Mayo College, Batch of 1959
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.