A School like no other...
an ode to St Joseph’s Academy, Dehra Dun – 80 years young
by Anurag Sangal - Class I to XI - 1964 to 1974; Proud to be a Josephite
(written on September 27, 2013 for the Special Issue of The Josephite - the School Magazine on the auspicous occassion to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of my alma-mater)
The words to follow are dedicated to Chikna and Sardar from our Class of 1974; both reasons for our School life being what it was; just like this world is not the same without them; we lost them over the last 3 years - Gautam Singh succumbed to cancer and Tejpal Singh perished in the crash of the helicopter that he was piloting over the difficult climate conditions of Arunachal Pradesh.
As the School celebrates 80 years of its glorious existence, it is coincidental that our Batch 0f 1974 passed out at the end of the first 50% ie 40 years ago after having been in School for about 25% ie 11 years of the first 40 years.
Looking back at those 11 years spent in School after these 40 years since leaving School, the following come to mind –
i) I do not know about me at all from 1964 when as a six year old I would have walked in to join Class I
ii) When I passed out in 1974, I can recall that I was reasonably well read, articulate, somewhat cocky about my physical personality, had wonderful friends, wanted to do something good in life, become an engineer and pretty much unsure as to how School had prepared me to become one as the first thing we did was to enroll for Class XII of the UP Board to be eligible for the Engineering Entrance Exams
iii) Today, 40 years since leaving School –it is remarkable to think, know and realise as to –
- how those 11 years in School had actually prepared us for life
- how those 11 years taught me about all that I have done since then
- how those 11 years were truly the formative years of my life
- why I do not tire – at any fora, personal or professional, national or international – of proudly saying that I am an ex-Josephite who owes everything in his life to his parents and his School – St Joseph’s Academy, Dehra Dun
I guess this realization of the importance of School coming after leaving School was the hallmark of the way we were taught and prepared for everything; where School was much more than just academic subjects and brilliance therein; it was about the multifarious opportunities that were provided; it was primarily about our Teachers; their loving prod to make us participate in many activities, not necessarily the things we were good at, but where we were interested or could develop an interest; their constant endeavor to truly know us; their implicit trust and confidence in us; their unconditional love; as if we were their World; and make each one of us achieve his own best potential.
The School Motto was – as still is – ‘Laborare est Orare’ ; Work is Prayer – with the masthead of the main building enshrined with ‘Udyamo hi para Puja’.
The School was designed to function to be true to its Motto; design not only in the physical aspects of architecture and layout but more important in its operating structures –
- not more than 30 students to a section
- every Class Teacher – from Ms David and Ms Narula in Class I, Ms Nath in Class II, Ms Jaiswal in III, Ms Kateth in IV, Ms Edwards in V, Ms Premassey in VI, Mr Malcolm in VII, Ms D’Souza in VIII, Ms Kanchi and Bro Xavier Thonnipara in IX, Bro Carrol in X and Mr D’Souza in Class XI – each one of them handled me like a baton in a relay race; to be passed on the next one with care and the next one took me on with concern; never allowing me to be dropped
- the venerable subject Teachers like Mr Thapa, Mr Chaturvedi, Mr Singh, Mr Kala, Mr Bahri, Mr Rathke, Mr Nagalia, Mr SK Gupta, Mr Gaur, Mr Chhetri, Bro Donovan, Bro Dunney and of course Mr G C Gupta – drilled the subject content and its purpose to me in their own inimitable style
- the iconic Principals viz., Bro Duffy, Bro Dooley, Bro Dunne – I saw only 3 in 11 years - were gentle souls; inspired and inspiring; my role models – but a tough act to follow when I became Principal of the Chinmaya International Residential School - an international boarding school in Coimbatore in 2002
These eminent ladies and gentlemen – were very different from each other in just about everything including their approach towards us students – but each one of them in their own style and under their own particular role and responsibility – focused on giving us the following which I realise has largely contributed to make me whatever I am today –
i) They did not worry that we were not listening to them; but they always worried that we were watching and observing them.
ii) They were immaculate and exemplary; in dress, demeanor, attitude, language, approach, accessibility, care, concern; they walked their talk.
iii) Made me feel as if I as their world and I meant the world to them. At the end of it all –they were walking-talking lessons – always and everytime.
iv) They encouraged us to read, read and read; magazines, novels, newspapers. That is all we had in the world without television and the internet. The School Library was our favorite haunt; it had a large collection of everything; with something interesting for everyone.
v) The Class Teacher generally kept a tab on what all we had read; and the Librarian(s) – just cannot remember her name – were most encouraging in giving us what we wanted and guiding us to what we should be reading. The habit of reading that was inculcated in School has been one of my biggest assets in life – professionally and personally.
vi) They had a sense of humour; and used it to the hilt to facilitate our learning.
- In the all boys School that it was in those days, our Class and Section A was special; we had two girls with us; both of course being Staff Children; and while that made us the object of envy of all other boys, our Teachers would know this and let us have it when it mattered.
- Mr Malcolm in Class VII happened to come across the word ‘eavesdropping’ in the lesson he was taking; so the question put to us was – ‘do you know what is eavsesdropping?’
Many of us raised our hands and he gave some us the chance to answer; finally explaining it to us like this – ‘two boys from your class are talking; a third walks in to listen; the first two drop the eve they are taking about; this is called eavesdropping’; it went in like a bullet and has remained there for ever.
vii) They indulged us; to think, be creative and innovative; the boundaries of the syllabus did not deter or hold them; the Syllabus was Senior Cambridge but the Curriculum was pure SJA.
- In Class X, the iconic Mr D Souza taught us English – both Languare and Literature; once he gave us an essay on some topic; as always – wrote it on the blackboard and talked about it; then asked us to write some pages in the remaining period; my friend and I happened to lean over and comment that this made us think of another topic; lo and behold, Mr D Souza – who had happened to hear us – came over and said that both of us could write our essay on the topic we were interested in. Simple!
viii) Perhaps, such endeavors from our Teachers made us to be able to think differently, have the courage to do what we liked in our choice of higher education and career; and our Batch of 1974 can boast of a variety - eminent Doctors, very senior Armed Service Officers, Mariners, Engineers, Teachers, Lawyers, Hoteliers, Restaurateurs, Industrialists, Businessmen, Real Estate Developers, even a Politician and someone like me who – in the given sequence - dropped out of Engineering, studied and practiced as a Chartered Accountant, did Business, taught full time as a School Teacher, studied to complete the B Ed, became a School Principal and an now a Quality Education Consultant!
ix) They taught us to care of others; they told us it is alright – rather good to spread you hand and ask for help from others – moreso when the said help is intended for the underprivileged.
- In Class VIII, just after the 1971 Indo Pak War; School organized a Sponsored Walk to raise funds for the Armed Forces Welfare Fund; each one of was supposed to walk 10 Kms in a group effort with our Class and School; given a Report Card like Flip Card with a format to record sponsors; meaning we had to go to various people whom we knew – on our own – tell them about the Walk, and request them to pay money as a sponsorship for the Walk on a per Km basis.
This was my first exposure to ask anyone other than my parents and friends for anything; remains distinctly clear even now; I was nervous, hesitant and skeptical; Ms D’Souza gave us a pep talk; we felt we were like warriors ready to go to battle; also prepared us for disappointments where our requests would be declined.
It was an experiential learning that I have not forgotten; has given me the courage time and again to take the initiative; most recently being the unfortunate floods in Uttarakhand in June 2013; leaning on the School learning of 42 years ago in School; I started asking people to donate money for the rehabilitation of the local survivors; the response has been overwhelming – more than 250 people have contributed just over Rs 100 Lakhs; and the efforts are formalized at www.leapfoundation.in
x) We were inspired to be honest; often told that if you have realized that you made a mistake; do have the courage to admit it. School was strict – with its policies, rules and procedures; with a humane approach and never lost sight of the fact that all these were meant for the sole interest of the student.
xi) We were encouraged to break new ground for ourselves; boldly go where we have never been before eg, try debating; take the quiz contest; experiment with hockey, football and basketball even when you are not yet all of 5 ft; play table tennis; organise the Leo Club; put up a stall at the School Fete; jump through the fire-ring on Sports Day and what not; I did all these things in School. Not one for the reason that I was good at them; but all for the reason that I was encouraged, guided, helped, motivated by the Teachers and peers.
xii) We were allowed to make mistakes; we were told that only the one who works can make a mistake. So go ahead, work sincerely and diligently; we – the Teachers are there – in case you falter.
I guess this was their way to teach us to know the difference between right and wrong; later in life, to discern between good and bad. So that we could make informed and considered choices.
xiii) We learnt that at times one had to bear the brunt and/or accept the consequences even though we were not at fault and/or even had no role in; eg. we became the first Batch of Class XI in years who were denied the much looked after Social with the girls from the Convent; all because in the previous year, there was some mischief during the Social time.
Of course, I am sure that none in our Batch have forgiven Bro Muldowney – then Vice Principal – for his immortal lines at our Farewell in late 1974 – “ Now that you guys are leaving School, we are turning it co-ed”.
Lo and behold, St Joseph’s Academy, Dehra Dun changed from an all boys to a co-ed School in 1975.
Today, the School has a vibrant and active Alumni under the aegis of a registered body viz St Joseph’s Academy Alumni Association – www.sjaalumni.com with Members who passed out more than 60 years ago to the freshly minted ones.
The School has been very magnanimous towards its Alumni eg it invited me to be the Chief Guest at the Annual Prize Day 1998 of my alma-mater; when I was neither a public figure nor a public official; perhaps, telling its students that a good professional reputation and personal credibility is all that counts. I rate that as the highest honor I can ever achieve.