The other day an unusual thing happened. I grilled some food outside and decided to eat it inside, where the stereo was playing old Indian music. The combination of eating a hamburger and listening to “jo vada kiya vo nibhana parega” struck me as extremely incongruous and got me thinking. It was not just a quick flashback but rather a deep retrospection. Oak Grove figured quite prominently in those thoughts. And, rightfully it should – I did spend almost eleven of my most formative years there. I have always known that it was an important part of my past, so as I reminisced I decided to pen some thoughts – actually I banged them out on a computer keyboard.
I arrived at Oak Grove in March of 1954, barely five years old, not speaking a word of English. I clearly recall that I was speaking it in a week, at least enough to get by. The fact that everyone – kids and teachers spoke only English, no matter whether you understood it or not, must of course have been the key to learning it so rapidly. My teacher in lower kindergarten, Mrs. Regalini also certainly had something to do with it. The academic program at the time consisted of lower and upper kindergarten, followed by ten standards. Tenth was Senior Cambridge. Somewhere along the line it was reorganised, the K.G’g were done away with and the entire program was collapsed into eleven classes. In 1963 Senior Cambridge was renamed to Indian School Certificate (ISC). Junior School used to be up to fifth grade, due to overcrowding, in 1958 the fifth grade was moved to the Boys / Girls school.
While I was in the Junior school some of the teachers I recall were Miss D’Colis (headmistress) , Mrs. Haslam, Miss Lyall, Miss Gifford, Mrs. Regalini, Mrs. Neelam, Miss Gandhi, Mrs. Carol, Mrs. Arnold, Miss Luke, Miss Spencer, Miss Fernandez. Some of my early classmates were Jasbir Singh, Billy Gomes, Brian Regalini, Mohinder Midha, ( ) Bewtra, Baldev Singh, Clifford Tims, Winston Tocher. Some of the girls were Attia Ahmed, Priscilla Ralph and Anita Verma. On Priscilla I had the greatest crush a little boy could ever have! Later that was followed by crushes on the Verma sisters – Preeti and Anita, and one of the six Kaur sisters. The Kaurs must have been the most beautiful siblings ever. They were followed by a lone kid brother. While I’m writing I wonder how that boy turned out – an extremely spoilt brat, effeminate or just a regular guy? There were no organised sports in the Junior school, but lot of supervised playtime. Marbles were my favourite, gulli–danda was frowned upon and quickly stopped when noticed by the teachers. Food at school though wholesome was painfully dull and tasteless. I was a fussy eater and one evening when I didn’t touch my plate Miss D’Colis forced the food down, only to have me throw up right on her. She probably didn’t ever try it again on any other kid. To this day there are foods I detest because they were served so often – porridge comes to mind. Occasionally a kid would have a birthday and a lucky few would be invited to the centre table, while others looked on enviously and longingly at the delights laid out there.
Dormitories had their own rituals. Communal baths were followed by an inspection. You had to stand in the nude on a stool or chair and be inspected by the one of the matrons (dorm supervisors) – gee I’m blushing thinking about young Miss Spencer checking me out. She was barely out of her teens then, but then I was just six or seven. By the way, I actually exchanged some emails with her a couple of years ago courtesy Bert Payne, who put us in touch.
In 1958 we moved to Boys school. After the protected, cocoon like existence of Junior school, Boys school was a shock. We were the littlest kids around and easy pickings for the bullies amongst the older boys. In big things and small we were fending for ourselves, where till now all these things were done for you or closely supervised. Hoofing (kicking), slapping etc by prefects was common as were other forms of harassment. Looking back though, I’m surprised it wasn’t worse. This is the age when cliques and groups started forming and if you didn’t belong you were subject to various torments. Although there were class teachers – more for administrative reasons, we were taught each subject by different teachers. The teachers I recall were Mr. Edwards (headmaster) , Mr. Gomes (math), Mr.Regalini (English), Mr. Fletcher (geography), Mr. Midha(history) , Mr Ahmed (English and history), Mr. Dina (Hindi), Mr. Kelkar (science), Mr. Chimwal (chemistry), Mr. Luther (woodworking) , Mr. Swing (physical Training) and Mr. Meston (dormitory). As Messers Fletcher, Regalini and Kelkar left, they were replaced by Mr. Kukreti (English), Mr. Banerjee (physics) and Mr.Rawat(geography) . Inspite of their individual foibles, I think collectively they were the best bunch of teachers a student could ask for – dedicated, caring and knowledgeable. With one exception – Kukreti.
Kukreti was a very fine teacher of English, but had to be the most mean spirited person I have had the misfortune to come across. As someone from the old American West might say “them’s fightin’ words”. Yes, they are. I have a very laid back temperament, but I get so angry more than forty years later when I think of that person. Have you ever met a teacher who could revel in the failure of his students with words like “When you will fail, then I will laugh”, when some kid(s) laughed in class. Or, would threaten them “with a stroke of my pen I can make or mar your future”, this last because in those days if you failed English, you flunked the class. And believe me he used that power. On several English essay exams I would get 39/100, when the passing grade was 40. How does one get that score in an English essay? Did he count every missing comma or period or wrongly constructed sentence – no, I don’t think so. It was pure malice. Fortunately this malicious grading was seen through by Mr. Edwards or Mr. Pasricha and was overridden. I am sure that many a kid was not so lucky. For the record I got a grade of A2 in English in the ISC final exams. There, I feel better after that venting.
I was an above average student for the most part, but did have my ups and downs. In the upper level classes (9th grade onward) I chose the Mathematics and Science group. The sound early grounding I got at Oak Grove, stood me at good stead years later, both at NDA and engineering school in the US, where I did pretty well. I did participate in sports but only at the fringes.
In my early years the school was mostly run by Anglo-Indians, which included the principal -Mr. Love, heads of the Junior, Girls and Boys schools – Miss D’Colis, Miss Garlah, Mr. Belew and most teachers. The Anglo-Saxon/ European names from the early years will confirm this. Many students were Anglo-Indians too. After all Oak Grove was a Railway school. No history of the Indian Railways would ever be complete without Anglo-Indians. They were completely intertwined. Indianization started when Mr. Pasricha arrived as principal in 1959. Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti began to be more formal and we began to appreciate their importance. The renaming of houses at the Boys school from Roberts, Kitchner, Haig, Wellington to Asoka, Tagore, Shivaji and Patel was great. Who needed bygone era British generals anyway. Similar changes were made in the Girls school. Not sure of the original names but the new names of Sarojini and Padmini do come to mind. However the changing of the school crest from a dignified one to “Kamal ka phool” was an unmitigated disaster. I don’t think Oak Grovians of that era can easily shake off or live it down.
Jharipani was very remote. How did the British come across this location? I can’t begin to imagine how those massive steel beams and other heavy supplies used in the construction of the schools reached that area. To get to school we took a bus from Dehra Dun to Kulukhet. From there we walked the two or three miles up to school. Our luggage, large tin trunks and holdalls of bedding were carried by sturdy Gorkhas/Garhwalis on their backs. This was the preferred method of getting to school till the sixties. The first bus service between Mussoorie and Jharipani was introduced in 1954 or 55. This was just a seasonal skeleton service as the road surface was washed away by the ferocious monsoons, making it impassable by vehicles. In reality the road was an unpaved mule track of stepped construction to prevent erosion. In later years the paving of the road, first with concrete and later with tar greatly increased vehicular traffic between Oak Grove and the outside world. The Dehradun – Mussoorie motor road ran to the Library side of Mussoorie. The connection from Kincraig (spelling?) to Masonic Lodge/Picture Palace was only opened around 1960. It remained a one way road for quite a while. In Mussoorie affluent people moved about in push/pull rickshaws. In areas where rickshaws could not operate due to road conditions or steep inclines, they were carried in a “dandy”. Children were carried in a basket like chair. The principal of the school, then Mr. Love and his wife used a dandy occasionally, but I don’t recall any one after him using it. The use of dandies disappeared by the late fifties, but rickshaws continued. Looking back dandies seem almost medieval.
I was a very sickly child and must have the dubious distinction of being the most hospitalised kid in Oak Grove’s history. You name it; I had it – chicken pox, measles, mumps, German measles and numerous bouts of fevers. When I see people wince at the sight of an injection I smile and think of those days. Thick, blunt, re-usable needles were poked into my arms and bottoms more times than I want to remember. I guess it was penicillin. Somehow it always did the trick. In 1957 there was a world wide influenza epidemic. Out of about 180 kids in the junior school all but twelve were hospitalised. The wards were over flowing, temporarily the verandahs around the hospital were filled with beds, some kids were moved to other hospitals. Off course I was not among the lucky uninfected twelve. With each outbreak of some disease came a quarantine, further isolating us from the outside world. During those early years, I recall Dr. Nakra, Dr. Banga and nurses Caston, Morris and Dewar. God bless them all.
Saturday was what we looked forward to most. The Tuck man, Maula Bux would arrive with several boxes of goodies – peanut toffee, jaggery stick jaw, sugary pastry and cream rolls. I’ve had the best French and Italian confectionery, but somehow they don’t compare to Maula Bux’s. Another vendor by the name of Motilal, who ran a general store in Jharipani would also come, bringing ladoos, jalebis and dal-mot. In a few minutes we would blow our entire weekly pocket allowance of eight annas (India started using decimal currency in 1959), later increased to a rupee. Then there were movies. The boys with their Brylcremed hair, drain pipe pants and pointy shoes trooped over to the girls school rain or shine. Movies were in a covered shed. Girls and boys sat separately and exchanged furtive if longing glances across the isle, occasionally a crumpled note was thrown over by some one, professing undying love for their beloved. It was the age of innocence. Since the girls and boys schools were so segregated it was difficult to really get it on with the girls, but many an affair ensued however tame or lame by today’s standards. Once a month we were allowed to go to Mussoorie. In the early years we walked, but later preferred the bus. Movies at Rialto or Picture Palace, roller skating and a meal at Kwality or Neelam’s were the thing to do. A few friends and I would take pony rides on Camel Back road.
Sports day, Prize day and Fancy Fair were days for fun, showing off and ogling the girls! Inter-house competitions for sports and other activities were intense, the air always thick with rivalry. However, we all came together as one when competing with other schools – mostly St. Georges, Allen and Woodstock. We would shout ourselves hoarse cheering our side or jeering the rivals.
There are so many things one can recall with great fondness about their school years, but some things stand out more than others. Those memories collectively are what I call the “Wonder Years” – yes there was a TV show of that name.
I did not complete my ISC from Oak Grove, but finished from St. George’s (long story that – for another time). My siblings Ravinder (RN) – `60 and Jitender – “Jackie” (left in ’64, completed ISC from St.George’s as well) were in Oak Grove too. My mother was a teacher/head in the Junior school from 1954 to 1975. People who have been on this board for a while may remember a piece I wrote about Jackie several years ago. I’m not sure the old articles were archived when the site was moved.
– Virender Gupta (1965 Batch)
This article is a work by Virender Gupta. This content has been reproduced from a blog posted by Raveesh Gupta on June 17, 2009. Here is the link to the original post.