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August 2008

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.

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 – Tansukhlal. 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.