By Mayo Alum

Basu: Breakfast with Jack Gibson

Arnab Basu
Mayo College, Batch of 2000

Arnabbasu I had the privilege to meet Mr. Gibson for the first time when my grandfather Mr C.H. Shodhan (Dosco: 133-J, Batch of 1938) came to drop me off at Mayo College as I started 5th grade in 1993. Back then, I remember my grandfather quite excited at the prospect of meeting his geography teacher from 50 years ago. On his insistence, my mother and I decided to pay Mr Gibson a visit at his residence – Gulab Bari.

Growing up I had heard numerous accounts from my grandfather that exemplified Mr Gibson as a stern, vibrant and young Englishman who also had a passion for mountaineering. The two bedtime stories I’d get told the most were from when Mr Gibson conducted an outdoor geography class because he felt that was the best way to teach his students about Indian geography and how it impacted soil composition across the country. The other was when students had to gulp down a table spoon of Castor oil as punishment for misbehavior. As a naive kid, I remember asking my grandfather why the kids were forced to have ‘Castrol’ (a well known Indian automobile lubricant brand)!

Mrgibson_arnab It was nice to see my grandfather’s eyes light up as he reminisced of his youthful days. But nothing quite prepared me for when he sat by Mr Gibson’s bedside and they exchanged notes on how life had played out for each other. For once, I was witness to a bond whose existence and influence blurred my definitions of relationships. Time had come to a stand still and I saw my grandfather as a happy high school kid conversing with his all time favorite geography teacher. It was beautiful.

Fast forward to the middle of my first semester, where I was busy with school work. Out of the blue, I was summoned by my headmaster. He informed me that I was invited by Mr Gibson to have breakfast with him! I was both thrilled and confused at the same time - thrilled because it gave me the opportunity to spend more time with my grandfather’s childhood idol, confused, because I wasn’t quite sure what I would talk about if I met Mr. Gibson.

A few other students and I were escorted to Mr Gibson’s residence - Gulab Bari. We were handed over to his animated butler who spoke broken English – Dara Shukoh. He took us to the second floor of the haveli and seated us around a big circular breakfast table. The 5-6 of us at the table spent our time fiddling with cutlery, trying to contemplate what would happen next.

Mr Gibson came in and joined us soon after. In spite of his freckled skin and towering personality, he had a very calm demeanor.  He roved his eyes around the table and greeted each student with a very welcoming handshake. It was clear then that most of us on that table were present because of a past acquaintance of a family member.

We began our scrumptious English breakfast – bowls of cornflakes, raisin and fruit were passed around the table. Filling our bowls with milk wasn’t enough, Mr. Gibson insisted we top them off with some honey. Access to delicious, wholesome food was very limited to a ‘new boy’ in boarding school. Such a leisurely, filling breakfast was an absolute treat.

Mr. Gibson was such a wealth of knowledge. The two hours spent over engaging conversation were some of my fondest memories from having breakfast with him. I remember returning to school then thinking Mr. Gibson did indeed exude the magnanimity – all the high praise showered on him (that I’d only heard of) now seemed more than justified.

I had the opportunity to have 2 more breakfast engagements with my grandfather’s geography teacher. I refer to Mr. Gibson in this manner because that’s truly what paved the context for this account of my time spent with him. Mr Gibson kept us entertained – he would narrate stories of how his past students (some of whom were decorated officers of the Indian army) would come and visit him from ‘across the valley’ that overlooked his house. He would occasionally give us rare stamps from his philately collection – encouraging us to pursue our hobby of collecting stamps.

In hindsight, his gentlemanly gesture to invite us all served the dual purpose of not only furthering his relationship with students that spanned across generations, but also fulfilled his greatest desire and passion – to spend time with young students and to mold and shape their characters. I never quite had the opportunity to have been taught in the classroom by the man himself. But I sure learnt a lot from my time spent with him over breakfast.

I was very fortunate to have crossed paths with Mr. Gibson. My encounters with him prior to his demise in October 1994 definitely left an indelible impression. He was one of the greatest of his kind to have touched the public school education system of India - a product of which both my grandfather and I are glad to be a part of.

Mehta: Never Forgo Humility

Vikram Mehta
Mayo College, Batch of 1968

Vikram_s_mehta_3 My first ‘encounter’, and it was an encounter, with Jack Gibson altered the course of my life.  He may or may not have realized the ramifications of that first meeting.  I have only just begun to understand it myself, especially now that I am a member of the Board of Governors of the Doon School and can better differentiate between these two fine schools.   

I was an 11 year old English school ‘preppie’ in Jan 1964. My father, a diplomat, had just been transferred from Germany to China, which in the aftermath of the Sino-Soviet conflict was a non-family station. My parents had therefore decided to put my brother, Ajay, into Mayo and me into Doon. The reason for the split was because Ajay was too young to go to Doon – the minimum age for admission at Doon being 11. My parent’s intent was to move Ajay to Doon in a couple of years. (It is not clear to me why Doon was the preferred choice over Mayo, especially since my family is from Udaipur. But that was the case).

Anyway, as the Doon term started a couple of weeks after Mayo, I had come with my mother to drop Ajay. We went to call on Jack in his office. At some stage in the conversation Jack asked my mother: ‘Why are you separating the brothers, Rama?’ She gave the explanation. Jack was not persuaded. ‘Rubbish’, said he, ‘they should be together’. And then, refusing to accept any counter arguments, he asked the phone operator to put him through to John Martyn – the Headmaster of Doon. The connection come through in minutes – a miracle most times but, given it was Jack making the request, an expected outcome – and to my utter consternation, confusion, and alarm, I heard Jack inform Martyn that he was ‘kidnapping’ one of his students. My mother, who was seldom lost for words, remained speechless during this brief conversation.

My next few recollections are hazy but I know I was found a bunk in Jaipur house, provided with the School No. ‘X’, and left to fend for myself and my brother. The former was not easy, what with my poncy English accent, my casual attire - it took time for the school tailors to get me into uniform - and the joyless but attention grabbing number ‘X’.

I say this ‘encounter’ altered my life not because I ended up at Mayo rather than at Doon.  Today, I know more about Doon, its history, and its values, than I did then and I am confident that had the decision to put me into Doon remained, I would have received an equally excellent education. But it would not have been under Jack’s tutelage. And that was and remains the defining differentiator. 

Every student has recollections of particular events and of particular teachers. I do too but, frankly, through the haze of my aging brain my only memorable recollections are those related to Jack. All else blend into one comfortable whole. This is not to knock the contributions of my teachers or to suggest that I do not have memories of particular incidents or friends. It is simply to highlight the overwhelming and enduring influence of Jack. It is his words, his personality, his maroon coloured jeep, and his beady eyes peering over his spectacle, that are etched in my mind. 

Jack was an educationist – not in the narrow sense of wanting to provide his students with relevant information and knowledge to excel in the classroom or the skills to stand out on the sports field. He was an educationist who saw in every individual the potential for excellence.  He looked for those few qualities that distinguished one person from another and he nurtured those qualities through his special mix of paternalism, rigour, and discipline. I was not an exceptional student or sportsman. But that never came in the way of my developing a special rapport. Or so I felt.

And that was the point. I felt I had the rapport. The reality may have been different. But the fact that I felt that Jack appreciated or rather saw my particularities and was not always looking to judge me against the conventional metrics of performance gave me the inner confidence that I am sure has been the central plank in all that I have done since and, in particular, in the springboard of my peripatetic career in public service and business. 

Jack was not one to simply applaud the conventional. He did of course appreciate it hugely. In fact most of his school monitors and head boys were excellent students and sportsmen. But he did also push the creative, the innovative, the offbeat. My class had a number of students who were clearly brilliant but who had somehow opted out of the game. They never made it to school monitors; nor did they don the school colours. But they were amongst Jack’s favourites. Jack’s only condition was that whatever they did had to be done well and within a framework of integrity and ethics. And in communicating this message he led by example. 

I have a vivid recollection of an occasion when my roommate Rami Menon and I were punished wrongly; Jack realized he had made a mistake. He summoned us to his house, apologized and then handed me the cane to give him the ‘best of three’. I demurred. Rami insisted he be offered the cane. Jack gave it to him but even Rami could not bring himself to whack the proffered posterior. We eventually had a good laugh. Jack told us that we were his last batch and that therefore we had a special place in his heart. And that what he had done was not simply to apologize but to pass on to us two simple pieces of advice. ‘Never be hesitant to say sorry; never forego humility’.

Suri: Rigourous Man, Renaissance Man

Rajan Suri
Mayo College, Batch of 1968

Suricolor_2 As one whose academic career in engineering and applied mathematics has depended on rigour, there is no question in my mind that Mayo College provided me with the best possible foundation for this discipline of rigour. And no one at Mayo exemplified rigour more than Jack Gibson – rigour could have been another one of his many middle names! He drilled it into us from an early age; despite being very busy with all his duties as the principal, he insisted on teaching an introductory geometry class to some of the youngest kids. As a mere nine-year old I learned Euclidean geometry proofs – Gibby style. In Gibby’s eyes there was obviously only one item that could possibly be stated at each point in the proof. As the proof was developed, he would go around the class and each kid had to add the next word or phrase. We all trembled in our seats as our turn came up, hoping that our answer of “therefore”, “angle B”, or “is equal to” would be the right one! If not, then to the front of the classroom it was, where you bent over and took your punishment. But by the end of that year I had learned the importance of precision in mathematical reasoning, and it would serve me for the rest of my education and my career.

Gibby was also a man of principle and much of my administrative work later in life benefited from what I learned by observing how he dealt with many different situations involving disciplinary action.

Amazingly, Gibby complemented his love of rigour, precision, and principle, with an incredible knowledge and appreciation of just about everything – from mathematics to music, from schoolyard sports to mountain-climbing – exemplifying the true Renaissance man and setting an ideal for all the boys at Mayo. An unlikely place where he displayed his wide knowledge was when proud boys went to his office to show him their “Good Chits” (awarded by a teacher for any outstanding performance, such as in a test or an essay). Regardless of what subject you got your Good Chit in, he managed to ask a question that humbled you and showed that you had more to learn! I still remember the time when I got a Good Chit for Sanskrit. As I stood in line outside his office, my supposed prowess in the ancient language confirmed by the chit in my hand, I felt secure in the thought that Gibby couldn’t possibly know enough Sanskrit to baffle me. And then he looked at the subject “Sanskrit” on my chit and without missing a beat asked me to translate “Om Mani Padme Hum.” To this day I wonder if the glint in his eye was because he had stumped me, or because he really did know the multiple levels of Tantric meanings in the chant that said “The Jewel is in the Lotus”!

Barua: An Amazing Man

Deb Barua
Mayo College, Batch of 1961

Barua How does one even begin to describe Jack Gibson? He was a man of many “great” and rare qualities. He was an educationist – honoured by both the Indian and British Governments for his services to education; he was a man with a sense of adventure – demonstrated by his mountaineering exploits; he believed in fairness; always ready to help the underprivileged and the underdog; he had a great sense of value – a quality that he passed on to the students while at Mayo; and the most humble quality of all – great joy and pleasure from the simple things of life!!

My association with Jack began at the tender age of ten and I am honoured and proud to say that it lasted till his death. He was at first my Principal and teacher, then became my mentor, guide and father figure and a friend.

Jack had the rare quality of making everyone feel that they were special to him. He was especially kind to people in need. Not many people may know that he provided financial support for needy ex Mayo students through University. Most students have their own stories to tell about his concern for them and his way of helping them. In my case he made me who I am today. He strongly believed that he should fulfill the goal of educating one individual beyond school. And I was fortunate to be the chosen one. He saw potential in me but knew my financial resources were limited. He got me a scholarship to Haileybury, a leading boarding school in England and managed to get me a grant at Cambridge University. He took on the responsibility to look after all my expenses while studying in England!!

As an educationist he knew how to get the best out of his students and many can vouch for that. In my case he changed my life. Upon joining Mayo I was so homesick that I convinced my father to take me out of school. My brother-in-law was sent to fetch me. Jack tried his best to convince me to stay on till the end of the term and not return after the holidays if I did not feel like it. But I insisted on leaving. When we went to say bye to him he challenged my stubborn resolve. He told me that I was a coward and a sissy and did not even have the courage to stay on for only six more weeks. At that young age my pride was deeply hurt and I took up his challenge. That was the best decision of my life.

Jack believed education should not be limited to the class room but should be an all round experience. It should build character and instill a sense of value. As a student in England one Christmas season, I worked as a Postman to earn enough money to go skiing. I thought he would appreciative my initiative. However he thought differently. He said that if I was doing it for the experience he approved but not for the sake of monetary reasons alone. He believed that travel is a great education experience and I should have the opportunity to do so. He felt so strongly about it that he gave me a generous annual allowance to travel. As a result I traveled widely in Europe, and visited the US and Canada. This experience of meeting a variety of people and cultures has broadened my mind and my outlook on life.

Jack introduced me to a number of families in England with whom I could spend my school/university holidays. He made sure that these families belonged to a cross section of society to instill in me a greater sense of value and appreciation of  people for who they are. Even today I am not swayed by the wealth of a person but by the character of the person.

Jack had strong sense of fairness and applied that standard to all who crossed his path. Mayo boys probably remember instances where when he was at fault he was prepared to be subjected to the same punishment that would have been meted out to them in a similar situation. On one occasion he did five somersaults in front of the entire class!!

1985_jack_with_tortoiseI stayed on an extra year in Mayo as I was underage to get admission to a college. This worked in my favour as I became Headboy and Captain of quite a few games. However, Jack explained to me that my extended stay should not hinder other deserving boys from their opportunities. Hence with Jack’s characteristic sense of fairness he did not make me Captain of Football even though that was my best game and another boy was made Headboy in my last term.

Jack was a simple person at heart and got great pleasure from the little things of life. The taming of the wild bulbul to eat out of his hand or a game of competitive coits in his courtyard, or the evening walk in the fields around his house inspecting the progress of the crops gave him immense pleasure.

I am extremely fortunate and blessed to have had such close interaction with him, his family and his friends over the years. I am sure that all who knew him well feel the same way. Any one who crossed his path is a better person.

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.

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.

Dalal: Yogurt With My Corn Flakes

Yogen Dalal
Mayo College, Batch of 66-67

Yogen1 I rarely eat corn flakes, but when I do it is with yogurt not milk and I always think of Jack Gibson.

Funny how some things from your youth stay with you all your life!  I fondly remember the Sunday breakfasts the college monitors would have at his house.  It was a formal affair, with all of us dressed in our black top button coats, sitting at his dining room table with formal place settings.  We learned the social graces of dining while at the same time conducting an informal conversation about our roles in the context of his vision and goals for the school.  We learned to respect the need for formality when it was called for, and how to work as a group of students who had been given unique responsibilities and authority.  It was at my first breakfast that Tansukh Lal his loyal butler asked me if I wanted yogurt or milk with my corn flakes.  Gibby (as we referred to him) encouraged me to try yogurt and I continue to do so!

Jack Gibson wanted us to think out-of-the-box and become leaders.  You couldn't have asked for a better role model -- it's this one memory that brings with it all of his teachings.

Mrityunja Singh: Continuing to Groom Young Minds

Capt. Mrityunja Singh
Mayo College, Batch of 79-80

Meetu Though I joined Mayo after Mr. Gibson had retired, I do have two memories of the good man that I would like to share:

1) Gibson sahib had come to preside over the Inter-House Boxing Championships of 1978, in which I won a very tight bout.  I was very pleasantly surprised, when a few weeks later, whilst he was driving around Mayo in his Jeep, he spotted me, remembered my name, and congratulated me on a good effort!

2) The other story is about my room mate, a rustic Rajput, whom on request from his father, Mr. Gibson took under his wing to polish up his social skills during the summer holidays!!

It is truly amazing to see the commitment of this man, who in spite of having retired from active teaching, continued to groom young minds.

To state the obvious, he surely is resting in peace...

Sikand: My Memories of Jack Gibson

Lt. Cdr. (Retd.) Deepak Sikand
Mayo College, Batch of 66-67
March 3, 2005

Deepak_sikand Lt. Cdr (RINVR, Retd.) John Travers Mends Gibson, Padma Shri, OBE would have been 97 years old today if he was alive. I really got to know him during my last year at school. Thereafter, I was a regular visitor to "Shanti Niwas," Jack's Residence in Gulab Bari, after he retired as Principal Mayo College, Ajmer. We discussed a wide range of subjects including life (Quality of) and Death, something from which we shy off. His memory began to fade towards the last few months of his life. He would then remember me only as someone who had come to "Cheer him up." I was present at his funeral at Delhi’s Electric Crematorium in October 1994 to say goodbye to "Mr. Chips." Let me share with you some of the happy memories I have of Jack.

"Deeepak, You Uuluu!" "Please don’t call me an Uuluu, Sir." "But an Uuulu is an intelligent bird!"

"What is a quarter of a Quarter?" "I don’t know, Sir." "You Booby! No good chit for you, go away."

“Wish me something!” "Goo…. good evening, Sir!" “But this is only morning!”

These may sound all too familiar to those who were students at Mayo College.

In junior school one hardly interacted with him unless you saw him in his office to get your "Good Chit" signed or receive "Six of the best" on your bottom for breaking bounds or "Mischipis" or some such thing. Of course, he gave you the option of receiving whacks from his cane with either left or the right hand. Those who opted for the "Left Hand" would later realize to their disadvantage that with Jack Left was Right and Right was Left.

We would be taken to the Central Mess to watch the Kendall family’s "Shakespearana" perform short pieces from the Bard’s plays. Remember the young bachelor Shashi Kapoor  kissing the beautiful Jennifer Kendall on stage? Jack would direct the annual Shakespeare play prescribed for that year's Senior Cambridge class syllabus. I got to know all my Shakespeare, thanks to these plays.

In middle school, interaction with Jack became a little more. He taught geometry lessons once a week and with that, you learned logic. Remember Pythagoras, Eratosthenes and the Greek cove who determined the circumference of the Earth or the feller who jumped out of his bath tub yelling "Eureka!" or some such thing.? The luckier ones amongst us also got some Geography lessons from him. Then the end of the term social at Colvin House where we sang "Dear Lisa, Dear Lisa, there is a hole in the bucket" with him or the weekly Cinema show at the Bikaner pavilion. When the lights failed we were singing "The Animals went two by two, hurrah, hurrah!" to pass the time until the show could be resumed. There was also this Firang lady from "Animal Friend" who came every year with her guitar and sang songs to inculcate in us the love for animals.

Pocket Money was Rs 8/- per month in Junior School and Rs 12/- in middle school. "Tuck’" from home was banned though most of us got it anyway. We had to wear "Peshawari" sandals and Grey shorts made of "Malaysia" the cheap material used for inner lining of garments in Jack’s economy drive. He treated us all as equals.  It did not matter to him if you were a Maharaja from somewhere or a business tycoon's son.  I studied at Mayo under a Government of India Scholarship.

We carried out the annual "Harvesting" at the school farm and the "Chowkidari" on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday when all the servants were given a holiday and we had to do everything by ourselves including make our own beds. October the 2nd was also the "Annual Sports Day" for the servants and their families at the Central field. Also, there was this feast for the servants in the evening where we served them Aloo Poori in pattals. Yes, Jack had a lot of "Gandhigiri" in him and we did manage to soak in some of it. Who can forget "Labour Quota" as it was called.  We had to put in a certain number of hours every term doing social service. We were digging trenches and covering our window panes with black paper for the "Black Out" at night during the '65 war with Pakistan while the Physics master maintained a "Tote Board" for all the news on the day's action. Jack even brought "Shastriji," Lal Bahadur, India's best Prime Minister, to address us in the assembly hall. Jack was so influenced by LBS's austerity drive when the country was facing severe famine and food shortages that every Tuesday we were having meals without any grain.

The school needed a bus. Jack persuaded the army to part with one of their surplus trucks. It was given a body, fitted with seats and painted yellow to give it some resemblance to a bus. The naming ceremony took place in front of the main building where this "Bus" was made to run over a coconut and Jack proclaimed, "I name this Bus "Haathi Bagula." "Why Haathi Bagula, Sir?" "Because she is as strong as a Haathi and beautiful as a Bagula!" was Jack’s logic

Jack inculcated in us a value system which one finds absent in today's society. Honesty, Integrity, Fairplay and standing up for your beliefs above all, was Jack's mantra. "Example is better than precept" was Jack's advice to newly appointed College Monitors before he administered on them the oath of office.

Let me recount a story from Admiral Satayendra Singh’s book "Between Two Ensigns." Jack was a RINVR officer on board the HMIS Bombay during the Second World War. He found the Chief Steward siphoning off money from the Ward Room Mess account. Jack reported the matter to the Exec (Mate) of the warship. Nothing happened. He then took up the matter to the Captain. Still nothing happened. He kept reporting the matter to the next superior in the Naval Hierarchy until he shot off a letter to Admiral Mountbatten, the supreme commander of forces in the Eastern theatre of war. Mountbatten wrote back to Jack advising him to overlook the Chief Steward’s misdemeanors and get on with the serious business of fighting the war.  Jack was also very close to the "Auk" -- Field Marshal Auchinlek. Some of their correspondence appears in his autobiography "As I saw it."

By the time I was in the last term at school, I had become quite a favourite with Jack. He advised me to join the Navy, the noblest profession a Britisher could think of. Since it was too late to join the NDA in the first term, I opted to join the Special Entry scheme where I could join the 5th term directly. I stood all India first. Jack read it in the Newspaper and came all the way home to personally congratulate me. In later years, we the Old Boys from Mayo who were in the Navy would make it a point to invite him at our Naval Mess or meet up with him at the residence of Captain Martin Howard, the British Naval Attaché, with prior permission of Director of Naval Intelligence, of course. Sadly none of us could fulfill his cherished dream of making it to the rank of an Admiral.

Jack had earlier taught at Joint Services wing (JSW) of the armed forces which was the forerunner of the NDA . There was a time in early nineties when all the three Service Chiefs were his ex students. They took time off from their busy schedule to come to Ajmer where he lived in retirement and honour him. No wonder that the Navy was officially represented by the Commanding Officer of INS India to lay a wreath at his coffin. There were eminent Doscos, JSWites and Mayoites at his funeral. I could see a tear in many an eye as they paid their last respects to "Mr. Chips." The last to lay his wreath was none other than Mr. Tansukh Lal, his Butler who served him faithfully to the end.

We shall miss you Jack, always.