By Doon Alum

Mehera: Making a Man Out of Me

Saroj Kumar Mehera
The Doon School, 122K, 1940-1944

Mehera_3 I joined Doon in the first term of 1940, a somewhat self-centred weakling of 12, with an abrasive manner which was soon knocked out of me, both verbally and physically, by other boys!

In my previous school, all the masters were Anglo-Indians and the only Englishman I had come face to face with was a doctor in Calcutta, an amiable elderly man. At Doon, I was awe-struck by the Headmaster, Arthur Foot, tall and unsmiling, and my Housemaster, Jack Gibson, who had a superficial  facial resemblance to King George VI. Ram Sathe was School and House Captain. Jammy Marker succeeded him as School Captain and S.K. Candade as House Captain. Candade was a stern figure as were the other praefects (Foot’s spelling). Inevitably, I was bullied by bigger boys and only in class did I feel secure. I would probably have run away from school, that first term, had the human side of Jack Gibson not manifested itself to me in his singing, on some days, in the House dining room, ditties from his native Yorkshire like “Ilkley Moor Baht’At” and “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Eliza”, encouraging us to join in. It was his way of making Kashmir House into a family. In subsequent years, particularly during mid-term trips to places like Ambari, Khara, and rafting on the Jumna (as the Yamuna was then called) Jack would endear himself to his flock by his ideas of Hindustani. Boiled potatoes were the standard Kashmir House staple on these trips and, on one occasion, Jack sought an exchange and said to a village maiden “Hum Aloo, Tum Atta”. The poor girl fled, thinking Jack was propositioning her! Chickens were “Murgi Ka Babalog”. Any spring, be it metal or the season was “Basant”.

Jack had his eccentricities, like when walking across a heavily flooded Main Field, he found his trousers drenched up to his calves, took them off and strode on semi-naked and, in his classroom, cut off their legs!

He had a naturally loud voice but this did not deter him from exclaiming on one occasion, “…..and there was Khalid, running down the corridor, holding his cock like a Naga”.

Jack made me take up boxing but by then I was heavy for my height and age, resulting in my being a punching bag, at practices, for others of my weight. It did, however, take a lot of timidity out of me, as I passed into adolescence.

As a teacher of Geography, Jack made an otherwise dreary subject come alive by, among other things, showing us how to map-read and how to use a magnetic compass if one was lost in, say, a forest. He was an excellent photographer and would illustrate his lessons with shots from his Leica camera. His pride and joy was an enormous plaster of Paris relief map of India, his handiwork, which filled the classroom. In 1942, Jack took leave to serve his country in the Royal Indian Navy Voluntary Reserve, as the son of a naval officer.

Posted for a time in Bombay, he managed to photograph the enormous ammunition explosion in the docks in 1944. His locum as Geography teacher was one Farhatullah, who decided, at some stage towards the end of his tenure, to paint the relief map! Jack’s fury, when he returned in 1946, was full of naval invectives which would have reduced Farhatullah to little bits had he still been around!

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Indian dress has recently made waves all over India. Jack produced “The Merchant Of Venice” in Indian dress in 1941 in the Rose Bowl and was a great hit. Another Gibson production was Galsworthy’s “Strife” in 1946, in which I played Frost, the butler.

Like his colleagues, Holdy and John Martyn, Jack was a keen mountaineer and a keen shikari. As an aside, the story has often been told of Martyn and Gibson shooting at a civet cat from opposite ends of a large drainpipe; less has been told of Jack silencing a loudspeaker on the Chakrata road with his shotgun fired from the edge of Skinner’s! 

It was in my last year at school, 1946, when I was studying for the HSC, that I really got to know and respect Jack. At 18, I was on the threshold of manhood and Jack treated me as an adult. During the summer holidays, my classmate Humayun Mirza and I stayed for about a month at the school before the second term began, ostensibly to study for the HSC exams! Both of us had been appointed House Captain, he of Hyderabad and I of Kashmir. Jack was in residence and would have us over for a chat, often about Indian independence, the Cabinet Mission et al.  Knowing or guessing that I smoked, he would offer me a cigarette, saying I was still on holiday! When term began, Jack took pains to impress upon me the needs of a responsible citizen in the independent India that was round the corner. Penderel Moon, ICS, was a friend of Jack’s and, as I found later from his writings, highly perceptive and sympathetic to Indian aspirations. During interactive sessions (in today’s jargon) between Housemaster and House Captain, Jack would often refer to his correspondence with Penderel Moon, to buttress his exhortations to me.

March-born like Jack, but twenty years later, my foregoing ramblings at the age of 80 probably do not explain why I say that he made a complete man out of me, but he did.

Bharat Ram: A Great Friend

Arun Bharat Ram
The Doon School, 36K, 1952-1958

Abr_photo_4 It was at the end of January, 1952, when I went with my mother to leave my younger brother Vivek at Welhams where he had been admitted. After settling him in, my mother took me to meet John Martyn, the Head Master of the Doon School and he casually mentioned that there was a vacancy at the school as somebody had dropped out at the last moment and I could be admitted. Those were the good old days when there were no admission lines and before I knew it, I was a Dosco. Since there was no place in Holding House I joined Kashmir House with Jack Gibson as my House Master. In the two years he was there during my time, I was a recipient of the best of six on the backside as well as bowls of ice cream with strawberries for jumping off the top board of the swimming pool in my first term. Mr. Gibson, to youngsters like us, was at the same time a tall imposing character as well as a great friend and reconteur. Two of my most memorable mid-term breaks were with Mr. Gibson when he took us to Shivpuri on the Ganges and Khara on the Yamuna. These were early reminiscences of Jack Gibson.

What I want to relate is my relationship with him after I left the Doon  School.

Right after finishing school, I was packed off to study in Germany. After having spent four months learning German, I had to cut short my stay as I did not get admission into the university which had changed its rules and required Indian students to have a minimum of Intermediate equivalent certificates. Coming back to India, I found there was no way I could get back to Doon, as my seat had been given up. I was resigned to finishing my Intermediate by correspondence but as a last resort my mother, who had become good friends with Jack Gibson, requested him to help me in any way he could. He immediately offered both my cousin Vikram Lal, 1957 batch, who was in the same predicament as I was, and me to join Mayo College to finish our Intermediate there. Since there was no space at the regular Houses, he offered us to stay in his bungalow which we happily did for the next one and a half years. Vikram and I roomed together in Mr. Gibson’s beautiful house at Mayo.

We were attached to one of the Houses and had the same privileges and responsibilities as all other students of the school. In fact I had a unique opportunity to play in a cricket match against the Doon School while I was at Mayo College.

It was just like Jack Gibson to have helped out his old students at such short notice. I personally learnt a lot of good values from him which I have tried my best to put into practice throughout my life.

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.

Bahl: Goondy -- The Lovable Person

Harish Bahl
The Doon School, 204 k, 1942-1947

Harish I have some very old and fond memories of Mr Gibson as I recollect them at this stage.

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.

Sunday Treat
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.

Gandhian Influence
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.

His Hobbies
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.

Khosla: Yanked by Gibby

Romi Khosla.
166-Kashmir House, The Doon School, 1952 -57

I can never forget Jack Gibson. He saved my life. I would have drowned in the Ganges at Shivpuri if he hadn't yanked me over his head and flung me onto the sand beach where I lay flapping my legs rather like his mahaseer did every time he yanked mahaseer from the river. Holdy always berated Gibby for using shark tackle when he went fishing. "Jack just yanks the fish out of the river when they bite, his line and rod is for sharks," he used to say proudly rubbing the shaft of his fly tackle. But I for one have always remained grateful that Gibby had perfected his yank the shark technique because that is what he did to me.

I hadn’t learned to swim. Brought up in Simla, I was more at home on skis and had never been to a pool. There weren’t any at Simla. Naturally I was blissfully unaware of dreadful forces called currents that the Ganges kept hidden for its special victims. And sure enough, as I was paddling about on the waters edge the evil current struck at the lower part of my legs and carried me with great surface tranquility into its bosom. I was able to jump up once from the sand bank well below my feet. A kind of spring jump that Arjun Singh had so diligently taught us when approaching the horse in the gymnasium. That really helped and Gibby heard the splash and moved across to the bank, caught my arm and catapulted me. There was no admonishing in words. I bent over the camp chair and was thwacked with the best. First you nearly drown and then you recover from the stinging pains on your wet bum. "You have 15 days to learn swimming otherwise we will come back here and I will watch you sink into the river."

There were four of us on this outing. Gibby had picked us up as the most lost looking of the new boys and he was taking us to Shivpuri to make us  recruits to outdoor life. I had had my initiation. Next it was the turn of Bhargava. A staunch vegetarian from Benares. Kaddu had no idea what flesh eating monsters he was with that week-end. The canned chicken soup was served from Gibby’s stock of provisions and Kaddu drank it up like a good boy. Later, after some bread had been swallowed, Gibby asked Kaddu how he had liked the soup and naturally, it being delicious, Kaddu replied by licking his lips and inquiring about its receipe. "That’s chicken soup" replied Gibby. In an instant Kaddu had brought it out and soiled our beach, "What’s the matter with him" asked Gibby "Sir," I replied, "he is a vegetarian."

"What a nonsense thing to be. Come on Bhargava you’ll never get anywhere in cross-country with this vegetable nonsense."

Gibby was my house master, my geography teacher and once a guide for rock climbing.

Ali: Memoriam

Retyped from Himalayan Journal No. 51

Aamir Ali
The Doon School, Batch of 1939

"You gave so much pleasure...a  completely natural schoolmaster in full blast, the kind of activity one has as a young man vainly hoped to conduct, and which I have occasionally seen in just a few of the scores of men I have myself selected for the staff of Cheltenham, Shrewsbury and  Sandhurst."  Thus H. H. Hardy, a former headmaster, wrote to Jack Gibson in 1952.

A hundred memories of Jack Gibson in full blast come crowding in; animating a classroom, yodeling in the mountains, on the ski slopes, driving his jeep and swearing at lorry drivers or stopping for a pee and a pipe, cycling, camping, tending his sweet-peas, shooting and fishing, exploring the hills around Ajmer for suitable rock climbs, rehearsing a play, negotiating for a raft on the Jumuna by nonchalantly waving a ten rupee note, sailing, writing directly to Pandit Nehru to get  a consignment of climbing equipment through the Customs without paying duty, wheedling a sailing boat for Mayo out of the Navy, decrying the politics and morality of the modern world, coaching a group in fencing, charming a group of parents, offering generous hospitality way beyond his means, turning a blind eye on a senior boy sneaking his sherry, showing infinite patience with a youngster in trouble, explaining in rusty French to the patronne of the Auberge at Lac Tannay how he used to carry his skis up there from the Rhone valley, gnashing his remaining natural teeth because he had forgotten his false ones in a tobacco tin in a  London hotel before  setting  out on a  gastronomic cruise,  conducting a voluminous correspondence, always ready to do the unusual and the unconventional. "A Renaissance man," one of his former students called him.

Above all, his tremendous gusto. Everything he did was with enthusiasm and verve - at full blast. It was for this that he was a hero to generations of boys at the Doon School and at Mayo College, who continue to repeat legends about him, the legends growing with each telling. And why not?  That's how it should be with a legendary figure. 

A few facts. John Travers Mends Gibson was born on 3 March 1908, son of a naval officer, and was  educated at Haileybury and Cambridge where he got his half blue for fencing - and later almost made the British Olympic team. He joined the staff of Chillon College (near Montreux in Switzerland) in September 1929 with responsibility for winter sports; he also taught history. "These were the happiest years of my life," he once said, but one suspects that he made most of his years happy ones. He skied and climbed with the Swiss Alpine Club; this included the Javelle of the Aiguilles Dorees, "one of the more difficult climbs, so was a great experience for me and quite an honor being asked to go on it," he wrote. He contributed an article recalling his adventures to the Alpine Journal, 1986.

The economic depression hit Chillon College, and Jack left, but had decided that teaching was what he wanted to do; so he went on doing this at Ripon Grammar School from 1932 to 1936. He continued his skiing holidays at Morgins in the Valais (where he claims to have seen the future King of Siam running naked in the corridors of his hotel, chased by an ayah). It was there he met Sir Malcolm Hailey, Governor of the U.P. and President of the Himalayan Club, who encouraged him to apply to the Doon School. He was accepted and told to study the teaching of geography before coming over. He joined the DS as housemaster in January 1937 and India was his home till his death on 23 October 1994, 57 years later.

On leave from the DS, he served in the Royal Indian Navy Volunteer Reserve from 1942 to 1945, and as Principal of the Joint Services Wing, Dehra Dun and Khadakvasla, when it was set up in 1949 until 1951.

One of his proudest moments was in 1992 when the three Service Chiefs, all former students of his, flew in to Ajmer to pay tribute to him. In a letter of 14 September 1992, he wrote, "My only bit of interesting news is that about a month ago, the Chiefs of all three Services came to see me here with their wives. They had all been cadets of the first course of the JSW when I was responsible for academics. The General, Admiral, Air Chief Marshal paid me a very great compliment... They had to fly in separate helicopters and to come from the helipad in separate bullet-proof cars. The local army had guards all over the place and my house was thoroughly searched."

In 1953 he was appointed principal of Mayo College and in his 15 years there, completely revitalized that noble institution, increased the number of boys from 140 to 506 with a long waiting list, democratized it, raised its academic standards, and established himself as a legend. In 1960 he was awarded the OBE by the British Government, in 1965 the Padma Shri by the Indian Government; a rare instance of someone honored by both Governments.

He had a very strong sense of family and was deeply attached to his parents and to his sister. He wrote regularly and in detail to his mother; she kept his letters and this enabled him to write As I Saw It, published in 1976, covering the period from his arrival in India in January 1937 till his retirement from Mayo in February 1969. He followed this up with As I Saw It From Shanti Niwas, 1992, covering the period 1969-1984.

Jack loved the mountains and was a mountaineer in the real sense. He loved being in the mountains: climbing, walking, camping, trekking, and above all, skiing. "You will never convince a skier that there is any sport to compare with skiing," he .once wrote in an article on Summer Skiing in the Himalayas [The Times of India, 28 July 1956]. In his very first summer in India, he spent seven weeks in the Himalaya with John Martyn, on Bandarpunch and crossing the Gangotri-Alaknanda watershed. Since then, he was a regular visitor to the Himalaya, mostly to the Garhwal, with skiing holidays in Kashmir and Switzerland for good measure.

But his major achievement was not the conquest of major peaks but the initiation of generations of boys to mountaineering and skiing. His article on The Harki Doon in the H.J. XVIII. 1954 describes three visits to the region he had made his own; twice with parties of boys to whom he. taught skiing and climbing. (He made further visits later.) They skied down from 14,800ft, and "must be almost the first party to learn at such a height," he wrote. The completely natural schoolmaster got more satisfaction out of teaching mountain skills to youngsters and imbuing them with the love of the high hills than in setting off to conquer high peaks himself. Though in his article An Unclimbed Mountain, in H.J. 39 - 1981/82 he did express his longing to climb Swargrohini, and he did achieve the first ascent of Kalanag, the Black Peak.

When I visited the Har-ki-Doon area in 1956, the men of Osla village spoke with reverence of the Burra sa'ab who used to walk up the snow slopes with his skis the moment camp was set up.

On various occasions on his way to England, he stopped off in Switzerland to ski. Once he brought a couple of his students to Veysonnaz in the Valais - then a new resort, now on the World Cup circuit - and we spent several glorious days, with Jack using skis made to his design by the Forest Research Institute of Dehra Dun, a wonder to all. I think he quite enjoyed the amazement he aroused!

In 1960, he came in April when the snow had disappeared from the lower slopes and I suggested a mountain itinerary starting from the Aiguille du Midi (reached by telepherique) 3800m down the Vallee Blanche and the Mer de Glace traversing a heavily crevassed icefall. Jack hadn't skied for over a year and wasn't used to the bindings of the rented skis which clamped your heels. Though a commonly used trail, I was worried because on the same trip the previous year, one of my companions had slithered on an icy patch into a crevasse and fallen some 8 m. Luckily there were five of us to pull him out with only a broken ski as damage. Jack did it all in magnificent style and with his usual gusto; though he claimed to be exhausted at the end, he had enough energy to make caustic and audible comments on the stiletto heels of the girls who passed the cafe in Chamonix where we were having a welcome beer.

Jack was President of the Himalayan Club, 1970-73. Thus he represented the HC at the Meet in Darjeeling to mark the 20th anniversary of the climbing of Everest. In his speech he spoke of the relations of the HC with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation [IMF], and ended with words that bear repetition: "Mr. Sarin (President of the IMF) has agreed that any reports we send him of misuse of the environment will be forwarded to the relevant government department, and pressure put on it to put things right. Therefore, if anyone on trek or expedition finds shrubs or trees being overused as fuel, or finds litter left unburied, or that sort of thing, we would be glad if he would let us know."

On his first expedition in 1937, John Martyn and Jack Gibson had Tenzing with them, and Jack and Tenzing struck up a life long friendship [In a letter of 3 August 1989 written from England, Jack said, "I paid a visit to Brigadier Osmaston (now over 90) who put John Martyn and me on to Tenzing and Rinzing for our first expedition -Gangotri to Badrinath with the summit ridge of Bandarpunch on the way -and he was in great form, though a bit weak in his legs, as I am becoming."] Tenzing was with Jack on two further expeditions to Bandarpunch, which Tenzing dubbed "the Doon School Mountain": in 1946, accompanied by R. L. Holdsworth ('his clothes and equipment are unsuitable for heights being mostly pre-war and worn out') and Nandu Jayal; and in 1950, accompanied by Gurdial and Jagjit Singh and others. It was typical of Jack that when Gurdial felt unwell on the last lap to the summit, he 'unselfishly volunteered to be the one to go down with him', as Tenzing put it, leaving the others to get to the summit he had coveted for so many years.

And it was Jack who recommended as Tenzing special instructor in mountaineering to the Operational Research Section of the Army. Tenzing refers touchingly several times to "my old friend Mr. Gibson" in his autobiography. And it is pleasant to read that on 27 January 1961, Jack "had Tenzing and his daughter to lunch at the Gymkhana Club in New Delhi. I hadn't met him since he climbed Everest and it was a splendid reunion. He was quite unchanged and unspoiled and said the right thing when he exclaimed that I wasn't looking at all an old man."

Jack had the knack of getting on with all sorts of people, exemplified by his warm relations with his servants. Samuel was his faithful retainer for several decades; after Samuel's retirement, Tansukh took over. Both of them did well by him, and he did well by them, enabling them to acquire houses of their own, making sure that Samuel stopped increasing his numerous tribe, and helping to educate Tansukh's son.

When Jack took over Mayo its finances were bad shape. Jack refused any increase in what was a pitifully small salary for the job until the financial situation could be straightened out and the staff and employees could be paid more adequately. After his retirement, the General Council had to authorize a large increase in the Principal's salary in order to get any worthy successor. 

Jack had many passions besides mountains. Gardening was one. He wrote in. his Christmas letter of 1986, 'As I write this, I look across my verandah at two rows of splendid flowers: Chrysanthemums, Phlox Drummondi, Antirrhinums, Ageratum, Violets, Alyssum, miniature Roses, and Chinese Chillies...' and the litany continues. His mountain articles are also full of the joy of Alpine flowers. And one touching photograph taken in 1990 was of him with "a Redvented Bulbul that now comes and perches on my knee and eats banana from my hand. It started last winter with crumbs on the floor of my veranda, and when I came back from Mussoorie in August it came to me again demanding food."

As "a completely natural schoolmaster," he once wrote, "The excitement of teaching is when you see that an idea has become clear to someone.' And in an article on teaching in November 1989, he said, 'The first problem for a teacher is, I believe, to awake interest in those he is teaching and to make them keen to find out and understand for themselves rather than rely on text books." [Doon School Weekly, about December 1989.]

He himself was described as an 'inspiring teacher with a great zest for his subjects." But Jack taught a great deal more than classroom subjects. In everything he did, he conveyed a sense of transparent honesty, of integrity, of the avoidance of hypocrisy, of the importance of being true to oneself. In a world grown hardened to moral corruption, this is well worth remembering.[ In a letter of 25 June 1986, he wrote, "I watched on TV Argentina beat England at football and was horrified to see members of the latter team fouling; politicians don't tell the truth; corruption is widespread; etc. And what a mess poor old India is in."]

In some ways, Jack was the last Englishman in India. He came ten years before independence and stayed on 47 years after it, rendering dedicated service to the country of his adoption. His name is often linked with those of Martyn and Holdsworth; he was the last survivor of that triumvirate who could occasionally be seen sitting on Martyn's lawn in kurta-pyjama, Holdie with a Pathan pugree, haying their evening drink and smoking a hookah. Jack was the last English Principal of Mayo College; he was the last English President of the Himalayan Club. He spoke at the Darjeeling Meet in 1973 on behalf of the Indian delegates and said "I feel greatly honored; though not an Indian, I have lived in India for 36 years." He was the last -and for most of the time, the only - English resident of Ajmer, formerly a very British enclave in the heart of Rajasthan. He was the last Englishman to be accepted completely as a friend by almost all the former ruling houses of that chivalric region. He must have 'been just about the last Englishman to have been honored by both the British and Indian Governments. [J.A.K. Martyn had also received the OBE (1958) and the Padma Shri (1984). He died in 1984 and his obituary in H.J. Vol. 41 (1983/84) was written by Jack Gibson.]

The end of an era has become a cliche but Jack Gibson's passing does have a significance for the British connection with India. It is certain that this association brought some harm; it is equally certain that it also brought much that was good. Jack's life exemplified the good; he lives on in the hearts and minds of thousands of Indians whose lives touched his.

I knew Jack Gibson for 56 years and we were on dozens of joyful excursions together in the Alps and in the Himalaya: climbing, trekking, rafting. skiing or just revisiting scenes of former exploits. My admiration and affection for him grew with each passing year. I have not only said good bye to one of my closest friends but to a part of my own life.

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".

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!