An Indian Englishman

Jtmgmemoirscover Anvar Alikhan, Amitabha Sen and I have republished an edited version of Jack Gibson's memoirs As I Saw It as An Indian Englishman Memoirs of Jack Gibson in India 1937-1969. Brij Sharma a journalist based in Bahrain edited the original. Brij spent much of his childhood and youth in Dehra Dun, and while not a product of The Doon School, he has known its campus, the surroundings of the city and much of the mountainous terrain described in Gibson's letters.

They say the journey is the reward and for the three of us, this was certainly the case!  I accomplished this project without ever speaking to all those involved and relied instead on email and web sites.  All this started a year ago, when we embarked on the creation of this web site to record memories Gibson's students and colleagues had of him.  Anvar thought the best way to ensure Gibson's legacy was to have his memoirs republished and available to anyone who wanted a copy.  In some ways this would make Gibson's letters home over 42 years last forever.  Dinesh Bhatnagar tracked down a copy of the original in the Mayo College library, and had all 700 pages scanned as pdf files and emailed to me.  Nikhil Khattau, my partner in India,  had his former secretary N. S. Rengathan retype the pdf files I emailed him as Microsoft Word files.  He emailed them back to me and I emailed them to Brij Sharma in Bahrain who edited the Word document.  I was introduced to Brij by Omar Khan, a friend in San Francisco, who knew Brij.  It was only after Brij had started reading the original memoirs that I learned he grew up in Dehra Dun!  The communication Anvar, Amitabha and I had amongst ourselves, and I with all those who provided the material that went into the book was all by email that criss-crossed 3 continents.

Finally the book was put into its current form by using the web services of www.lulu.com. My communication with my project coordinator, the person creating the layout and the graphic artists designing the cover was all via email and the web site.

Gibson could never have imagined this would be possible even 14 years after he passed away.


In Memorium: Anvar Alikhan

Yogen Dalal (456)
Mayo College (1961-1966)

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My friend Anvar Alikhan passed away on December 26.  He was only 66 and a year younger than I am.  His contemporaries at Mayo will recall a cheerful, smiling young boy who had a creative streak.  If we dig up old Mayoors from our time I am sure we'll find many articles by him!  I'm sure Gibson admired his creativity and articulateness. This talent led him into advertising, and then later in life he developed a wonderful behind-the-scenes investigative journalistic curiosity.  Many of you have read that he (and I for that matter) were at Cathedral High School in Bombay (Mumbai) at the same time as Salman Rushdie, or that Alan Turing lived in India.

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Anvar collaborated on the book An Indian Englishman and it was his idea to dramatically cut Gibson’s memoirs so that it would be relevant and readable today.

Anvar was a gentle soul who saw good everywhere and had the magic touch for storytelling.  He brought joy to those who knew him and to those who read what he wrote.


Dalal: A Walk Down Memory Lane

Yogen Dalal (456)
Mayo College (1961-1966)

In December 2016, my batch of 66-67 celebrated its 50th reunion during Prize Giving.  This was my third time going back to Mayo in those intervening 50 years.  Could 50 years really have gone by?  I didn’t feel like a 66-year-old, though I must confess that the aches and pains had grown, and when I looked at photos of myself with my friends there was so much more white hair, and we definitely looked old compared to those celebrating their 25th reunion, or the college monitors participating in the pomp and show of prize giving!

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But I didn’t feel old!  I felt more or less as I did when I was a student at Mayo! Walking around the campus brought back familiar memories.  In some ways, nothing had changed but the place looked more groomed and there were many new building -- part of the master-plan my younger brother Abhimanyu had helped develop and then designed some the new building like the amphitheater and tennis pavilion – all pro bono.  He had barely known Jack Gibson the way my brother Rajen and I had.  But he chose to give back to Mayo by ensuring the campus would continue to meet the needs of future generations of students, the way it had during our days.  The Rajasthani architecture, colors and style have continued to influence my aesthetic all these years.  What made Mayo special was the entire package – the classic and romantic Rajasthani architecture, the playing fields, Madar and Taragarh always looming, the paintings of Rajasthani royals in the assembly hall, the hospital, the art classes, the plays in the dining mess hall, 16 mm movies in the evening at Bikaner Pavilion, Safas on Sundays, and so many other unique expereinces.

While others before Gibson had set the stage for Mayo, and other since have continued its many traditions, I can’t help but feel that it was Gibson with his vision and experiences that helped crystalize the purpose for Mayo, and its unique philosophy and style that gave its students an experience not found anywhere else.

These were the thoughts rushing through my mind during those few days on campus with many of my classmates.  I hadn’t seen some in 50 years and I could barely remember what they were like way back then, but the warmth and camaraderie we once felt come rushing back.  Brijeshwar Singh and Rajan Saigal kept reminding me of things we had done, and I couldn’t recall them, probably because I have been gone from India for now 45 years and hadn’t had many opportunities to reminisce.  But we went to Ana Sagar and Foy Sagar, and had an ice coffee at Honeydew restaurant where we would go when a parent was in town. Memories!

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I watched the over-achievers receive prizes for sports and academics, the monitors looking very smart and ready for their next adventure in college.  And I thought back to my years there and wondered if I had been any different? I worked extra hard to get good marks, practiced my gymnastics routines in Ajmer House, and hoped so much to be picked as a monitor.  But this is what Gibson wanted.  He wanted each of us to excel in ways that worked best for our personalities and inherent talents, while at the same time being willing to explore new boundaries.

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Now I think back at the broad education I received and how I pushed hard on my talents to succeed in life, but I have also realized that the many pleasure I now get are in those areas where I didn’t have a natural talent but the explorations gave me an appreciation for what I couldn’t do and others could.  I feel so much more whole because of Gibson’s goal to make us all-rounders.

So, a chapter in my life comes to an end with this reunion.  I don’t know when I will be back or when I will see many of my classmates; already having lost quite a few.  I was fortunate to have been able to meet Raghu Raj Singh who as a teacher not only taught academics but the importance of being youthful and curious.

55 years is a long time and the first 5 of those molded me.

Thanks, Gibby!

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Bhatnagar: Mayo Then and Now

Dinesh Bhatnagar
Mayo College, 1958-1967

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On a dry cold winter morning in January 1958 my father and I arrived at the Ajmer railway station from Delhi. He to drop me (a seven year old) and I for spending the best decade of my life at Mayo College.  We freshened up in the Upper Class Retiring Room (as it was known those days) and took the only available public transport those days -- the horse drawn “tonga.”  We entered the portals of Mayo and I was hit by the enormity of the imposing main building as well as the vast expanse as compared to the limited campuses of Delhi Schools.  We were directed to the Principal’s office in the main building and were met by none other than Jack Gibson himself. I can’t recall the conversation we had but distinctly remember his scrutiny of my three-feet-nothing skinny frame, perhaps thinking how will this tiny creature survive in the boarding school. Nevertheless, he directed us to Jaipur House which was the house for prep school boys. We were met there by Mrs. Madan Raj the House Mistress and Mrs. Monterio the Matron. Their welcome wiped away all the apprehensions that I may have had and in no time I had mixed in with the boys playing around. I don’t know when my father left, and settled down quickly in the set up. That’s how my journey at Mayo began.

Cut to Circa 2001 – a dusty 21st May afternoon when the School was closed for summer break, my wife and I drove in from Dehradun in our Maruti Esteem VXI (there were no competitors for this car back then!!)  This time it was to take up the position of the Bursar. The only person who met me at the main gate was an aging chowkidar with a garland of marigold which took me by surprise! He stopped my car and introduced himself as Prabhu Dayal who was a games coolie in my student days. Memories came flooding back and I recalled that my welcome man was none other than “dhakkan” as we called him then. We then proceeded to Sherring House which was to be our home for the next thirteen and a half years.

Although it would be unfair to compare my student days during the Gibson era and the 21st century Mayo, I cannot help comparing the two stints I had there. The striking contrast was the physical appearance of the campus. While one remembered a dry but neat campus as a boy, I remarked to my wife that Mayo now looked like a village with unkempt fields, stray cattle and pigs all over. The imposing Sherring House then occupied by the longest serving Bursar – Mr. SL Saigal appeared like a haunted house abandoned as there had been no replacement for my predecessor over six months. After a settling in period of half a day, I got down to sprucing up the Campus as I believed that a pleasant campus makes the residents feel happy. We managed to make it appear more presentable during the summer break.

Boys returned from their holidays in early July and the campus was once again abuzz with activities. The day’s curriculum remained more or less the same as in “our times.” A quick assessment of boys and the teaching faculty revealed a disconnect which I found strange. It was unfair of me to expect Masters of the stature of Messers NC Sharma, Goofy, BML Sharma, SSN Ganju, CG Joshi, PK Sahajwala, Ramesh Shah, BC Gue, Gurudev TD Pant, RN Chatterjee, Nahar Singh, RRS, Dr, Manohar Singh, Sr. D’Souza and a host of others. They were caring but the present day masters were more self-centered. The boys appeared disheveled and were quite happy to stay away from their masters. The support staff was unionized and uncaring. It was a paradox. Perhaps my initial reaction was harsh because I should have taken into account the changed values the world over. Mayo College could not remain insulated from these present day values which appeared strange to an Old Boy nose deep in nostalgia! My views, of course, mellowed over the years as Mayo took an upward turn within a short span of next two years. I realized that Jack had the luxury of a Board which pretty much left the School to him without interfering in it’s day to day functioning. The present situation was in contrast with very frequent “Committee meetings” which left little time for the Principal to carry out the actual task of running the School. Once I gained the confidence of the Board of delivering results, my second decade at Mayo turned sweet. I can now look back at this period with a sense of achievement. My guideline was my student tenure at Mayo. Perhaps this is where my being a student of the Jack Gibson era helped me tide over the situations. Despite my tumultuous final three years as the Bursar, I hold very fond memories of what I still call “Jack’s Mayo.”


The Last Englishman

Jack-gibson Laeeq

Amazon: The Last Englishman, by Laeeq Futehally

‘To educate means...to lead out, not to drive in. The first problem for a teacher is...to awake interest in those he is teaching and to make them keen to find out and understand for themselves, rather than rely on textbooks… The ability to do this, indeed, is the test of a really educated man, especially in [India], where objectivity is little valued, and a large assemblage of facts is much admired.’


Widely acknowledged as the pioneer of the public school system in India, Jack Gibson’s name is synonymous with opening the doors of ‘privileged education’ for one and all. As headmaster of Mayo College, Ajmer, he singlehandedly transformed the school into the ‘Eton of India’, laying the foundation for the formidable reputation it enjoys as well as for the methods in which education is imparted in public schools today. 

Having moved to India from England in 1936 to join the newly founded Doon School as a housemaster, Gibson adopted the country and its people as his own. His keen mind and larger-than-life nature made him a popular leader, one who was closely involved in his students’ lives, fulfilling the roles of teacher, mentor, parent and disciplinarian all at once. Beloved by his students for his unconventional teaching methods (frequently involving picnics and treks to the nearby hills), his innate sense of fairness and his accessibility, he remained at Doon until 1953 – during which time he also served as the first principal of the Joint Services Wing, now the prestigious National Defence Academy – before joining Mayo College. For his outstanding contribution to education, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 1965.

Educator, visionary, coach, mountaineer, friend and, above all, an inspiration, Gibson left an indelible mark on the institutions and the people he encountered in his life. Drawing on the many memories uncovered in his writings, The Last Englishman recounts the story of an extraordinary man through stories and anecdotes from those closest to him – his boys.


Jack Gibson and Aung San Suu Kyi

An excerpt of a letter from Jack Gibson:

October 20, 1970
Dear Charles [Clarke] -
I had a wonderful time in Bhutan starting off surprisingly well by crossing the King as we reached Thimpu. He jumped out of his jeep to welcome us, which I hadn't expected. On another occasion he came to the guest house to speak to me, and I wanted John Levy who was with me to record their folk and religious music to have a word with him about getting to Tongsa and Bumtang, so I sent a message quickly to John to come quickly and speak to the King.  He was in his bath (it was only 0730) and thought I meant on the telephone, so down he came in an ancient dressing gown!

We met a very good fellow there, Michael Aris, who speaks Bhutanese and is much better at looking after John than I could be. I had to get back here [Mayo College, Ajmer] as I have guests arriving tomorrow, so have left John with Michael to look after him. It's a small world. Michael is engaged to the daughter of Aung San the Burmese general who was murdered and was much loved by his people. The girl's guardian in England is Paul Gore-Booth, and he is to marry them in the Burmese way later this year. Paul is also the English guardian of Winston - Hso Khan Pha - son of the first president of Burma. I can't remember whether you have met him, one of my Doon school climbers, now in Canada."

Notes:
1. Dr. Charles Clarke was a British climber who scaled Swargorohini II (6247 m) in 1974 and was the expedition doctor in Chris Bonington's Everest attempt without oxygen in 1982. Dr. Clarke and his wife spent two weeks with Jack Gibson at Mayo College in June 1971.
2. John Levy was a musicologist. Gibson's description of him:"A very rich Jew who could afford the best possible equipment for his hobby of recording folk music all over the world. I first met him when he turned up at Mayo College looking and smelling like the lowest class of hippy after spending a week in the Dargah here recording the music played at the Urs. He had a letter from a friend, and we got to know each other well. Eventually I wrote to the King of Bhutan suggesting I should bring him to record there and it was a great success. He gave me tapes of the music which the BBC played in the third programme." Some of his recordings are in the British Library and the original recordings and remainder of the collection are housed at the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh [http://www.celtscot.ed.ac.uk/].
3. For more on Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi see the article in
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/burmamyanmar/8948018/The-untold-love-story-of-Burmas-Aung-San-Suu-Kyi.html