The Doon School, 204 k, 1942-1947
I joined school during 1942. Mr Gibson who was the House Master of Kashmir House had, at that time, joined the Navy in response to the call by Mr Churchill for joining the British forces to fight against Germany. Mr Vyas was holding the charge of Kashmir house in his absence. As a new entrant I had not met Mr Gibson but a number of tales about him and his persona were rife at the campus. I gathered that he was strict but a loveable person and boys had nick named him ‘Goondy’
My first encounter
One fine morning of April 1943, a very smart naval officer walked in our class to take a lesson of General Knowledge. This was Mr Gibson who had come on leave to Dehradun. His opening remark was that every town’s name tells us its geography and culture. He asked us what does the name Chittorgarh tell you? Boys responded telling him that Maharana Pratap Singh fought against Aurangzeb from here. He was not satisfied by the answer. So he asked what did the names Rampur and Phoolpur indicate? There was no response.He looked unhappy and asked what did Oxford and Cambridge tell us? I replied that there must be a bridge at Cambridge. I also told him that Phulpur must mean that people there grew lots of flowers and there must be a market for flowers. He beamed at this and asked me to which house did I belong to? I told him that I was in Kshmir house. To which he said that he thought so as Kashmir house had intelligentia. I was on cloud nine.
It transpired that coming back to school on leave he had purchased a book at the railway station which gave the names of Indian cities and explained their culture and geography. thus he wanted us to learn and analyse the names of the towns and the cities and study about their culture and geography as well. He kept taking classes on the subject discussing hundreds of towns. When his leave expired he gave us a test and gave three prizes too. By then I had become his admirer.
During his next year leave he came and taught us how to read an Army map and point out the exact location of a place by giving 6 figure map reference. I wondered how could he do that at sea. He also taught us how to find out our position at night by looking at the pole and the other stars. He did all this in a very interesting manner and kept our interest alive.
I give below some of the characteristics of Mr Gibson which are clear in my memory. There was no equivalent of ‘thank you’ in Hindi so he used to say ‘meherbani’ whenever he wanted to thank a person who knew no English.
He used to invite boys in turn for Sunday breakfast. We looked forward to our turn because along with a normal fare he used to serve strawberries with cream also. There he would discuss our problems and difficulties and tried to solve them too.
Penchant for discipline
Mr Gibson was a disciplinarian of the old orderand did not believe in sparing the rod. Whenever a boy committed an act of indiscipline which deservered a whack or a yellow card, he gave a choice either to get three whacks on the bottom or go for the yellow card to Headmaster. Obviously most of the boys opted for the former punishment.
One boy who was always in trouble was very innovative. He used to put a thin cardboard inside his trousers to minimise the impact of the whacks. One day when he got caught Mr Gibson removed the cardboard padding and gave him real hard whacks saying that I appreciate your ingenuity but you must learn to be man to take your punishment.
After the war he came back to Kashmir house as Housemaster. Our Geography classes were being taken by Mr Gurdial Singh, a famous mountaineer, a very smart , knowlegeable and dedicated teacher. It was expected that our geography class will revert back to him. He refused as he asserted that Mr Gurdial Singh was a very capable teacher who will who will bring glory to our class. How true was that! In our class all except five boys got distinction in Geography setting an unbeatable record.
He was very fond of adventure sports. One mid term break he took us to Dak Pathar where the trees cut on the mountains rolled down the river Yamuna.. here they were tied into rafts and floated down to Yamunanagar which is a wood and furniture market. He hired few rafts and put us on them. We were to float down to a place called Khara where there was a Dak bungalow atop a hill overlooking the river Yamuna. This area was a picnic spot. Our baggage and cooks etc were sent by bus to Khara. The journey down the river riding the rafts was thrilling. Specially while crossing the rapids.. by lunch time we were in Khara where we bid goodbye to rafts. To avoid getting wet Mr Gibson had ordered us to strip and put our shirts and trousers on our heads. In the middle of the river there was a nice spot with dry piece of land and lots of trees and grass. We headed for it and climbed on to the oasis in our birthday suits. To our horror we found a group of girls and their teacher from a renowned college from Delhi having a picnic. Seeing us in a state as we were they were equally horrified and the teachers in panic asked the girls to close their eyes. Mr Gibson who was the only one wearing the pants but no shirt and asked us to retreat. In his characteristic style he walked up to the teacher apologizing for the intrusion. The lady teacher was further horrified seeing a half naked man approaching. The situation was quite comic. He invited them to the Dak bungalow to to have pot luck lunch which they declined. It slowly dawned on them that we were Doon School boys and were on mid term break and thus regained their composure. The matter did not end there as there were girls who were sisters, cousins or girl friends of boys who later during our holidays teased us endlessly and called us ‘nanga sadhus’.
We enjoyed our midterm at Khara. There was jungle all around the Dak bungalow . there were wild fowl. A wild cock was there nearby which crowed early in the morning and even at odd hours. Mr Gibson with all his naval training tried his level best to bag it for the table but was unsuccessful. We told him that the cock was a land bird and not a duck which lives in water and falls prey to naval officers.
Mr Gibson firmly believed in Gandhian philosophy e.g. about the lot of the villages and the villagers must improve. The school had formed a ‘Dehaat Sabha’ and adopted Tunnawala village near Dehradun. He insisted that all of us must pay at least four annas per month from our meager pocket money of Rs five. His pet phrase was ‘ you have to pay for Dehaat Sabha.
He was very fond of gardening. His sweet peas were always the best in the area. Kashmir house sweet peas won the cup as the best in the District flower show. We used to joke that if our house did not win any cup in the school activities we have at least one permanent sweet peas cup.
He was an expert in fencing. A match was arranged between Mr Catchpole, the Principal of RIMC and Mr Gibson in the Rose Bowl. Both the participants were excellent. Mr Holdsworth was the judge. He could not decide on the winner. Mr Catchpole came and said that Navy had won probably on the basis that Britannia rules the waves.
That was the spirit.
Sports and the Cheer Band
Mr Gibson was a keen sportsman. He thought of ways of boosting the morale of the players of football and hockey. He organized a ‘Cheer band’ on the lines of American cheer leaders of today. It consisted of bugles, drums and any instrument from the dramatic society that could produce noise with a band of full throated boys. They made a din shouting ‘well-done’ Kashmir house. It did a lot to boost the morale of the teams in inter house matches. It also started a controversy that this type of cheering should be allowed. Other houses had a grouse as we had taken all the noise making instruments available in the dramatic society.
The partition-August 1947
Then came the partition in August 1947. The school was to open in August after the summer vacation. An announcement was made on air by All India Radio that the opening of the school on the due date had been postponed and a fresh date will be announced later. About 60 of us boys who did not know about this had already arrived at the school campus. I along with my two younger brothers were among them. We were housed centrally in Kashmir house. There were riots all around and things were gloomy and scary. Mr Gibson, Holdy, HM and Mr Gurdial Singh armed with their shotguns patrolled day and night so that no harm came to us and the school. The team rescued the muslim servants and their families and they were put up in the campus. They also rescued an old boy Mr Mohsin Md H and his family from the town and brought them to the school. Amongst such afflicted and rescued people were also Miss Munni Wahid and her mother. Munni later was allowed to join our school and became the first girl student of the Doon school. Mr Gibson also brought two sikh boys from Athison college, Lahore to Kashmir house so that they could complete their studies.
As there were no regular classes at this stage Mr Gibson used to take me and few more boys in military trucks to a village nearby where there were a number of muslim families were stuck. We used to collect them, load them in the military trucks and take them to the refugee center on station road. They were then escorted to Saharanpur by road and later put on trains taking refugees to Pakistan. The muslim employees our school also took the same route and we bid them tearful farewell. Mr Gibson like all others was very sad on the shape of the things taking place and tried to persuade some of the school servants to stay backing India. One person Md Ismail, our bearer in Kashmir house agreed to stay. He was good in sports and had won many prizes in servants’ sports events. He would organize football and kabbadi matches and lead the teams to victory.
Principal of JSW
I joined Indian Military Academy. During this time the concept of National Defence Academy came about. A Joint Services Wing (JSW) was formed in Clement Town near Dehradun. Mr Gibson was asked by Pandit Nehru to come as a civilian Principal of JSW which he accepted. The JSW was to be formally inaugurated on 04 June 1949. We cadets from IMA went to rehearse for the parade during the afternoons in that summer heat. We got 20 minutes break for tea during the rehearsals. As Mr Gibson’s house was very near the parade ground Satish Khosla and I used to run to his house to help ourselves to cold drinks and eats etc. we were very welcome by his jeeves, the butler Samuel who had seen us as school boys. When Mr Gibson came to know of our daily raid of his home he made it a point to be present at the house. It was an emotional reunion. We talked of old times and the future.
After completing the course at IMA we went away on posting and Mr Gibson whose heart was in school went back and Mr T Vyas from Kashmir house took over in his place at JSW. Later we learnt that he had joined Mayo College and became a legend in Ajmer.
One sad day in 1994 we were informed that he had passed away and his body was being brought to Delhi for cremation in the electric crematorium. All available DOSCOs in Delhi attended his funeral. His body when lying in state looked majestic though he had become considerably thin. I was reminded of the Tolstoy’s story ‘ how much land does a man need’. With moist eyes we bade him farewell, a very loveable house master of Kashmir house.