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December 2007

Lall: A Rare and Lasting Experience

Mahendra Lall
The Doon School, 120J, 1939-1945

"Come here you miserable Booby" was Jack Gibson’s affectionate address to us bumbling Doscos of yester year.. For those unfamiliar with old English, a Booby was a dolt, goof, a silly person and is still typified by the silly Booby that sits around the tarmacs of the world as commercial jets roar around it. This encomium accompanied me even after I left school. All well meant and no offence taken.

Jack Gibson, in turn, was nick-named ‘Gibby’ and ‘Gunda’ as a recognition of his unconventional ways. Out of the formidable quartet of Foot,  Martyn,  Holdy and Gibson, the latter left an indelible imprint that was quite unique in the annals of The Doon School.  Gibby taught Geography in a manner that made a rather mundane subject come alive by pinning beautiful photographs on the back wall of his class- room. He must have spent a lot of time and effort in extracting these hand picked, beautiful, educational photographs from magazines and periodicals and we were expected to study these and their captions carefully and answer the barrage of questions that followed the next week. And woe betide if you’ boobed’, which earned you a whack on the behind from the meter ruler that was Gibby’s sceptre, pointer and dispenser of justice. One day he was teaching us The International Date Line and got all mixed up, much to the amusement of the class. One of my class mates exclaimed that he (Gibby) had qualified for a ‘whack’. Gibby agreed, bent over and copped it from the meter ruler dexterously wielded by the over zealous schoolboy. He earned a loud appreciative clap from the class. That was typical of the man. No airs or fancies, just down to earth good fun.

One of his major achievements was a huge plaster-cast relief map of the Doon Valley and its environs, which had pride of place on the landing outside the HM’s office in the Main Building. I haven’t noticed this monument and hope it still exists. Probably in urgent need of lots of tender loving  care, which it justly deserves to retain its pristine glory.

Even though I was not in Kashmir House I had a lot to do with Gibby in one way or another. I took up fencing on Wednesday afternoons and was introduced to the subtleties of foil and rapier and happily joined in the exploits of ‘The Three Musketeers’. The fencing lessons were conducted in Gibby’s beautifully manicured  garden at the back of Kashmir House. The’ pay back’ was tending to his beloved sweet peas which we trained to climb up the rickety ‘sarkanda ‘ fences.

Gibby introduced rafting in the Doon School.  As a member of the rafting fraternity, we used to take a bus to Dak Pathar Boom at Kalsi.  Pine logs used to be floated down the Tons River to the log jam at Kalsi, expertly sorted out and then re-floated down the Jumna River to Jagadhri where they were suitably dressed in the timber and saw mills. For rafting, the expert rafters would tie up a bunch of logs to form a rather wobbly platform onto which we would clamber with ‘a wing  and a prayer’ and we would be launched onto the hair raising rapids all the way down to Khara or Ambari where we would stay overnight in the Dak Bungalow. Gibby faithfully tried spoon fishing for Mahseer but I don’t think he caught anything. He certainly taught me how to cast a line, which proved to be invaluable in my later fishing forays.

Gibby was very friendly with Maharajkumar Karamjit Singh and Princess Sita of Kapurthala and spent several weeks with them in the summer months in Mussoorie, my home town. He was also a guest of my younger brother, Rupi and his wife Roma, and stayed in our family home,’ Fenloe’ on several occasions.

To have known and studied under Gibby was a rare and lasting experience which I will never forget.

God Bless him and may he rest in peace, secure in the knowledge that he has left an indelible mark on all those who had the privilege of knowing him.

Mukherjee: Love for Open Spaces

Ashim Mukherjee
The Doon School, 44T, Batch of 1958

Ashimmukherjee_2 It is difficult to write anything about JTM without first mentioning his love for the open spaces. No wonder he taught Geography at the Doon School, a subject that best displayed his natural talents, albeit in the confines of a classroom.

Yet Gibby's Class room was one of the biggest in School next only to the lecture room on the western corner of the first floor in the main building. Frankly I really didn't know Jack Gibson that well, but then my older brother Arun Mukherjee (Ex-213T and Batch of '52) was a virtual devotee of his and through Arun I too got to know Gibby quite well.

His very handsome tall frame was well endowed with flesh and bones which made him an endearing sight whenever he strode about in the Chandbagh. Although I was not in Kashmir House  of which he was the House Master yet I began to adore him very early in life. Masters in those days and Iam talking of the '50's & 60s were a very  different breed altogether. Apart from pure academics, they imparted several training skills on life's many finer aspects  all of which has stood us in good stead through these years. Gibby, Holdy ( R.L.Holdsworth), John Martyn, Arthur Foot along with many others made the Doon School what it is today. They instilled in us values and cultures that have become inseparable parts of our life.

JTM was a lefty or in more graceful terminology Southpaw.  Those of us who saw him play Tennis will remember his shots which carried the power of several cannons. Gibby had a love hate relationship between Cricket & Fishing. As Sufi (Arshad Rashid) Ex-234K, batch of 56 and one of his more famous House and School Captains said that if there was a Cricket Match on the main field, you could be sure Gibby would be out fishing either at Satnarain or somewhere around.

All of us at the Doon School were heart broken when he was chosen to become the Principal of Mayo College but then as John Martyn said where would they find a better man. Later whenever we visited Mayo to take part in Inter School Games, Jack Gibson treated us just as his own children.  Thereafter I lost touch with him for a while and not until I heard about his autobiography As I Saw It which I read with so much nostalgia and genuine pleasure.

Around that time I also got to know that he had been made to part with a lot of money by some fly-by-night characters. I was not surprised for men like Jack Gibson trusted people quickly, implicitly and without reservation. I dare say that many of us have also suffered similar fate in the hands of such wheeler dealers.

And now for the grand finale. Everyone who attended Gibby's class will remember his very strange system of marking - much to the Headmaster John Martyn's consternation. If you did well , you could get something like 12 out of 10 or alternatively if you were like me, you could get a low of minus 2 out of ten. All these of course left John Martyn red faced because he just couldn't account for such a unique system of marks.

Well then that's it really but then I think it fair to say that  if the chap up there had to give Gibby marks for the quality of life he led in this world, I have no doubt he would give Jack Gibson a glorious 15 out of 10.