboard, we were treated to the spectacle of a Principal, well over fifty, somersaulting.

Jack's morning Assemblies where we were introduced to exquisite music - western and Indian classical - poetry and prayers, all of which were secular and simple, and some of which possessed extraordinary depth and beauty.  Here we saw a different man - grave and full of dignity.

Jack after Assembly in his terrific Avatar giving us six of the best, but offering a nimbu pani if we managed not to squeal.

Jack far away from school and plain, wandering in his beloved Himalayas, skiing down slopes, pipe between clenched teeth, with Holdsworth.

Driving down to Gulab Bari I struck up a conversation with my driver.  "Did he know the way to Gibson Saheb’s house?"  "Who doesn’t?"  "Did he ever meet Mr. Gibson?"  "No, but who had not, at some time or another, had a glimpse of the grand old man, roaring around in his jeep?"  Jack was clearly a legend not only for those from Mayo but for the whole town of Ajmer.

Entering the courtyard of Shanti Niwas through a small opening in the massive wooden gate, I climbed up and entered his study.  Bookshelves all around with sturdy bound books, tankhas from his beloved mountain kingdoms, Rajasthani miniatures, silver caskets, swords, all living together with dignity.  The room, like its master was manly, sensitive, elegant and full of character. In the middle, sunk in a large chair, was Jack, looking frail but leonine.

I spent two unforgettable days enjoying a quality of hospitality that I thought had vanished with the '50s, when houses had armies of servants.  Shanti Niwas had only Tansukh, butler cook and companion rolled into one, who loves and looks after Jack as no one else can.  And that is because Jack has looked after him as no one else could, educating and finding jobs for his children, building him a house, and being amazingly considerate - supper was always at 7.00 p.m. so that Tansukh went home early.

Brigadier Raza, who lives below, and Dr. Erickson are frequent visitors.  Also regular are a little bird that comes exactly at 4.30 p.m. and perches on Jack’s knee who is fed a banana, and two young English girls who teach in Mayo Girls School, and who spend time every evening with Jack, taking dictations.  Jack's love conveyed itself so well and so easily to birds and the young, and they in turn loved him dearly.

Only two or three visit him from Mayo.  I wondered why Jack decided to settle so close to the school and to continue to take such an active interest in its affairs; most retired people keep away from the scenes of their work to avoid being hurt.  I realized that for Jack, working in, and for Mayo, was not a job but a passion, which consumed every working hour of every single day.  He gave his life to Mayo, and Mayo owes its life to him, for when he look over in the fifties, the school was clearly dying.  Mayo was to Jack, an affair he could not give up.

This year Jack is confined to Shanti Niwas for his health does not permit travel, either to England or the hill stations he loved; in fact he can't even drive around town.  It's going to be a long summer for him, so I am sure that he would love staggered visits from his dear old boys.

Jack is over eighty four, and with age, quite naturally, parts of the body are failing.  What is intact is his superb spirit, rising triumphant over all the shocks that life brings, and his total and constant love and consideration for others.

Reading letters from old boys to him and his replies, one was amazed of how many he was guide and father to, long after they had left school, and he had retired.

Jack Gibson is certainly a giant of his times, one of the finest men his country has produced and amongst the noblest of those - English or Indian - who worked for India.  To have known, and to continue to have contact with such a man, is one of life's most precious blessings.

A. Sen: Nothing Is Written

Amitabha Sen
Mayo College, Batch of 1968

Sen_photo In a scene from “Lawrence of Arabia,” a Bedouin warns of the futility of finding a boy lost in the scorching desert: “Ghasim’s time is come, Aurens.  It is written.”  Lawrence snaps back, “Nothing is written!” – just as Gibby would have put it, just as he lived it. 

The Old Boys most remember Gibby for building character on the slopes of the Garhwal Himalayas or on the playing fields of Mayo and Doon.  Boys admire prowess in the field, he had said.  But less visibly, ever since he arrived in India in 1937, he had set his sights on the playing fields of the mind.

My class of 1968-69 was the last of Gibby’s batch at Mayo, when he was 60 years old.  Like most of my classmates, I knew nothing about him at the time and only saw him as a towering headmaster, like a hulking Kabuliwallah, to be feared for breaking bounds.  That black-and-white image changed to color one day, in an unmistakable “Gibby moment,” when on my way to the hospital from a football injury, the maroon jeep raced up and Gibby, pipe in hand, hauled me over and joked about my “doozy.” His heart was even bigger than his body.

Most of what we know of Gibby’s life comes from his little known, little read memoir As I Saw It, a collection of diary-letters he wrote home to Puck’s Hill in Norfolk, England.

Gibby’s own education was far broader than the B. A. in English and History he earned in 1929 from Sydney Sussex College at Cambridge University.  He was, in fact, better known as a fencing Blue, a lefty who qualified for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, captained the Cambridge team, and competed for the foil title of England at Bertrand’s Salle D’Armes.  Although he was apparently not academically gifted, having placed in Class III for the English Tripos, the ideal he later sought in his boys was the rare well-rounded character, “a First and a Blue.”

When Gibby came to Mayo in 1954, an Old Boy wrote that he was hopeful that Gibby would transform Mayo into a school where “boys are keen on study, ambitious about the future, and madly competitive.” By the time we graduated 15 years later, we had a class that reflected this vision.  Gibby realized early the need for clear thinking leaders – “stupid people in a position of authority are such a menace!” – and he genuinely believed that doing well did not have to depend on friends in high places.  Unusual for a man who wore his old school tie to lunch with fellow Haileyburian, Lord Attlee, and called on the PM (Nehru) for help with customs.

A friend, Captain Harold Saxton (Royal Navy), reminded him early in his life that the fruits of grounding in classics are not realized until higher ranks are reached, even in the Navy!  That may be why Gibby took a special interest in Shakespearian plays, oratory, and teaching logic via Euclid’s geometry, a class both dreaded and enjoyed for its off-beat style.  If you failed to answer his questions, you had to confess aloud to the whole class, “I am an arse, Sir!”

He sought relief from mental ennui at Mayo by crafting elaborate word games and engaging, especially the bright and the garrulous, in verbal jousts.  He was full of surprises.  I remember Gibby presenting a biography of Disraeli to a friend in my class, when the rest of us had not even heard of Disraeli.  Another time, after a track event at Bikaner Pavilion, Gibby pulled out three matchsticks, broke one short and held them out. “What are the odds that you pick the short one?” he asked, surprising the athletes.  His efforts to lift the standards of scholarship had an unintended downside. On a 5-mile cross-country race once, a few smarty pants jog-walked the whole way with a book in hand.  Gibby sent back Hage Lodor, the guy who finished first hours ago and still full of steam, to egg them on!

By making us find out for ourselves and try out new things, Gibby set a tone of exploration that has stayed with me ever since.  At Mayo, apart from scaling Taragarh and Madar, we did not get a chance to go on manly expeditions with Gibby, partly because he had hung up his skis by then.  But I got a sense of his thirst for adventure when I went on a 200-mile bike trip along the Ajmer-Tonk-Jaipur route for the Duke of Edinburgh scheme’s gold award. The scheme had been introduced in Mayo for the first time in India by a visiting teacher, Andrew Richardson, and Gibby was keen on seeing us succeed.  After leaving Mayo, I went on a sub-Himalayan trek around Sikkim, arranged by a school friend, which is still fresh in my memory.

“Citizenship training,” like digging wells, teaching village kids, and self-help projects with Bunker Roy, revealed Gibby’s empathy for the Gandhian ethos.  Gibby first saw Gandhi at a conference for Indian independence in Geneva in the 1930s, and gradually came to admire him, noting that he was “as difficult to understand as God.”  Gibby borrowed a page from Gandhi when he wrote parents that every boy should build the courage to “seek the truth for himself”.   And it is no surprise that one of his favorite assembly prayers was Tagore’s “Where the mind is without fear.”

So it was, after a gap of some twenty years, that the long hand of Gibby reached out to me again.  I had sent him a greeting card.  “Write something about yourself!” he shot back, ever urging us to write interesting letters.  I was happy to report to him about my foray into science at that time. Even though I was confounded by Archimedes’ principle at school, I ended up making a discovery in Einstein’s theory.  Indeed, nothing is written!  I would like to imagine that as he sat in Shanti Niwas among his sweet peas looking out into a dusty sunset, the news brought a twinkle to his eyes knowing that one little blighter tried to seek the truth for himself.

Subsequently, I moved on to work in the real world, ending up at an investment bank.  I never again met anyone like Gibby, but I did come to know some great thinkers at the frontiers of knowledge, somewhat like Gibby meeting Shipton and Tenzing. 

Gibby came as an apostle of Lord Halifax, played Marcus Antonius at the burial of the British Empire, and transformed himself into an usher for the new India.  In the end, like T. E. Lawrence, Gibby seemed to seek authenticity in a simpler life.

In memory of Gibby’s love for playful verse, here is my trifling ode to the old usher, of whom only this can be written:

                               There once was a boy from Puck’s hill
                               Who wrote long letters to his sister Jill
                               So adventurous was his life
                               Choosing India over a wife
                               That fondly he is remembered still.

P. Singh: He Hated Losing

Air Cmde. P. Singh (Pat.229 J.)
The Doon School, Batch of 1955

I was at Doon School between 1950-55.During that time John Martin was the Headmaster, R.L. Holdsworth the Tata House housemaster and J.T.M. Gibson the Kashmir House housemaster.

We looked upon Gibby and Holdy with awe. Both were uninhibited,out-spoken and eccentric. Whereas Holdy was soft and kind, Gibby liked to project a more formidable image. Both of them were sportsmen of renown, mountaineers, and adventurers. Most importantly, they both made sure that those under their care inculcated these interests with correct values. This was evident to us, in the influence they had on another school master, Gurdial Singh who, guided and inspired by them, went on to become a famous mountaineer in his own right.

However, Gibby had one failing - he hated losing, especially to Holdy. The confrontation normally took place during 'junglee murgee' hunts. Whenever Gibby and Holdy were adjacent to each other during a 'beat',sparks were bound to fly. Picture a bird flying across them. Both would shout 'mine" after firing at it and send their respective Labradors to retrieve the bird. Holdy's dog, Kali (and later Bruce) invariably got to the bird first and brought it back. (Holdy never sent Kali unless he was sure that his shot had dropped the bird).

After the 'beat' was over they would confront each other and argue over disputed birds. "I say old chap, I think that your dog has picked up one of my birds". "Your bird? Rubbish! Your shot nearly took off my head."

Both would carry on in this fashion getting redder in the face, their respective pipes clamped tight between their teeth.More often than not, Holdy would let Gibby have the bird while still claiming it. Later on Holdy would de-brief us tutorial members on sportsmanship.

"Boys, sometimes such incidents can lead to the claimants cutting open the bird to see whose pellets killed it. That would be sacrilege! Before matters reach that stage, a true sportsman gives way to the other's claim. Jack always knows when it is my bird but will claim it all the same. He hates losing to a superior marksman from Oxford! You will never see him behaving that way with anyone but me".

Ramdas: Life in Baker Squadron

Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas

Jack Gibson’s contribution as Principal of the Joint Services Wing (JSW) from 1949-50 was seminal. Jack was on loan to us from the Doon School and, with his past Naval background, was ideally cut out for the role of Principal. As head of the academic staff, Mr. Gibson’s main concern was to ensure that the cadets attained the educational standards needed to cope with future service requirements. Jack taught English and Geography but he made sure he visited most other classrooms to see for himself how things were going.

He also devised an ingenious weekly assessment system. Every instructor assessed the cadets for their weekly performance in their respective subjects under three headings: “A” for Application, “K” for Knowledge and “E for Efficiency on a five point scale. This way the progress or otherwise of the cadets was monitored regularly. Cadets were grouped into various classes depending on their existing academic capabilities which were assessed at the time we arrived by simple tests. This system enabled the staff to concentrate on those cadets who needed special help or greater attention.’

The life and the routine in the JSW was a little more high pressure than at any of the regular public schools. The day started bright and early with "Hands Call" or "Reveille" at 5.30 am and we were on the move almost continuously till "pipe down" or "lights out" at 10 pm. We did have about 30 minutes for breakfast and about the same time for lunch. Squeezed into this busy day would be Physical Training (P.T.), Drill, about eight periods of class room instruction, and, of course, games, clubs and hobbies, and lastly, private study. On some days there would be Equitation and on others, Field Craft and weapon training.

The total of two years that we spent at the JSW was made up of four terms. Each term had a mid-term break. Many outward bound schemes were available for cadets to choose from during these breaks. It was Jack who was a great organizer of these programmes; indeed, he was perhaps the pioneer of introducing outward-bound schemes in the armed forces. Basic mountaineering, trekking, rafting, map-reading and navigation, cross-country running, you name it, every single outdoor activity had Jack’s imprint on it. Not to mention his interest in fencing, boxing, or dramatics. From Shakespeare to Tagore, Jack was equally comfortable. He took a lot of personal interest in all these activities and insisted that all cadets take part in at least two such pursuits.

One event that was unscheduled but most welcome was a trek-cum-cross-country-run to Mussoorie in February 1949 to greet the snow. At very short notice all of us were told to get into our FSMO (Field Service Marching Order) which meant haversacks, water bottles, and rifles. Off we went to Mussoorie, climbing up the hill from Rajpura. On arrival at the top we met our colleagues from the Military Wing (the erstwhile IMA) who had also marched up to Mussoorie for the first snows. A lot of snow warfare was conducted between and within the Military Wing and the JSW. Quite prominent in all this was an Englishman with a pipe sticking out of his twisted mouth. That was Jack Gibson outdoors in full cry!

It all ended with a sumptuous meal on top of the hill at the end of which we were told that it would be a competitive run back to Clement Town. The squadron to have all its cadets back first would be the winner. It was a long run—about 8 miles—which seemed even longer in our FSMO kits with water bottles banging away at our sides and rifles heavy on our shoulders. I am happy to recall that Baker Squadron, to which I belonged, was declared the winner.

Such events were a novel way to baptize young cadets! They helped to foster an "esprit de corps" among us even as they encouraged a healthy spirit of competition and achievement. By forcing us to the limits of physical and mental endurance they prepared us well for our chosen careers. Jack Gibson believed that an officer must be not only academically proficient but also capable of facing dangers, even if that entailed exposing oneself to physical harm. Perhaps in part due to his naval background, Jack was one of the few civilian instructors who easily understood this requirement. It goes without saying that he was quite a hit with the service officers on the staff of the JSW and perhaps even the envy of a few!

I was lucky to be a member of a rafting expedition from Nahan to Haradwar that Jack led. Unlike modern rubberized rafts with small paddles, ours was a beautiful 60-foot long raft comprising of over 120 solid logs between 15 to 20 feet in length that were lashed together. We came down the river Ganges from Nathan to Haradwar in what I can only describe as an other-worldly experience, one filled with excitement and fearsome thrills. Snaking its way over the rapids in a sinusoidal wave, from forward to aft, the traditional raft was steered by a steering oar at the after end. The sheer speed and the unpredictable contortions of the raft would at times send shivers down our spines. One really needed good sea legs to avoid falling down. We were quite worried at times, fearing that the raft would disintegrate under those tremendous speeds when it glided over huge boulders at the rapids. Occasionally, the odd log would break off and drift apart but, aside from that, we didn’t really face any serious danger although we flirted with it all the way! At the time, however, it seemed as if we could be victims of some kind of disaster at any moment. Looking back, I think that we were rather foolish because many of us did not know how to swim—I, for one. The reason for this was that the JSW did not commission its swimming pool until late 1950, the year of our passing-out, and only those who had had the benefit of swimming earlier were able to use that pool. Some of us, like me, had to learn how to swim in Cochin before we went to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth in U.K. During this expedition, Jack kept us all entertained and in good cheer throughout with his many anecdotes. Blessed with a good sense of humour, he managed to be at once amusing and understanding, strict yet humane.

Jack’s contribution, therefore, was not merely in the academic field: he was singularly responsible for inspiring young men and molding them to become leaders of tomorrow. In that context, it would be of interest to mention that three of us from the First Course, that is, General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, Air Chief Marshal Nirmal Chander Suri, and I, all had the good fortune to head our respective services. What’s more, we served together as members of the Chiefs of Staff Committee from 1990 to 1993.

During our concurrent tenures as service chiefs, the three of us, accompanied by our wives, took the opportunity to visit Jack Gibson at Ajmer where he lived after retiring. It was wonderful to see the old man: just as he was visibly moved by our presence, so were we somewhat choked emotionally. It was altogether a wonderful few hours that we spent with him. He promised to visit us in Delhi but, sadly, his failing health and advancing age prevented him from doing so until, of course, the end arrived.

Remembering Jack Gibson, I would say that here was a man who, though born an Englishman, was an Indian at heart. Not that Jack could not have gone back to ‘Ye Old England’ but he opted to live out his life in India. He gave every bit of himself and his skills to the molding and shaping of leaders of modern India. His presence in the formative years of the JSW and his contribution towards establishing its fine traditions will long be remembered. Those of us who had the privilege of being with him and knowing him personally will always miss him.

Hari: Skinny Dipping

Arun Hari
The Doon School

In the early fifties Jack took us on a mid-term to Shivpuri, then a quiet little sandy spot on the river Ganges.  Tents were our night cover and jungly murgas and peacocks came right beside us at dawn.  And an occasional leopard could be spotted glaring from the hill slopes if we were lucky.

One early morning rule of Gibby was a bath in the Ganges.  The water was cold.  And we got in and out of the river as fast as we could.  This quick momentary dip wasn’t enough as Gibby said we were not cleaning our private parts.

A second dip in our swimming costumes pulled out from the front to allow a handful of water to trickle in.  But this too was not quite right and when we repeated it the next morning, Jack knew it won’t do. 

In no time flat Jack took off his clothes and went to the river stark naked where he rubbed and scrubbed and soaped himself.  Shy young lads as we were, we were made to follow suit and have a proper bath.

While returning to the tents to change into our shorts, we heard choked guffaws of feminine laughter from the hills in front of us.  A group of village ladies were shyly watching the scene and laughting and enjoying what they saw.

Loud and clear came Jack’s voice:  "Haven’t these women ever seen an Englishman’s pink ass before?" as he too walked into the tent to put on his shorts.

Rajadhyaksha: Two Intrepid White Hunters

Vasant Rajadhyaksha
The Doon School, Batch of 1939

The English house masters, John Martyn, Thomas, Jack Gibson, Clough, Holdsworth, with Arthur Foot as the Head, set a tone which has stayed.  Here is a typical story, one of the many which are repeated and enjoyed when Old Boys foregather. 

Jack was hosting a black tie formal dinner with his fellow house master John Martyn and some friends.  News reached him at about 10 p.m. that a civet cat was sitting on the roof.  The civet cat today is an endangered species but was quite a serious menace to poultry in the mid-thirties.  So Jack immediately got his gun out and made John get his.  The two immaculately clad and well lit men then started a hunt for the cat which apparently had been seen taking refuse in a 150 foot long covered drain, the two ends of which opened into an open nullah.

The two intrepid white hunters hit on a masterly plan.  Jack said "John, joy keep watch at one end of the drain while I frighten the cat from the other by firing the gun.  As it runs away from my end you shoot it as it comes out at yours."

The execution of this strategy required both house masters to lie down flat on the ground so that they could get their guns into play.  Jack shouted "Ready John," and fired into his side of the drain.  Nothing happened.  No luck, yelled John, "now let me try and you shoot it."  John, however, neglected to fire into the side and fired along the line of trench.  There was a howl of agony from Jack who got his face peppered with small shot.

By this time half the school were watching this fascinating spectacle.  "John, you stupid fool," yelled Jack, "you are supposed to shoot the bloody cat, not me."  "Sorry Jack," shouted John "but I did not get hurt when you fired."  "That’s because I fired into the side," Jack shouted back.  "Let me show you what happens when I fire down the line.  May be this time we’ll get the blighter."  So he immediately fired his second barrel and an equally agonised yelp came from John who didn’t have the presence of kind to get out of the way.  "Bloody hell," yelled John, "you’ve shot my head off."

By this time the boys were rolling on the ground unable to contain their laughter and kept egging them on" your turn Mr. Gibson, sock him" and so on.  Fortunately both by now, the not so immaculate gentlemen and the cat were saved by the fact that the trench was slightly curved, so before the shots reached the other end, they had ricocheted a few times and they got away with some superficial cuts.

At this point, despite the encouragement from the boys from their House, both Masters decided to call it a day (or night) and retire for the evening.  Early next morning the civet cat was seen to slink out of the drain after a peaceful night in the trench.  Both Houses were told to forget they saw anything!

Bhide: Mistaken Identity

Maj. Gen. V. V. Bhide
The Doon School

A good fifteen years after I had left school and had been in the Army for many years, a report appeared in the newspapers saying that an officer by name Bhide had been arrested on a charge of rape and/or embezzlement. Jack read this and immediately connecting me with the name jumped into his car and drove to Delhi and into the Army Headquarters loudly demanding why they had had the idiocy to pin such a charge on me! It took some time for the officers there to placate him enough to make him understand that this was quite a different Bhide from the one he had in mind.

Sathe: Day One

The Late Ramchandra D. Sathe
The Doon School, Batch of 1940

Kashmir House came into existence with the arrival of Jack Gibson in April, 1937, and I, along with my friend V. V. Bhide, were transferred from Hyderabad House to become the Head Prefect of Kashmir House.  I was almost 15 years old, in the SC class and had been the captain of the school cricket team since the inception of the school.  I was also in the school hockey, football, tennis and boxing teams.  I had also participated in the school athletics team.  I was a star performer in apparatus work and had been the senior leader in P.T. As a result I was generally walking on cloud 9, and to be suddenly elevated to Head Prefect of a House meant that I could really lock down my nose on those who became members of the newly established Kashmir House including Jack Gibson.  I was proven entity and Jack had still to establish himself.

This was the background to my first contact with Jack.  He, of course, had come with the formidable reputation of having been a candidate for the British Olympic Fencing Team, a keen skier and mountaineer and a general outdoors man.  He enjoyed playing hockey, football and cricket, but had little talent for these games.  I was one up.  He played a decent game of tennis and ten quoits and we were evenly matched.  He, however, hated being beaten at these two games by me and not above using rude but friendly language when he lost.  Within a short time we had taken measure of each other and I soon found Jack to be the equal of Arthur Foot and John Martyn who till then had been the outstanding teachers at the Doon School and whom we all respected very highly and of whom we stood in great awe.  However, it was easy for me to establish an excellent relationship with Jack partly because we shared a number of similar interests and the age gap between us was narrowed because of Jack’s friendly and unassuming ways.  His meticulous attention to details, his unflagging energy and his capacity for transmitting his energy were truly remarkable.  Another of his traits was his extraordinary kindness to all those with whom he came into contact which included not only the ten year olds who joined school but the uppity 15 year olds, their difficult parents, the fellow teachers, the administrative staff and above all the menial staff who took care of the numerous chores which made life so comfortable for us at the school.  Jack also understood what it meant to delegate authority and responsibility.  He not only permitted, but gave me and my fellow house prefects much freedom in enforcing discipline and in the organization of various activities.

Indeed he looked upon this as the essence of our education in regard to the art of leadership.  If any of us prefects had committed some blunder we were not upbraided in front of the juniors but we got what we deserved in the privacy of his study.

My last year in school was spent in preparing for the competitive examination for the entrance to the Indian Military Academy.  Since I was the only candidate from the school it was left to me to arrange my time-table in regard to my studies.  One of the subjects I was expected to learn was Geography.  And Jack was, of course, my tutor.  He insisted that if I were to learn geography then the best way would be for me to teach geography.  So, I had to take a few classes in geography under his watchful eye.  This way he made sure that I had learned my subject properly.

My last three years in school were my real formative years and looking back on my life I consider myself to have been extraordinarily lucky to have had in this period a friend and a mentor in the person of Jack.  Of course Jack and I got along extremely well and I recall spending many hours with him in his house or garden listening to music, learning the proper etiquette at the dining table or the bridge table, the fine points of photography (at which he was very good), planning outings for weekends and school vacations.  In the winter holiday of 1937, he took me and half a dozen other boys to Gulmarg to be introduced to skiing.  As there was very little snow that year on the Gulmarg slopes, the trip turned out to be a flop except that as a result of the trip I was left with a yen to see more of the mountains of Kashmir - a desire which was fulfilled as a result of my journey back from Kashgar in Sinkiang, to Leh in Ladakh, in the autumn of 1950.  I doubt if I would have undertaken that trip in the face of much opposition from various sources, but for the seed of adventure and love of mountains and the outdoor implanted in me by Jack Gibson.  There were many other aspects of my personality which took shape during this important stage of my life and which Jack helped to mold.

Jack’s contribution to the school has been commented upon by many of the old boys.  Of this group I appear to be the only one who joined school in its very first term.  Thus all those who have written about Jack are younger than me and the age gap between them and Jack was much greater than the age gap between me and Jack.  It would therefore not be unnatural if this age gap were to cause a certain degree of hero-worship to creep in.  Indeed as I write this, I begin to wonder whether it was possible that a man like Jack Gibson could have actually lived.  Oh, yes!  He did, and I confess that only one other person has had as much influence on my life as Jack did. I cherish my memories of Jack and I can never forget the extraordinarily warm and cordial welcome that he extended to me and my wife when he invited us soon after our marriage, to come and spend a couple of days with him in Chand Bagh. For our return journey to Delhi he personally packed a hamper of food and included in the hamper two silver napkin rings as a wedding present.  We still have those napkin rings.  They remind me of an obdurate but a kind man; a strict disciplinarian but full of understanding; loyal to Britain and her culture but capable of understanding and appreciating India; dedicated to his work but without pretension; of noble mind but full of humility; and weather beaten and tough as a nail but with the graces of a 17th century cavalier.


Mrs_futehally My son Murad Futehally was a student at Mayo College from 1960-1965 and my brother Aamir Ali attended Doon School during 1938-1939  Jack Gibson had a profound influence on both of them.  I am in the process of writing Jack Gibson’s biography and will share on this blog some of the memories his students have of him.

Alikhan: To Sir, With Love

Anvar Alikhan
Mayo College, Batch of 67

Anvarportrait First of all, Gibby would have hated the title of this piece.

He would have found it ungrammatical and illiterate. And even if I protested that it was a reference to the title of Ricardo Braithwaite's book, he would have none of it; he’d call me a “misery” and tell me to come here and bend over, anyway. You know what I mean….

In my mind’s eye I shall always see him as a kind of cross between Mr Chips and Ernest Hemingway. Mr Chips for obvious reasons, and Ernest Hemingway because he seemed to exemplify the values of outdoor life: mountaineering, fishing, shooting, trekking, driving off to remote but exotic places in his battered brown jeep, playing a variety of games with great determination, if not always great skill. And, what none of us knew was that he had been, in his time, a fencer of Olympic standard.

I first met Gibby was when I was 11. My parents had deposited me at Mayo and gone back to Bombay. I was sitting in a spooky, freezing room in Jaipur House, feeling rather sorry for myself, when Gibby suddenly appeared and hustled me off with all the other new boys, to climb Taragarh. I can still picture him, red-faced in the sun, shepherding a gaggle of small schoolboys up the hillside. Halfway up, I got stuck on a rocky ledge, sprained my foot and had to be rescued, but my home-sickness had magically disappeared. That was one of Gibby’s special tricks.

And the last time I met Gibby, while at Mayo, was when I went to say goodbye to him on my last day. He put me in his jeep and took me to see Shanti Niwas, the retirement home he’d just bought, and was in the process of refurbishing. He showed me a small verandah upstairs from where we could see the Main Building, and said, “You know, this is where I’ll sit and have my drink every evening, looking out at Mayo. A little like Shah Jehan and the Taj.”  Uncharacteristically sentimental of him, I remember thinking to myself at the time.

In between those two meetings were some of the most important years of my life. Where do I begin?

Gibby made it a point to get to know every boy who passed out of Mayo. He devised a system by which he’d teach us at least twice: once when we were about 11, when he taught us geometry, and how to think logically, and properly; and then again in our final year when his subject, officially, was English, but he would veer off into various other useful things like Speed Reading and Memory Systems -- which, forty years later, I find I still use almost every day.

We also knew that during one class – at some point in the course of that final year -- Gibby would abruptly shut his Shakespeare text, and launch into his famous talk on Sex … an event we waited for with great eagerness, and dissected with hilarity at leisure. That Talk was an important rite of passage at Mayo.

Everybody has their own different reasons for admiring Gibby. My own was for his  wonderfully playful mind. It showed in little things that he did, like those clever Mayoor competitions would invent. Like the time when M.C. Chagla was chief guest at Prize Giving, and you were supposed to send a telegram to your parents in 8 words, beginning with the letters MCCHAGLA”. (My own 12-year old effort was “Mayo College Chaps Have Achkans. Gentlemen, Ladies Attend”, but the prize, if I remember correctly, went to Anees Shareef’s “Missed Convocation. Chagla Has Already Gone Long Ago”). Or like the competition where there was a rambling passage of prose in which the names of over a hundred Mayo boys had been carefully hidden. (My own name, for instance, I found buried inside the word “unwarranted”.) 

His playful wit showed in the ditties and limericks he composed, and the complicated plots he thought up for all those Moonlight Schemes. Like the one we once played near the historic battlefield of Dorai: there were two opposing armies, the Tupjars and the Lahgums (note the palindromes) and Gibby’s detailed rules ran into nearly two full cyclostyled pages. If you were identified through the darkness by no less than two enemy soldiers simultaneously, you were dead. But if you then went to the Pundit seated under such-and-such peepul tree (i.e. Gurudev), he could grant you an extra life to get back into battle … but only provided you requested him in proper, grammatical Sanskrit. The latter was a touch only Gibby would have thought of.

His wit also showed on occasions like the time when Tejraj Singh and an accomplice, at the end of term, got hold of a jeep and rammed it straight into the Ajmer House gate-post. Gibby gravely announced this misdemeanour at Assembly. Then, wicked twinkle in eye, he continued, “I have thought very carefully about what to do with them. And I have decided to follow the advice of Gilbert & Sullivan, and let the punishment fit the crime. Thus Tejraj and friend will have to stay back in school and personally repair the damage they have caused. The cost of bricks and cement will, of course, be deducted from next term’s pocket money.

“When the gate-post is re-built,” he intoned, “And when the gate swings freely, then -- and only then -- will they be allowed to go home.” We were in hysterics.

When he once saw me reading P.G. Wodehouse, he said, “I’ll lend you something even better than that,” and gave me a book of Antrobus stories, Lawrence Durrell's stylish tribute to Wodehouse. He later introduced me to Durrrell’s Alexandria Quartet. My life was never quite the same after reading those books.

Gibby was an unusually perceptive man. When I was about fifteen I went through a long period of depression. Nobody noticed it, not my family, not my friends, not anybody. But Gibby did, somehow. He cornered me one day in front of the Chemistry lecture room. “What’s troubling you?” he asked.

“Nothing, sir.”

“It’s not nothing. I’ve been noticing the way you look.”

“Nothing, sir. Really.” I didn’t feel like talking about it.

“It’s all right, you can tell me.”

“No, sir, it’s nothing”

He looked at me for a long moment “All right,” he said finally, “but if you ever want to talk about it, remember I’m here.”

It felt so good to hear that.

There were sides to him that we glimpsed only rarely. Like the time we had put up an entertainment show in the Central Mess, and Gibby turned up to watch. He looked uncharacteristically elegant that evening, in a crisp chikan kurta-pyjama and Lucknowi “dupalli” topi. He’d obviously had a more than a couple of drinks, and was in great spirits. He walked onto the stage at the end of the evening, and proceeded to regale us with a  rowdy Cossack dance, squatting on his haunches, arms crossed in front, kicking his legs out straight in front of him, singing loudly and tunelessly in Russian, chikan kurta flying and dupalli topi askew. It demonstrated, how fit he was, even at that age. It also suggested to me, in some way, what a lonely man he was.

We took an unseemly interest in Gibby’s love life -- or lack thereof. There were a couple of middle-aged English ladies who used to visit school occasionally, and we were eager to pair them off with him. Our hot favourite among them (no pun intended) was a Miss Crystal Rogers, who ran the “Animal’s Friend”. We all agreed she was The One, mainly because she looked uncannily like Gibby himself, from her leathery, wind-beaten face and sinewy form, right down to her short-back-and-sides grey hairstyle. But Sub Kumaramangalam claimed – claimed -- that Gibby had once asked him about the headmaster of his former prep school in England, and remarked, “You know, he married the only woman I ever loved.”

He was a man of Spartan tastes. He had his jeep, his gun, his pipe, his two Labradors, his old wind-up gramophone and his collection of classical music records. And that was about it. He had no time for the frivolities of life, and that especially meant fashion and pop music. He once confiscated my prized Fred Perry tee shirt, saying “I’m not going to have you walking around with that green titty” (a reference to the then-iconic oak-leaf logo on the chest).

When the Beatles first emerged, Flash Anand and Ips Sinha formed a rock band and got themselves into the Prize Giving entertainment programme to sing A Hard Day's Night. Gibby found out at the last moment and threw a fit. He later relented, but only on one condition: that he would personally rewrite the words of the song. And so, on the night, the band dispiritedly sang:

        “It’s been a hard day’s night
        And I’m looki-i-ing such a fright
        In my long pointed shoes
        And ti-i-ight fitting trews
        But you can see from my hair
        That I sure ain’t square.…”

As the song ended, they were to bow low to the audience and their too-tight drainpipe trousers were to rip loudly from behind. Flash and gang may not have been amused, but the audience certainly was.

When I finished college, I wrote to Gibby saying that I was thinking of pursuing a career in advertising. He promptly wrote back, enclosing a letter of introduction to somebody. That somebody turned out to be no less than the Chairman of India’s largest advertising agency, who, Gibby explained in his accompanying letter, was a retired General, “a keen mountaineer and a fine fellow”. I never used that introduction, as it happened, preferring to approach the company through a less exalted route. The fact that I didn’t get in is a different matter.

I kept in touch with Gibby over the years. The first time I had written to him after school, I signed my name, and added “Batch of ‘67” under it. So whenever he wrote to me after that, he would wryly add “Batch of ‘26” under his own name. I particularly looked forward to his delightful Christmas letters, full of all the adventures -- and misadventures – he’d had during the past year; of all the places he had traveled to; all the old friends he had met up with. 

I had an argument with him once, after a second mug of his rather awful home-made beer. I told him I thought the value system he had set up at Mayo was distorted. The role models were always the football-kickers and hockey-stick swingers, I said. And any boy who was intellectually or artistically gifted was simply branded with that uniquely damning Mayo compound word: saalaintellectualfreak. “That’s rubbish,” Gibby replied, and talked of leadership and character. I cited examples to prove my point. The argument continued. Then he stopped and thought. “Maybe that’s true,” he mused. “Maybe there were some boys for whom Mayo was not the best place. Maybe they would have done better elsewhere.” It was gracious of him to say that.

I last met Gibby in the early ‘90s, when I went to meet him in Ajmer.  He looked ill and frail, wearing a crumpled kurta-pyjama and soda-bottle glasses.  I’d been told he had skin cancer. Too many years of Rajasthani desert sun and open jeep, I suppose. Or perhaps too many sun’s rays reflecting off the ice faces of the Himalayas he had climbed.

I started to introduce myself, but he interrupted, saying, “Yes, of course I remember you.  You’re the chap who was Editor of the Mayoor. You had reviewed General Kaul’s book on the 1962 war. How is your grandmother, the one who was in politics?”  He remembered, still.

He led me onto the terrace and said “Wait, I have to first take the temperature”. I thought he was going to put a thermometer in his mouth, but no – ever the geography master, he hobbled across to a set of instruments to check the ambient temperature and humidity, and noted them meticulously in a log. He then showed off to me how he had trained a pair of stray sparrows to come and actually eat off his fingers. That done, he said, “All right, now have a beer”. We sat and talked of his days in World War II, and how the British fleet in Ceylon had narrowly missed being wiped out by the Japanese Pearl Harbour task force. It had slipped away just in time to a secret base in the Maldives, where Gibby spent much of the War.

As I was leaving that afternoon, I noticed a beautiful pair of old wooden skis mounted on his staircase wall. I think they were Peterboroughs. I casually remarked that they would probably be very valuable now. Gibby immediately insisted that I take them. “Go on,” he kept saying, “I have no use for them any longer”. He sent for a servant to pack them for me. The only way I could stop him, finally, was to say that I really wouldn’t be able to carry them back to Bombay.

When we first saw My Fair Lady while at Mayo, we were struck by the marked resemblance between Rex Harrison and Gibby: the cut of the face; that lopsided smile; the way their eyes crinkled up at the corners. I recently learned that when they were re-making Goodbye, Mr Chips in the mid ‘60s, they had originally wanted to Rex Harrison to play the part of Mr Chips, but he turned them down; it was only then that they chose Peter O’Toole for the role. What a pity! For us Mayo boys, Rex Harrison as Mr Chips would have meant Gibby forever.

As I write these words I realise that I am now the same age that Gibby was when I knew him. I compare what he did in his life with what I have done in my own, and I feel shamed.  But then I console myself that men like him are very rare indeed.

Thank you, sir. It was an honour to have been taught by you.