Aravind: Recollections of Mayo and Gibson

Padmanabhan Krishna Aravind (No.501)
Mayo College, 1964-67

I was a student at Mayo from 1964-67. My younger brother, Srinagesh, joined at the same time as me but graduated a year later. Mr.Gibson retired two years after I left. His timing was perfect because it allowed both Nagesh and me to enjoy him as principal during our entire stay at Mayo (without any idea, at the time, that we were also witnessing the end of an era). Mayo in those days was a wonderful place for a young boy to be growing up and getting an education. I would like to recall a few incidents from that period that still stand out in my mind after all these years.

A recurring incident involving Mr.Gibson that is etched in my memory, and doubtless that of many others, is the story of Eratosthenes and how he measured the radius of the Earth. When Mr.Gibson dropped in unannounced in our class, as he sometimes did, and temporarily took over the reins from the teacher, the conversation was likely to drift to Eratosthenes. Gibson would begin telling the story, but then insist that we all participate in the telling. Suddenly, without warning, he could turn towards you and ask you to pick up the tale where it had been left off. And woe to the unfortunate boy who couldn’t! By the time we graduated, we all knew the story backwards. Recently I was stimulated by this old remembrance to write a paper in Mr.Gibson’s honor on the occasion of his birth centennial. As a variation on his favorite theme, I showed how it is possible to determine the earth’s radius by using a tall building. The idea is to go up the building and observe sunset repeatedly from higher and higher floors, and then use the times of the sunsets and the heights of the floors to determine the earth’s radius. Although the idea didn’t originate with me, I thought it might be worth publicizing to a new generation of schoolboys as a fitting tribute to Mr.Gibson’s memory.

Another incident I can recall involved our Vice Principal, Mr.Dan Mal, who was also our geography teacher.  One day Mr.Dan Mal told us about the tides and how they are caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon on the earth. Then he went on to say that the tides caused by the moon are larger than those of the sun. “But, Sir”, one of the boys objected, “the sun is so much bigger than the moon, so shouldn’t its tides also be bigger?” Mr.Dan Mal, not at all upset by this challenge to his authority, replied, “You are right that the sun is bigger. But it is also much further from us, and so its force on the earth, and its tides, are weaker.” However the class didn’t seem entirely convinced by this explanation, and Mr.Dan Mal seemed to sense this. Just then our mathematics teacher, Mr.N.C.Sharma, happened to be walking past the class and Mr.Dan Mal decided to enlist his help in settling the matter.

Mr.Sharma was invited in and the problem was explained to him. He was given the masses of the sun, moon and earth and all the distances involved and asked to determine if it was the sun that exerted a larger force on the earth or the moon. It didn’t take Mr.Sharma long. He did a quick calculation on the board, mainly counting powers of ten, and came back with his verdict:  the sun’s force was larger, and it wasn’t just a bit larger, it was a lot larger. There was no doubting the correctness of Mr.Sharma’s calculation, whose details he spelt out for our benefit. Yet Mr.Dan Mal stood his ground. He didn’t contest Mr.Sharma’s mathematics, but maintained, with that air of sagacity he always managed to radiate, that the moon’s tides were definitely larger. So there was a standoff between Mr.Dan Mal and Mr.Sharma. They stood facing each other, neither man willing to yield. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Before we could find out, the bell rang and class was dismissed.

I discovered the answer to the puzzle only several years later when I studied physics in college. I learnt that the tides are caused not by the sun’s (or moon’s) force on the earth, but by the variation of this force across the earth. Although the sun’s force on the earth is much larger than the moon’s, it is the moon’s force that varies much more dramatically across the earth, causing its tides to be larger. So Mr.Sharma and Mr.Dan Mal had each been right, but only up to a point: Mr.Sharma had been right in insisting that the sun’s force was larger, and Mr.Dan Mal in maintaining that this fact was irrelevant. (In retrospect, Mr.Dan Mal’s lesson was the deeper one: don’t get blown away by mathematics if it contradicts well established facts). Though this discovery was no great leap of knowledge, it did play a certain role in my intellectual evolution.  I mention this incident to bring out what I think may have been Mr.Gibson’s most important achievement at Mayo: creating an atmosphere of openness that was conducive both to the pursuit of knowledge and one’s personal development. No boy was ever chided for questioning the wisdom of his teachers or advancing contrary or unpopular views, provided he was willing to defend his position. This had a truly liberating effect on us and made us learn and grow in ways that might otherwise not have been possible.    

We didn’t just learn from our teachers, we also learned from each other. I remember a boy, Amit Mitra, a year my senior, who made a great impression on me. Amit was very smart, but also very crazy. He was always cooking up some fantastic scheme or the other or advocating some outrageous position.  For example, he had the idea that it is possible to train the human body to be subjected to large voltages without suffering any injury. His reasoning was that if the body was subjected to gradually increasing voltages, it could be trained to increase its resistance as a result, and the current could thereby be limited to a safe value. In pursuit of this idea, he planned to hook himself up to four batteries one day, six the next, eight the third, and so on. Then, one day, he would be able to plug his fingers into the wall outlet and remain unhurt. Fortunately for all of us, Amit soon tired of this project and his interests drifted to other matters.

Amit returned from vacation one year in a state of high excitement. He told us that he had mastered Einstein’s theory of relativity. He lectured excitedly, to all who would listen, about length contraction, time dilation and the equivalence of mass and energy. I found myself fascinated by what he said. Because I was one of the rapidly dwindling band of devotees who longed for more, he favored me with several private lessons of my own. I can remember his sitting next to me in the dormitory as I worked my way through his derivation of the length contraction formula, providing me with help and encouragement when I stumbled and heaping warm praise on me when I reached the goal. However it was clear to me that I hadn’t really understood the theory and had only succeeded in reproducing the steps of Amit’s derivation. But the experience fired me up like nothing else. I promised myself, with all the passion of youth, that I would return to the theory of relativity one day and master it, and not rest until I had done it, and that I would rather do this than acquire all the riches in the world.

It wasn’t all work and no play, of course. There were sports and all sorts of other activities that we participated in. We all had to do everything, not just the things we liked or were good at. I was only a modest athlete, but good enough at tennis and squash to become school captain in the first and get colors in the second. One of my great regrets at the time was that I never got to play Gibson at squash. He would show up at the old stone courts from time to time and challenge one of the boys to a game. He would invariably be stripped down to nothing but his shorts when he played, and his huge, naked body would be glistening with sweat, making him appear like some fearsome warrior of old whose conquest was a most desirable feat. Though in his mid fifties, he was a wily competitor and certainly no cake walk for his much younger and fitter opponents.

Mayo did a lot for us boys. In addition to developing our bodies and our minds, it opened our eyes to the world beyond and taught us how we might fit into it. That was particularly important for me, because I found my world expanding rapidly after I left Mayo. After college at St.Stephen’s and Delhi University, I came to the US for higher studies and ended up living and working here.

In the 1990s (I forget exactly when), more than two decades after I had left Mayo, I heard that Mr.Gibson was not doing well. Although I had not kept in touch with him, and he had surely forgotten me, I decided I would write to him. I began by reminding him who I was, told him what I had done after leaving Mayo and then described some of my activities that I thought he might find of interest. Then I recalled some fond memories of Mayo and said how grateful I was to him and all my teachers for all that they had taught me. I mentioned many of my teachers by name and the subjects they had taught me, and wondered how many of them were still there and how they were all doing. I quoted a stanza from the poem Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning that accurately captured my feelings:

            Yet gifts should prove their use:
            I own the Past profuse
    Of power each side, perfection every turn:
            Eyes, ears took in their dole,
            Brain treasured up the whole;
    Should not the heart beat once ‘How good to live and learn?’

I didn’t really expect to hear back from Gibson. In normal health he would surely have replied, but his present condition probably required him to conserve his energies for more pressing demands. So I was agreeably surprised and very touched when, a month or so later, I received a letter from him. The letter had not actually been written by Gibson, but by someone who took down his words and typed them up. Gibson thanked me for asking after him and for my words of appreciation for him and my teachers. He then gave me news of himself and some of the teachers I had mentioned, and also of recent happenings at Mayo. His letter filled me with the greatest delight. When I reread it for perhaps the third time, I fancied I could almost hear his voice speaking out the words to me. I then put the letter away safely, so safely that I have not been able to find it since that day.

With that I will bring this account to a close. I thought I ought to share these reflections with this audience, for whatever interest they might have, rather than simply letting them fade away along with me. On a broader note, I am constantly amazed to discover all the things that Mr.Gibson’s students – really, his extended family – have done, and are continuing to do.  Gibson’s students have ventured into areas, and done things, that he never dreamed of – just as he himself once did. Mr.Gibson may be gone, but his spirit and legacy live on.

Hasan: Mayo College Revisited

Sirajul Hasan
Mayo College, Batch of 1966-67

Siraj&Sultana Hasan When I left Mayo in December 1966, I never thought that it would be another 43 years before I would go back there again! Several times I came close to visiting my alma mater, particularly to show it to my wife Sultana and our son Sharik. I had narrated to them a few of my experiences at Mayo, especially about Jack Gibson, who was one of my heroes. Several years ago, when we lived in London and Sharik was just a few years old, we saw a television documentary on Mayo. I still remember the look of amazement on Sultana’s face when she said “Why didn’t you tell me that you went to such a spectacular school?” Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, that historic journey had to wait till the prize giving of February 2010, when I went to receive the JTM Gibson award for excellence - 2009.

It was a nostalgic visit and I was determined to savour every moment of it. We decided on the morning of February 21 to drive from Jaipur to Ajmer, a familiar route that I often took with my parents during the 1960s. We stayed at the Mayo Girls Guest House and reached in time to snatch a few moments to visit Colvin House, my Middle House during 1961-64. Colvin House looked in impeccable condition and I had no difficulty recognizing my old rooms. Many memories of that period flooded my mind, particularly those of our housemaster B. C. Gue, an accomplished artist and a fine human being. Just as I was telling Sultana, about life at Colvin House, we received anxious calls from my friend and batch mate Dinesh Bhatnagar, summoning us for lunch with the Mayo College General Council at Oman House (one of many new additions after I left school). It was really embarrassing to realize that no amount of rocket science was going to help me figure out the way there -- it needed the help of a little boy to guide us to our destination! As we wandered towards lunch, crossing manicured gardens and grounds, many familiar fragrances and sounds resurfaced in my memory.

At lunch it was wonderful to meet my old history teacher Mr. Nahar Singh --- interestingly, despite all these years, we chatted as though we had met only yesterday! Another teacher and now a good friend, Mr. Raghu Raj (affectionately RRS), who taught us General Science, unfortunately could not make it. It was a real pleasure to meet HH Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, who was the Chief Guest for the Prize Giving. After lunch, we went straight for the equestrian competition and polo match, which were most impressive. My wife was seated next to a lady who, otherwise somewhat low key, whispered that her son had bagged all the prizes! This was really a most enjoyable event and I couldn’t help thinking how fortunate this generation was to play polo and ride horses unlike ours.

We spent part of the day going around the school as well as making a quick visit to the Dargah and later to Pushkar. We rushed back in time to attend a delightful dinner hosted by Samar Bhaduri, the Principal at his house, where we met several parents and old boys.

The next day was Prize Giving – it was preceded by lunch at the Principal’s house for recipients of the JTM Gibson awardees and other dignitaries. After lunch we went to Dinesh’s house to get our safas tied. The piece-de-resistance was, of course, the prize giving ceremony with all its fanfare and vibrant colours at the Bikaner Pavilion – this brought back many childhood memories when I witnessed so many eminent personalities such as M.C. Chagla and Karan Singh giving away prizes. On a personal level, it was a real honour to receive such a prestigious award from HH Gaj Singh.

Our whirlwind visit to Mayo seems a wonderful dream that faded away far too quickly. I had not expected to find the school looking so resplendent, and especially having achieved such a high academic level and still going from strength to strength. As we drove away, the silhouetted turrets of the Main Building and Lord Mayo’s statue against the sunset filled me both with nostalgia and a deep sense of pride.

Mitra: Memories of Mayo

Subroto Mitra
Mayo College, Batch of 1964

Subroto Mitra

I first met Jack on 11 January 1955—yes, that’s the exact date—when I arrived in Mayo as a seven year old, accompanied by my father and my cousin Badal-dada. The previous year, my eldest uncle had found an ad in a newspaper for the Merit Scholarship Competition and had insisted that I be entered for it. So I took the exam in Hindu School, Calcutta. It was horrendous. I was competing with several thousand kids and we had to undergo psychological and memory tests. In addition we were subjected to a viva voce by half a dozen examiners. The questions they asked me and answers I gave them have become part of my family history, but the important thing is that I got through.

We were the first arrivals in Jaipur House that year—Mrs David was the House Mistress--and Jack was there to meet the junior most boys.  Even at that age, I was a nationalist. I’d seen plenty of Europeans before in Calcutta, so Jack wasn’t a novelty—and, as far as I was concerned, Europeans were to be observed, kept at a distance and never trusted. My patriotism was in my genes. My dad, too, was anti-British. In his college days, he had given a gun belonging to my grandfather Karunamoy, a Deputy Magistrate, to the revolutionaries associated with Rishi Aurobindo’s brother Biren Roy. In fact, after having read Durgesh-Nandini and other novels by Bankim Chandra, as well as stories of pre-independence struggles, I had taken a distaste to the British and had sworn not to learn English!

Initially, of course, Jack was a very distant figure, as were DNM, Ratan Singh, Onkar Singh, Pushpender Singh Vijay Singh or Sardul Singh, then the heroes of Mayo. I saw Jack mostly at Assembly, in the dining room, on the PT grounds and while playing games. I still vividly remember marching up to the Main Assembly Hall on important occasions, listening to a piece of European classical music, then saying our prayers in Hindi, and hearing Jack’s announcements. It took me some time to understand his accent. And the few times he spoke to me or announced my name, he mispronounced it, saying Subrata instead of Subroto. (Years later, when applying for the higher secondary exam, I formally changed the spelling of my name to Subroto Mitro, which reflects the correct Bengali pronunciation.)  Actually, Jack was not the only offender regarding Bengali at Mayo, as far as the teachers were concerned. Once, during Assembly, he asked Mr. T.D. Pant how to pronounce a word in Bande Mataram, and Gurudev incorrectly gave it a Sanskritised spin.

At first, not only was my English shaky, I didn’t know any Hindi. So I clung to my Bengali-ness. It was a great relief to have Mr BC Gue and Mr RN Chatterjee, both Bengalis, around. Kirit Bikram Dev of Tripura & Samir Bhattacharya spoke with me in Bengali, and in spite of their seniority, quickly became friends.  For a month I spoke pretty much only in Bengali with them and with my friends like VP, Robin, Golak, Samarjeet, Abhimanyu, who always replied to me in Hindi and that’s how I learned the Hindi language. Once, Miss Erasmus, our junior teacher, asked me to count aloud in class and I began saying the numbers in Bengali. When I said Kuri (20), much to my surprise everyone started laughing. Only much later did someone tell me that Kudi in Punjabi means girl! In those early days I was indeed, as Mr. HL Dutt recently described me, “A chubby boy with intelligent eyes who was quiet.” I hid behind my friends and quietly observed everything.

Jack and Mayo activities

Over the years, I played soccer, hockey, and tennis, with Jack, went rock climbing with him, or canoed in Ana-sagar in his inflated rubber and wooden boats. Even though by this time Jack was well over 50, he was very vigorous and gave us all a run for our money.

Although Mr. Gibson was equally accessible to us all, he was especially solicitous of a privileged few—Deb Barua, Samir Bhattacharya, Aditya Singh. They were boys he liked or those whose parents he knew.

When I was in Colvin, BCG was the House Master and Jimut Chatterjee became my room-mate. I remember telling Jimut, “Gibby has his eye on you and if you do not mess up you’ll become a prefect.” I also had a room when I first moved to Tonk House and then a year of dormitory life in Bikaner House when Tinnu Anand was my dormitory captain. I was also close to Jaideep Samarth, who, like Jimut, later became head boy.

In BT House when Pannalal Hazarika (62) and then Jimut (63) became Head-boys, my interaction with Gibby increased.  Shantanu Jha, Jimut and I would regularly taken rides with him in his red jeep to the playing fields or the Dining Hall to avoid being late. In fact, we’d often wait for Gibby to give us a ride. That’s really how Gibby and I got to know each other; otherwise, we wouldn’t have, since I was a quiet, unnoticeable sort of boy.

I remember two negative incidents involving Mr. Gibson.  Once, during a Diwali night, an atom bomb cracker was slow to ignite and burst in my right hand. My index finger and thumb had to be bandaged.  As a result, I could not do my Geometry home work.  Mr. Gibson, who taught us Geometry and was left handed, would not listen to any excuses. He asked me to bend over and caned me once—the first that had ever happened to me. He also insisted that I write with my left hand and submit the homework the next day.

The second incident also involved geometry. While teaching theorems, Gibby used to keep asking students questions. Once when my turn came and I answered a difficult question correctly, he was surprised and assumed that I knew the answer only because I had studied the theorem beforehand. That wasn’t true and I was hurt that he didn’t think I was capable of thinking intelligently for myself.

I grew to realize, Jack was actually a very likable person. He was also an incredibly versatile man, who could pretty much do anything well: He could sing (I can never forget his belting out ‘Dear Lisa, There is a hole in my bucket’); he could direct plays, especially Shakespeare’s (remember Othello with Devendra Singh and  Merchant of Venice with Bomi Gamat as Shylock?); he could fence (he was an Olympic level fencer and he used to show us the techniques with the European interns); and, of course, he could organize the most enjoyable camps and picnics. I remember the whole school once going to Taragarh at 9 one night to play cops and robbers. As cops we had to find the robbers—who were from other houses—and kill them by shining our torch on them. At 1am a flare went up and we all collected to see who’d won while munching samosas and pakoras and sipping hot tea. Another year we went to the sandy hills of Pushkar in the moonlight. Jack was the life of the school and in every activity we found him leading from the front.

During Gandhi Jayanti, Gibby gave workers a holiday, so we did the chowkidari ourselves. I also volunteered for the Adult Educational Society where we taught village elders—many of whom worked at Mayo or were related to those who did--to write in Hindi and English. Mr. Gibson took a keen interest in such activities and this inspired both us and the villagers.

At the end of every term, on returning home to Calcutta, I would await with keen interest each year, both the House Master’s Report and the Principal’s Report.   Gibby’s Report was printed and detailed life at Mayo for the boys and his own activities.  He would then scribble in few words on each student. House masters Report was all specific and begin with how we did well and then be critical of us.

After school I visited Gibby in 1965, 1971 and 1991.  The first time, an uncle of mine accompanied me and was most impressed by Jack. The next time I met him at Gulab-Bari but couldn’t spend much time with him because there were a lot of people present and I had to leave early. During what turned out to be my final visit in 1991, I went with Ranjit Babbar who worked for Air India and had taken him to Africa. Jack and I had a long chat and I offered to bring him to the States but by then he had become weak and lost the will to visit new places.  At that time I remember Jack discussing with HH of Jaipur and Jodhpur how two brothers who could be brought together to resolve their differences.  Later after I visited Lake Palace in Udaipur and met Arvind, I realized that it was he and Mahendra—both of whom had been with me at BT House--that Gibby had been concerned about.

Although we didn’t meet that often, we corresponded regularly and in May 1986, Jack wrote: “You ask me about the years before I came to India. I have been writing about them but don’t think that what I wrote, lacking violence and sex, will ever be published, so you must come here and read it. My coming to India was mere chance. I had been with another man on the short list for a teaching job I very much wanted in England. He was a married man and I was not; they wanted a married man, so he got the job. I was very disappointed but happened to be told of the start of the Doon School so I lightheartedly applied for a house mastership there and eventually found myself in India. I have never regretted this.”
Another time, he wrote: “You make a perfectly legitimate reference to my hand writing.  I won’t worry with you with it but have dictated this to Tansukh’s son Omi who is training to be a stenographer.  Many thanks for the B/W blow ups and for your offer of Gurudakshina. Your letter was a very satisfactory one.”

Towards the end of his life, Gibby wrote, “I have little of any interest. I am getting old, slow, and forgetful and I have been having a little trouble with my heart, but on the whole I keep a’going very happily, and at the moment the sun is shining as I sit on my verandah and admire the 20 varieties of flowers blooming in something over a 100 pots.   In a letter of 28th Dec 1991 he wrote, “How good it was to see you at the beginning of this month….. Old age has caught up on me. I have lost my sense of balance so can’t walk more than a few places without someone ready to hold me up, and my eyes are a bit apt to go out of focus. …Otherwise I keep happy, spending most of the day sitting or lying down.  I have been tearing up many old letters and destroying old photographs of interest to only myself: but looking through them has revived many happy memories from my prep school onwards and made me realise how lucky I have been to live a life usually so happy.  I wish you could see the pots of flowers on my verandah, where I spend most of the day time. They are a lovely mass of colour from roses to chrysanthemums.”

The last letter I received from him was his delayed 1993 Christmas Letter with his colored photo in it.  It is published in As Jack Saw It and titled “Jack and his companion.”  I wonder how many such photos of him were printed.

I don’t like divulging my personal feelings, but I owe Jack so much. He put his heart and soul into making Mayo what it was—the finest school in the country. He gave boys like me so many opportunities, exposed us to so many things. I met a lot of famous people when I was at Mayo--Lal Bahadur Shastri, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Gen Thimayya, Gen Srinagesh, Air Marshal Subroto Mukherjee, Jackie Kennedy—but, frankly, as far as I am concerned, Jack stood head and shoulders above them all.

Aravind: Sunsets, tall buildings and the Earth's radius

Padmanabhan Krishna Aravind (No.501)
Mayo College, 1964-67

AravindPK_rdax_200x279 I have written a paper entitled Sunsets, tall buildings, and the Earth's radius  as a tribute to Gibson's memory and posted it on the e-print archive. In this paper I show how one can use a tall building to determine the Earth's radius. The idea is to go up the building and observe sunset repeatedly from a number of different floors, and then use the heights of the floors and the times of the sunsets to infer the Earth's radius. The experiment tries to bring together a number of things Mr.Gibson liked: Eratosthenes, geometry, great heights (although a tall building is a poor substitute for a mountain!) and a combination of physical and mental activity directed towards a useful end. I don't know how Gibson would have reacted to the experiment I propose, but of one thing I am certain: if he had decided to carry it out himself, he would have disdained the elevators and dashed up the stairs, with a band of schoolboys in tow.

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.

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.

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’.