I was not in Oak Grove for very long – however, my short time with the school was one of extreme happiness and has always remained a very important few years in my life.
It was the early 1960’s when my mother enrolled my two brothers and myself in Oak Grove School, Jharipani. We were kitted out with the uniform all packed in the old metal trunks one used then, and the “tuckbox” full of edible goodies duly packed. I was not new to Boarding School as I had been studying at the The Convent of Jesus and Mary in Poona since I was about 10 years old – but my brothers were – they studied at St Mary’s in Bombay.
It was going to be quite a long train journey from Bombay to Dehra Dun and I expect with the energy of the young it was something we looked forward to – also, we were travelling
with the Pereira girls, who lived in the same complex as we did, i.e. Lynette, Lillian and Lois and of course Leander – their brother. We boarded our train at Victoria Terminus – (that grand old station), found our carriage and settled in in somewhat suppressed excitement. This was the beginning a new adventure, a new chapter in my Book of Life. My mother was a very brave woman as she was escorting us to school and helping her was Loretta Pereira. My younger sister and brother were also travelling with us this time – so we were quite a crowd of people really.
The journey had begun, t’was a long, long run – to that far off land where everything was grand. (From my poem The Journey). It was exciting and the best times were the stops at the stations where the hawkers cries of Paan, Bidi, Copi, Chai – garam chai were plentiful – and welcome. We dined in the dining car and even showered on the train – and I will never forget the carrot hulva at Agra/Delhi. We eventually arrived at Dehra Dun Station, freshly showered and dressed – while mumma organised our luggage we took stock of our surroundings and the other students who were also at the station and were introduced to them by the Pereira’s. Our journey had ended as over our luggage we’d bend recognising our friends at journey’s end.
It was decided we would take the bus to Kulukhet and venture on by foot from there – and the coolies would take our luggage up to school. (In hindsight it sounds so terrible as these were human beings). Eventually we arrived and my first glimpse of OG was the valley – I was in another world altogether, this was heaven and I was in it!! We posed for photos of course (I have them in my album – they were on the website somewhere but are lost at this moment), and then we all traipsed first to the Junior school to deposit brother Francis with Mrs Haslam, then the Boys’ School where brother Bill was to reside (with some of the Senior boys already flirting with the girls and my mumma) and then it was to the Girls’ School. My mother and Loretta were staying at the Halfway House for a couple of days prior to returning to Bombay.
After being shown our cupboards in the locker room and the dormitory we unpacked and got into bed – my mother was leaving the next day – I had a twinge of homesickness which grew rapidly as I heard Mrs Marshall shout rather loudly at her daughter – only at the time I was not aware it was her daughter and wondered why my parents had enrolled me here if this was how the students were spoken to!! I sort of inched lower into the bed hoping I would not be noticed by “the voice”.
My mother left the next day after coming up to see me (I expect she did the same for my brothers). I wished her sadly as we were going to be apart for an awfully long time and then wandered on to the hillside to watch her progress down the hill and through the valley…a million thoughts going through my mind. I was quiet for the rest of the day and reflected on home and my younger siblings and friends I had left behind in Bombay.
The House colours were Pink (Meerabai), Blue (Padmini) and Lilac (Sarojini). They used to be York, Gloucester and Kent and eventually these remnants of the bygone British era were gradually phased out post Independence. I was in Meerabai House.
The school was thoughtful to the point of how much pocket money one could have – there was a limit both ways and this was really good. Once a week Mullabux would arrive with his box of goodies and we would buy what we liked out of the p/m doled out to us. rock cakes were the favourite. My dear friend Priscilla Wordsworth and I used to pool our resources and the one or two paisas left over would go into a money box to be used at later date.
We had so much to keep us occupied at Oak Grove – and we never really had an opportunity to be “bored” – we saw movies every fortnight (provided the school was not in lockdown due to mumps, measles or chicken pox), our brothers visited us every week – or not for all of the above reasons, m/m/cp. The Catholics went to church every Sunday (in our lovely white dresses), and deposited/collected the letters from under the runners in the pews set up by the boys (for distribution later). Father would come down from St George to give us instruction in a “dandy” (I read years later he had been murdered along the route by bandits).
Exam time and we studied by “night” light. In some ways it was quite regimented – like polishing your shoes every second night and then the matron on duty inspecting them. One evening Mrs Fowles (nee Wragg) punished me for some misdemeanour – I had to stand outside her door. And then she promptly forgot about me – I was still standing out there until she had finished her shower etc and she must have been coming out to make sure were were all tucked into bed like the good children we were (she says tongue in cheek) and almost jumped out of her skin when she saw the spectre of her student outside her door and apologising profusely ordered me to bed.
There was swimming in the little pool we girls had and gymnastics in the hall up there – sports down at the sports fields where we tucked our sports bloomers under so they looked like short shorts!! We were given a character in history and all the literature on him/her so we could write our own play – lights, costumes, sound effects etc.etc… We designed out own flags for Sports Day in the valley – high secrecy – behind closed doors. There were the Girl Guides and the meeting we had in “The room” at the top of the steps – singing all our guide songs in ‘harmony’. Founder’s Day celebrations in the school and the down in the valley when we were allowed to wear mufti – or an invitation to the Senior Boys School for some celebration. Inter School Sports which was an event in itself.
On Saturday & Sunday afternoons we used to listen to music on the gramophone – (the old ’78s(?) – Elvis & Fabian and Ricky Nelson and of course Connie Francis and there was Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue – and a few other hunks – it was our time to relax and we played board games like scrabble and monopoly and danced the jive and cha cha or even just listen to the Bugler on “Bugler’s Hill”
There would be a social every month which each class took in turn to organise – and there had to be a theme. This is when I remember helping a young Jean Tocher with her costume. Our darling Mrs Edwards used to attend and used to request I sing Fascination or La Vi En Rose – she and Mr E used to go dancing into Muss. They were such a romantic and handsome couple – and they have never lost that wonderfully dedicated air about them.
One year, shortly after arrival at school we were all sitting at our desks and a terrible storm was erupting – pouring with rain and then hail and suddenly we could still see things falling from the sky only no sound. Snow! All the girls including Miss Noronha (affectionately nicknamed Minnie Mouse), ran to the window and jumped on to the low table by it – ( I did not as my desk was by the window) a few moments later Tootsie Garlah walked past the door and clapping her hands loudly ordered the ‘girls’ off the table and back to your desks!! and they obeyed – including Minnie. We were given a day off to enjoy the snow.
The hula hoop was all the craze at this time and we were filmed showing off our expertise by the Railway Board for some promotion or the other.
At the end of the year we used to collect wood for an enormous bon fire and were allowed quite a lot of freedom in our search – it was quite a feat getting a chair to the top of the bonfire – and the crackers in between. We also had a farewell dinner and gave the teachers ‘gifts’ we made out of old badminton rackets etc… it was all taken in good humour – even by Miss Wesley (the strictest teacher in the GS). We also used to have a bonfire in the valley tennis courts – with skits put on by the Guides and Scouts usually about things that occurred during the year (like the Orchard incident). We were also given our pocket money to finish – those were the days when you could buy 100 walnuts for Rs1/- – and the going away songs we would sing – and the puri tac one managed to put away.
During my last year at OG I got quite ill following one of our midnight feasts – I had eaten some canned peas (needless to say I do not eat peas to this day) – I was sent to the school hospital and was on a starvation diet as I was being tested for amoebic dysentry – however, this came back clear and one morning the bearer came in really early advising me I could eat – so I had a great breakfast of parathas, cream and jam. At around seven the Nursing Sister came and said Carolyn, you can start eating again – and I did. It was whilst in the School hospital I read The Great Escape – under another title and it all came back to me when I saw the movie years later. Of course I got many parcels of sweetmeats from my admirers in the Boy’s School via my brother Bill – which I shared with the other patients naturally. I think of them often, Joseph Samuels – great swimmer, Oscar Matthews and Daryl D’Cruz. I remember with great affection Roy Haslam and Indru M (yes, Indru, I knew who you were too).
At the end of the year there was entertainment put on by the students in the valley – plays and poems and satire and one year a play called The Crimson Coconut was put on by the boys – starring Oscar M and Roy H as the females in the play – it was quite hilarious as every time Oscar turned it was quite sharply and his skirt would fly up giving us a glimpse of these really hairy legs.
I remember so well our birthdays in school, when we were allowed to order the food for the day – Kofta Curry was a favourite and puris at night. We could also have a little party with our close friends and the school catered (at our parent’s expense) – and one year I had a cake in the shape of corn on the cob – it was quite exquisite with the green leaves pulled back and the little yellow kernels of corn.
We shared everything – I even remember the fantastic sauce Priscilla’s mum used to make. And you never carried tales or you would be sent to Coventry. Flagging on the hillside. Watching the boys play cricket.
I guess OG gave us the confidence to move forward in our lives – it gave me a passion for reading and Shakespeare ( I joined a Shakespearean Group later ). I often think of those teachers who in some ways were responsible for the wonderful feeling OG brought out in us – Rani Thomas, Miss Raffin and the staff she used to walk uphill, Miss Ganjur and Minnie Noronha, Ella Wella Wesley, Miss Cleophas and how could I ever forget Mrs Wolfe – the teas we had with the Edwards, Mrs Kelka our dietitian and Tootsie Garlah.
The year I was in the school hospital was the last time I was to be in OG – my mother had to come and collect me as I needed my appendix out – I must have known I would not be back as I wept copiously on Tootsies ample bosom – circumstances had changed and I never did return to my beloved Oak Grove as a student.
And the students – the Gomes girls, Sherril and Susan Nogg, Savitha Mathur, Veena Bhatia and Cookie Yashpal, Lynette D’Cruz and Diana McDonough Alison Pushong. In 2005 I caught up with Sharmila Mansukhani, Swarch Bewtra, Joan Beaucasin and of course the Wordsworth family were there too – as was Bert Payne. I remember Priscilla Ralph (Rose Red) and Priscilla Coelho (Snow White). I have such wonderful memories of that wonderful Shangrila that is Oak Grove – unique – one of a kind – serendipitous.
– Carolyn Martin
This article is a work by Carolyn Martin (1960s). It was originally posted on the yahoo group blog. This content has been reproduced from a blog posted by Raveesh Gupta on June 14, 2009. Here is the link to the original post.