Oak Grove Boys’ School (1934-1940)

Although 1934 meant a new start in Boys’ School, the onset of March found me with a heavy heart at the prospect of leaving home again for nine unrelieved months of school. Approaching the school by the road that wound its way up from Rajpur, it became evident that Boys’ school, like the junior and girls’ schools, had no facade to captivate the newcomer. Instead, granite buildings, arranged around playing fields, slowly came into view. And it was not till one worked one’s way round to the back pitch, our main playing field, that a more satisfying panorama of the school presented itself.

A two-storey block housed dormitories on the upper floor with bathrooms at each end, a dining hall with classrooms and the headmaster’s office on the ground floor, with lavatories at each end. To the left of this block, a corner of the masters’ quarters could be seen, then a row of servants’ quarters, behind which we’d feast our eyes on the Doon valley below, truly a sight to be remembered. Farther left, and barely visible, were the dhoby (washerman’s) quarters, and, separated by a path that led down to the swimming pool, were the physics laboratory and the reservoir. Farther left still were partly hidden servants’ quarters and then a bakery below, from which we’d all too infrequently make off with freshly-baked bread whose heavenly delights left us no room for moral scruples.

The boys’ school, Standards 4 to 10, housed some 150 boys, ages eleven to seventeen, each class having its own master. Mine in Std 4 was ‘Cam’ Smith, quite the most kindly of them all. Besides teaching us nearly all our subjects, he handled our pocket money, read our weekly letters home, correcting them in our presence, and mailing them home. He was also my house master (Wellington), the other houses being Roberts, Kitchener, and Haig (all men of the sword, and English) each with its distinguishing colour: mauve, blue, green, and yellow respectively. Our munshi, Mr Sulaiman, the only native teacher on the staff taught Urdu throughout the school. The senior classes, with smaller numbers, had masters teaching subjects in which they specialized.

Despite their lack of academic qualifications, the masters in the junior classes taught us well, but without much inspiration. A few boys left in middle school to enter the big railway workshops in Jamalpur for a career with the East Indian Railway. Those of us who stayed on had the benefit of graduate teachers. There was always the temptation for us to take subordinate jobs on the railway for the immediate satisfaction of pay. In my fifteenth year, my father half-seriously suggested that I join the railway in our hometown, Saharanpur, as an engine cleaner at Rs 15 a month. I was overjoyed, but my mother would have none of it. So back to school I went, by and by to forget the enticements of being my own master at fifteen, cleaning locomotives for a living.

Although Boys’ School appeared to be modelled on the English public school with its boarders, house system, prefects, and other trappings, there was little that Oak Grove had in common with those prestigious schools in England. To begin with, boys who went to Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Rugby entered with scholarships or because they were from the upper classes in Britain and overseas. The boys of O.G were from ordinary railway families like mine, and needed no special academic standing for admission. Moreover, while the occasional public school boy aspired to the mantle of viceroy of India, most of us would have been quite satisfied with upper subordinate jobs, while a few would aim at professions, provided they were ready to go on to university.

Religious services for the whole school, weather permitting, were held in the Valley, and conducted by the Principal, H.P.Watts dressed in his M.A. (Cantab) gown and hood. Hymns were accompanied on an organ, carried to and from the Valley by coolies. A reluctant choir of trebles was ‘shanghaied’ from Stds. 4 and 5 of Boys’ School; I was collared a few times. Without benefit of sound systems, much of the service was barely audible, a defect that was aggravated by our inattention to what was going on. When the monsoons drenched us during the season, mid June to mid August, services were held in our separate schools, conducted by their Heads. After the service, boys in Senior School who had brothers or sisters in the other schools were required to visit them for about an hour. In this way I visited Flo in Girls’ school for what seemed to last forever, neither of us getting any satisfaction from my visits.

The school year ended with Prize Day, when we presented the school song that we’d been practising for the past week under the baton of a Girls’ School music teacher. During practice she would stop us at the same places year after year, till we got to make the same ‘mistakes’ to try her patience. She reproved our slovenly enunciation: ‘O’grove’, ‘We leave the plains and ‘eat our homes and friends’, and ‘fa’gem of empire’s crown’, but, faced with our indifferent singing, there was nothing she could do. Were it not for the sweet contribution of Girls’ School on Prize Day, our singing would have caused some unease among the guests (all English), chief of whom were the General Manager of the E.I.R and his wife.

The words of two of the verses below (5 and 6) reflect the concern at the time (circa 1918) on the part of the railway authorities to shore up the dying imperialism of the new century. These verses disappeared, of course, after Independence, and changes, not always easy on the ear, were made elsewhere in the song. Further changes were made during Shri A.K.Bhaduri’s principalship (1956—1958) to the school motto, Studiis et rebus honestis (by honourable pursuits and studies), along with the cross and the lion on the school crest to more fitting symbols of Indian nationhood and values: the lotus (emblem of piety and intellect) replacing the cross and the lion (symbols of militant Christianity and British might).

Oak Grovians young and old, Come join in cheerful song;
The honour of our school uphold, With voices clear and strong.

We leave the plains and heat, Our homes and friends below;
And on these rugged mountains meet, Life’s purposes to know.

In classroom and in field, Oak Grove has made her name;
We’ll strive and hope our time will yield, New glories, wider fame.

Our glorious valley green, With wooded hills around;
As games we play with vigour keen, Doth oft with shouts resound.

Though far from Britain’s shore, We’re British children true;
We’ll serve our God whom we adore, Our king and empire too.

This land wherein we live, Fair gem of empire’s crown;
Claims earnest work which we can give, Regardless of renown.

And when we leave Oak Grove, Embarking on life’s sea;
We’ll ne’er forget the school we love, And loyal to her be.

In future years we pray, God’s blessings she may see;
And that her sons and daughters may, In all things faithful be.

On the whole the masters were very strict, the kindlier among them behaving as impersonally as they could, afraid perhaps that their warmth might be mistaken for weakness. The P.T instructor, ‘Horsey’ Mahoney, was something of an idol in our eyes for his part in the Beryl Brewster tragedy. Yet he too kept his distance from us despite the more informal and pastoral nature of his position. He was around to wake us in the morning, supervise our bedtimes, and generally keep an eye on us in the more relaxed settings of our dorms.

Mr Sulaiman had no disciplinary powers over us, and we took outrageous advantage of him, and because he was Indian, we treated him most shabbily, barely ever giving him the respect of being attentive in his class. In my last two years, however, I became his most assiduous pupil, taking as my reward the Urdu prize for those years. Mr Sulaiman was in fact the highest qualified teacher on the staff, and I owed him a debt of gratitude I’m afraid I was never to repay, unless this long overdue tribute to him might in some way count as gratitude. (Thank you, Mr Sulaiman. In Arabic script, that would read: ).

The physics master, Mr Lubeck, was the strictest master on the staff, and no one dared risk any sign of inattention in his classes. Caning on the backside was a time-honoured form of corporal punishment, and Lubeck caned often and hard enough for it to border on cruelty. We learnt well in his class, both out of fear of his cane and because of his great skill as a teacher. In my middle-school years I was often late to the physics lab. I was duly caned for this each time, but then Lubeck began insisting not only on my being on time, but on being first into the lab. My classmates helped me out by waiting till I was ready before running to the lab with me in the lead. In fairness to Mr Lubeck, I have to say that his teaching instilled in me the need for precision in language, objectivity in the writing up experiments, and orderliness of presentation, very little of which I learnt from my English masters. From Mr Lubeck I gained a grasp of physics that held me in good stead when I took it at university in ’41, and passed, needing very little additional preparation for the exam.

My English masters somehow failed to kindle in me a liking for this most valuable of subjects. It could be they themselves lacked writing skills or an appreciation for literature. It could also have been that non-specialists were assigned to the teaching of English in the egregiously mistaken belief that anyone who spoke the language could teach it. My compositions in middle-school, I admit, were no better than average, for which I can justifiably blame the banal topics we were given. My essays were uninspiring and no doubt made for tiresome reading. The remarks in red that spattered my written work were as unhelpful as they were unkind, leaving me discouraged and often angry. [It’s interesting that I would spend 36 years of my life teaching English in senior school].

Literature — a novel, a Shakespearean play, and an anthology of verse — was handled in a hum-drum fashion. It was not till Std 6, when, coming under the influence of a friend Stan Holmes (‘Sherlock’), that I took to reading material from the school’s little library. I was at last coming alive to the felicities of language as I found them in my reading, which in those days included the Ring magazine, devoted to boxing at international level. I enjoyed the racy style of those American sports writers, as much as I did following the rise to pugilistic fame of Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunny, and my other idols of the boxing world.

At the end of Std 8 we sat for the Junior Cambridge Exams. Mr G.W. McMurray, our English master, who had been there since 1918, took us through A Midsummer Night’s Dream and gave me my first experience of a line-by-line understanding of a Shakespearean play. Although his approach took little account of the play’s dramatic and lyrical elements, we got a good grasp of the substance of the play, and found it encouraging to be able to answer exam questions about the play. We were fortunate to see a film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream earlier in the year (1938) on one of our ‘last Saturday’ outings in Mussoorie. I was taken with the camera work, which portrayed certain scenes in the play that would have looked contrived or clumsy on stage.

My mathematics teachers were generally good. Standards 4 and 5 were outright failures for me, but something happened that set me on a road upon which I would never again look back. There was no subject called ‘mathematics’ as such, it being treated separately as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and in Std 10, for Neville Gilbert and myself, calculus, co-ordinate geometry and applied maths. It was in ’35 and our exam papers in geometry were being returned to us after being marked by ‘Sarjee’ Reid. I must have done some preparation for this exam, for he commented as he returned me my paper that I had ‘surpassed’ myself by getting 70%. I was very pleasantly surprised, and wondered if by continued effort in this and other subjects I might make similar improvements. Sure enough, that’s what happened in all my subjects, except English, success in which was to come a while later.

I found trigonometry, beginning in Std 6, easy and interesting, and I made giant strides in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. I spent many a satisfying hour on ‘trig’ identities, ‘geom’ riders, and ‘arith’ problems, and was soon getting excellent marks in all these subjects, so much so that in my last year, along with Neville Gilbert, I was chosen to work under Mr Massyk, B.A, London, in additional mathematics for the Cambridge School Certificate Exam. We managed a bare pass in this subject, as it turned out, because of Massyk’s resigning to take a commission in the army when we were only partly through the course, leaving us to manage under Mr Peterson whose speciality we were to learn was not mathematics. Peterson undertook a formidable task at short notice, and our passes in the finals are largely the result of his yeoman service that included also his taking over the teaching of English and history (from Niblett, who also left for a commission), and scripture (from Massyk).

Both history and scripture were taught indifferently, Niblett never inspiring in us a feel for British-Indian history. Massyk, an avowed agnostic, treated the Gospels with cavalier disdain, having us take turns reading aloud, page after page, from the text books: Life of Christ and Acts of the Apostles. He’d interject now and then with remarks like ‘rubbish!’ when he fancied the supernatural event in question too much for him to swallow. Since none of us had any religious feelings, Massyk’s sacrilegious outbursts caused us great amusement. Unfortunately, these diversions were no help to us in our preparation for the scripture exam staring us in the face barely two months away. It was Peterson’s methodical note making and our learning his notes that helped us pass our exams in history and scripture.

In my last two years I took the Urdu prize and a prize for general merit, Neville Gilbert still holding on to first place. In my last year of school, I entered the School Essay contest. The one topic set was not one I felt comfortable with, but having read an article the day before in a National Geographic, I decided to use from memory some of its catchy phrases and ideas to liven up my essay. The Principal, Mr Watts, judged the entries, and soon the rumour spread that he was deliberating on three finalists: ‘Sherlock’ Holmes, Neville Gilbert, and myself. I was surprised and elated beyond words, more so when it was rumoured, I’m sure at Sherlock’s mischievous instigation, that I was the winner. It turned out that Sherlock himself won and took the coveted award on Prize Day. I never did learn whether Neville or I was runner-up, but I didn’t care. I was thrilled enough to have finished among the top three. A light had come on in my brain that would never be extinguished. Rather, it would flame into incandescence over the years, making my school and college English seem colourless and unchallenging.

Most of the masters had minimal qualifications. Only Reid, Niblett, Lubeck, Massyk, and Peterson had bachelor’s degrees, while our munshi had an M.A in Persian. The subjects taught were the usual academic ones, excepting European or classical languages. Strangely enough, no chemistry or biology that were routinely offered in most schools. Nor were vocational subjects taught at O.G. I would gladly have seen certain of my subjects replaced by others from among chemistry, biology, and even Latin to enable those of us who were so inclined to seek careers in medicine or law.

Towards the middle of my last year at O.G my mother had been arranging for me to attend Chelmsford Training College, Murree, to become a teacher. The Headmaster, Mr Chunn, knowing this, began taking an interest in me. He it was who arranged for Neville and me to take additional mathematics for the School Certificate.

What, in retrospect, I found profoundly wrong with O.G was its exclusion of Indians, with the exception of the munshi (obviously) and the schools’ doctor, whose son was the only Indian ever to be admitted to O.G. A quiet, well-mannered boy my age, he was with us barely a month — friendless, shunned, even ridiculed, I never understood why. We ‘Oak Grovians, young and old’, to quote the opening line of our school song, sometimes behaved rather thoughtlessly.

Like most secondary boarding schools of our kind the world over, a great deal of time at Oak Grove was given to organized sport, academic pursuits falling way behind in our scale of values. The great public schools of England had long been our model, reinforced by the Duke of Wellington’s celebrated remark that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Perhaps true of those days at the start of the 19th century, when physical courage and tenacity mattered so much, it would hardly be true of warfare these days, for in our time bloodless, remote-control technologies have produced the likes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, dwarfing the bloodshed of Waterloo.

The lack of a strong tradition at Oak Grove stemmed, I believe, from the absence of an active alumni association. Few of the renowned public schools of England or India would have acquired their status without some such body. It mattered little that O.G had the occasional alumnus who had made a name for himself in the outside world, or that it was modelled on English public schools, with its own colours (red and white), school song, and Latin motto on its school crest. An Old Oak Grovians’ association would have given us a sense of belonging in a much larger fraternity, and of sharing a healthy pride in belonging to Oak Grove. [It was not until 1984, 44 years after I left the school that at the invitation of the principal, Mr Kichlu, I became a life member of the Old Oak Grovians’ Association].

At school I was reasonably good at all games but exceptional in none. Boxing was the sport I liked least of all but at the same time desired most at which to excel. It seemed a skill worth acquiring. I realized, after years of sparring in P.T classes (how I loathed them!), that I could hold my own in the ring. So, I was nearly always being chosen for inter-house and inter-school boxing teams. I owe it, however, to my reasonable skill at boxing that I was never bullied. With all that testosterone around, it was as well to be able to hold one’s own when violence shook the air.

The Cambridge School Certificate Exams were starting in early December, and I began preparing for them in real earnest. Cold as it was becoming, and with nearly everyone gone, it felt good having the school to ourselves. With the rules relaxed considerably, and those masters staying on seeming at last so pleasant, this so-called ‘Cambridge Week’ was to become the nicest time of my entire school days.

In those last days I got a sense of impending loss, a world that was slipping away, never to return. It all began to feel so short, my nine years at Oak Grove. The war which had begun just fifteen months earlier was tightening its icy grip on our lives, forcing us to reflect on its implications for us. One of these was that we had to write our Cambridge exams in duplicate, the original to be sent by sea to England for marking, the copy retained in India should the originals be lost at sea. A few of our masters had taken wartime commissions in the armed forces and left without substitutes. Some Old Oak Grovians whom I knew had joined the armed forces, and life at school was beginning to lose some of the stability that it had possessed for as long as I could remember.

In the summer of my last year, 1940, when the Battle of Britain was at its peak, our morning assemblies, conducted by the headmaster Mr Chunn, were filled with news of British planes lost in action, along with allied bombings of Germany. Although we were half a world away from the war in Western Europe, our hearts went out to people like Mr Chunn and his family whose connections with wartime Britain were understandably deeper than ours. I liked Mr Chunn, and I believe he was as devoted to Oak Grove as would have been any of us whose roots were in India.

My classmates seemed unsure about what they would do after leaving school. I was going to Chelmsford Training College, and I had a feeling they would join up. Anyway, in a few days we’d be going our separate ways into a future that at the best of times would have been uncertain, but in a world being savaged by war was beginning to look a little unnerving for us youngsters. On my last day of school, December 6, ’40, I turned seventeen. After all those years in Saharanpur, I’d now be going home instead to Lahore for my holidays, after which I’d start at Chelmsford Training College for teacher training concurrently with undergraduate study (externally) from the University of Punjab at Lahore.

P.S. In October ’84, I revisited Oak Grove after 44 years. Some profound changes had occurred in that time, not the least being the complete Indianization of O.G. A period of Indian history had passed and with it some of the excrescences of the old order. While a guest of the principal Mr Kichlu and his wife, I was reminded of a time when Mr and Mrs H.P. Watts lived there, and we children felt as we passed by the place that some awful deity resided there. By 1984 so much had changed as I found myself enjoying for a few days the home and hospitality of Mr and Mrs Kichlu.

The boys I met in 1984 were more highly motivated and a good deal more industrious than those of my time. Indeed, in those days we took pride in affecting an indifference towards school work, for anyone found being attentive to it ran the risk of being scorned. The teaching staff in all three schools seemed much kinder people than those of my time. Furthermore, in 1984, of the school’s 25 teachers, 21 had masters’ degrees, 4 held baccalaureates. Although these figures need to be treated with caution when comparing teachers, it is nevertheless true that Oak Grove, quite literally, has an extremely well-qualified staff.

Oak Grove’s current curriculum puts ours to shame. In my time, oddly enough, there was no chemistry, biology, political science, economics, music or art. In extramurals we had none of the many clubs and activities that Oak Grove now has: debating, dramatics, declamation, yearbook, to mention only a few. It was good that yoga and calisthenics had replaced boxing, the latter having too much of the gladiatorial element aimed at spectator appeal.

Total enrolments were significantly higher than in my time. The Principal’s report of 1984 noted 414, with 194 in Boys’ School (some 45 more than in my time). With the same seven classrooms, presumably there were more boys per room than in my day. My two-day visit to Oak Grove was obviously too short, but it was all the time I could spare from a schedule I’d planned months ahead and which required me to be at a College reunion in London, visits with friends in England and Dehra Dun, an invitation to Camden Hall School, Dehra Dun, a day’s stop over in my old Saharanpur, and a day’s visit to Wynberg-Allen where I had taught in 1943.

I need at least a week for Oak Grove alone to savour all its changes, and bask in the memories of a place I spent nine of the most impressionable years of my life. Most of all I’d like to wander around, unheeded as possible, among the boys at work or play, or simply enjoying a ‘loaf’. I’d love to spend a whole day in Boys’ School, have meals with the boys, sleep a night in their dorm. (Would they, being Hindu, eat with their fingers; use the lavatory differently? Just how ‘Indianized’ would my old school have become?) I’d love to teach a class or two in senior English (but only on invitation), if only to give the kids and their teachers a novel break. I’d have my video camera going full blast.

There are so many things I want to do in the sunset of my life, but none more dearly than one last visit to Oak Grove. I have no great achievements that would make my visit a special occasion for the school, other than the dubious distinction of being an incurably sentimental old goat.

Be that as it may, after thirty-six years of teaching on three continents (in India, Australia, and Canada), sixteen of them in boarding schools in Australia, I ask myself why this pull towards Oak Grove? The answer could well be that, apart from my three years in Saharanpur’s little railway school as a tot, my entire schooling has been at Oak Grove, all nine years as a boarder. There are places in Junior School, and even more in Boys’ School, where I could spend many a rewarding hour in quiet recollection that would give me the nearest thing I know to a spiritual experience. For this alone, I imagine, I’d give almost anything to be there one last time.

PPS. And so it happened, but not till 2005, when I found myself at Oak Grove that ‘one last time’. I spent almost a week there from March 5, and was housed at the visitors’ lodge, down by the front pitch. I took my meals with the staff, and because I’m a life-member of the Oak Grovians’ Association, my board and lodging were free. I was greeted on arrival by a young and cheerful Brahmin staff member named Shobhit Pathak who introduced himself to me as ‘coordinator of alumni’, and from that moment on till I left the school he remained my constant host, guide and friend. A number of the meals were vegetable curry, dall and chapattis which I enjoyed as much for their taste as for their sentimental value.

I met a few times with the young Indian principal, Peter Gabriel, and found him extremely likable — I couldn’t resist giving him an unmerciful hug before I left. I spent hours in his office poring over and making notes from the diary of A.C.Chapman, the school’s first headmaster, 1888 – 1912. Somebody had once been reading it and done a brief outline of the school’s early days. I have a copy of one such outline. Oak Grove is, in many ways, a very different school today. Someone with a mind to writing a book, could put together a fascinating and informative piece about Oak Grove’s transformation. I’d be disingenuous if I pretended that I wasn’t myself interested in giving it a go.

The staff and kids can’t wait to hear you tell them about the old days. What struck me from the start was the extraordinary courtesy of everyone, so much so that I found it hard to resist fancying myself a fellow of some importance. In Junior School I signed autographs for its clamouring little girls, until Mr Anupam Singh, who was relieving Shobhit, came to my rescue and spirited me off on some pretext. The senior boys, more reserved, were nevertheless eager to hear about the Oak Grove of my day. I must have seemed an odd relic from the past — sixty-five years having gone by since I was there as a boy.

I had just the one meal in Senior School. I did so much want to ask them questions of my own, but as it happened they got in first with theirs. Their food was entirely vegetarian, and they ate the way we do, not with their hands. I noticed that their meals were the same as the staff’s. In my day, our food was not nearly as nice as the staff’s, but occasionally our prefects would get delicious left-overs from their table.

I was curious to see the lavatories, aware that Hindu custom is so different from our own. The old toilets that were flushed automatically had long since been replaced by Indian-style latrines with overhead cisterns for individual flushing. There were mugs in place under taps for washing the Hindu way. This was so at all three schools. If one doesn’t jump to easy conclusions, their way could well be a more hygienic alternative to our own. The old showers had been replaced, oddly enough, by taps for bathing – the so-called Hindu baths. The visitors’ lodge, fortunately, had the usual old toilet in the bathroom, but, believe it or not, no toilet paper. Nobody around thought that the least bit strange, but eventually a roll did show up, thanks to Shobhit, who must have seen to it that one be obtained from Mussoorie a few miles up the road.

I noticed a few senior boys standing reverently before a brightly-coloured statue of Lord Siva in a secluded spot near the lodge. They touched the ground at their feet, then their lips, and paused as if in prayer before quietly moving off. It took my breath away to see these public gestures of piety. The truth is that I was witnessing at first hand the new ethos of Oak Grove. When I mentioned this to Shobhit, he being a high Brahmin, no doubt wondered why something so commonplace as public worship had caught my attention, particularly as it happened to be during the Board exams, when divine help would most specially be sought after. I thought back to our own ‘Cambridge Week’ of exams, but couldn’t, for the love of me, recall praying in private, let alone in public for help from on high. From way back then I must have been the unregenerate skeptic that I would eventually become.

There being no Sunday worship as we knew it, the kids mooched around much like the way we did. I noticed the occasional senior boy engrossed in study. Such studiousness was something we dared not show in my day.

Judging from their magazine articles, the kids of Oak Grove are pretty serious about their school and everything it stands for — so different from the devil-may-care attitude of my time. They are always in uniform – maroon pullovers, grey trousers (girls too, on occasion), and tidily dressed, shoes polished — anything less would in their eyes be disrespectful. The medium of instruction is English, but whether they chatted among themselves in English was something I was most keen to find out. So I had Shobhit arrange for me to spend a night in the boys’ dorm. A doozer of a cold, unfortunately, put the kibosh on that. But hearing the staff speak to one another at meals and other times, I took it that the kids too spoke Hindi amongst themselves. Their speech, cut off from British English for so many years has led to a kind of language inbreeding, with the result that they seem to outsiders to be less and less easy to understand.

I gave an English lesson to a senior class of 35(!) boys and, anxious that I be understood by them, I took particular care with how I spoke — so much so, in fact, that I could well have sounded a bit strange to the boys as well as their master, Mr Anand Kumar, an MA in English, who sat at the back of the room during my lesson. I dealt with the subject of ‘Dictionary Definitions’, having given a similar lesson to classes at Cardston High shortly before I retired, now twenty-one years ago. Mr Kumar seemed every bit as attentive as the boys, judging from the video taping I saw later.

Earlier on, I sat in on a senior physics class in the lab, over by the back pitch, but as I am getting hard of hearing I had difficulty following the teacher, Mr Krishna Kumar, an MSc in physics. The kids, I’m sure, understood him well, in spite of the way he barrelled along. Having done university physics myself, I would say the lesson, which was on ‘Sound’, was around first-year university level. There were 14 boys and 11 girls there – a far cry from my day when girls among us would have been altogether too much for us fellows to take in anything of the lesson. I found myself conjuring up visions of our Mr Lubeck at the blackboard, with us Std 10 blokes sitting in that very room, our attention riveted on the strictest man on earth. On those same benches I was ‘seeing’ my old classmates Ralph Scott, Neville Gilbert, Keith Gantzer, ‘Sherlock’ Holmes, ‘Baldy’ Kearns, Ted Bonner, Bill Derry, Dud Venner, Maurice Killoway, Max Arber, and ‘Fritz’ La Zelle. Aside from Ralph, Keith, and Bill, I don’t know what has come of the rest of them.

These are a few of the changes I noticed. Unable to make a similar visit to the girls’ school, I could only assume from their cheerful and often movingly sincere entries in the Oak Grovian that the girls felt the same way as the boys towards their school. One last comment: unlike church-run schools the world over, Oak Grove gave us kids a secular environment – one blessedly free from religious indoctrination. As all too often happens, many religions, instead of bringing together the peoples of the earth, have succeeded mainly in ripping them apart; Christianity is one example, Islam another — both of them global religions.

In light of this, what is one to make of Oak Grove’s new religiosity? One encouraging view is that Hinduism, like Buddhism, is grounded in the principle of nonviolence – ahimsa, which Gandhi extended into the political sphere as satyagraha, nonviolent resistance to a specific evil. There can be no question of the value of nonviolence as an educational ideal. Furthermore, instead of perceiving human life as an irreconcilable conflict between good and evil, as Christians do, Hinduism views it instead as a necessary combination of both. The Hindu god Siva, worshiped at Oak Grove, is a unique blend of these contradictory elements. One of Lord Shiva’s consorts is, in fact, none other than the evil and destructive goddess Kali. Thus, Hinduism possesses, in unique measure the philosophic basis for tolerance among people, despite the appalling ambiguities to be found in their makeup. There is good reason, I think, to be optimistic about Oak Grove’s religious orientations.

– M.E.B.


This content has been reproduced from a blog posted by Maurice Brayley on November 27, 2006. The link to the original post has been removed in accordance with his family’s wishes.

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