When I joined OG in 1959, in the 8th standard, the school was undergoing a painful transition to Indianisation under the strong and able leadership of Mr. Pasricha. The Senior Cambridge batch had, literally, God-like stalwarts such as School Captain Jag Mohan Verma, tall, strong, and dashing, ably supported by the likes of Bhanot, Somesh Bose, and the snake slaying Singh.
Led by Mr. Edwards was a great team of teachers such as Messrs Ahmed, Bannerjee, Chinwal, Dina, Fletcher, Gomes, Kelkar, Kukreti, and Luther. Mr. Ahmed could never be interrupted from his teaching. Even while he was lecturing in class, being the Master on Duty on that day, he went out to the corridor to investigate a disturbance, but continued with his lecturing while walking to the disturbance and back. He enticed many into reading newspapers by tantalising us with the titillating details of the Nanavati case unfolding in the Bombay courtrooms. Got me addicted since then, to the eternal consternation of my better half and children. I similarly did my bit of introducing Leslie Tocher to the Hindustan Times by bringing to his attention their carrying the Comic Strip Buck Ryan on Page 2. There was no stopping Leslie after that from charging out of the Dining Room after lunch, beating everybody to the Library to get first crack at the days’ Hindustan Times.
Even in those innocent days OG had its own peculiar denizens such as Garmi the friendly waiter, Jhuria the taciturn waker-upper and bed maker, and the Husky Bhotu, more Polar Bear than dog, but gentle as a monk. Talking about monks, a high point of 1959 was the exile of Dalai Lama. The first place Nehru brought him to was Mussoorie, and I remember classes were cancelled, and we were all sent down to Kulukhet to welcome him. Coincidentally, I ran into the Dalai Lama again in the late 1990s on the street in Toronto. Disgracefully the Canadian Government of the time (and even today), worried about offending China, refused to accord him official status, so he was reduced to walking along with a retinue of one, but that didn’t dim his smile. I did mention to him about cheering him on at Kulukhet, and he was gracious enough to say he remembered, but I doubt it.
One other diversion, while on the subject of the Dalai Lama and Tibet.
Carolyn mentioned discovering in the Hospital Library the book on which the film Great Escape was based. I had a similar epiphany during the major Chicken Pox, Measles, and Mumps epidemics of 1961, when I scored the Trifecta of contracting all three in succession. During my stay I came across and read Seven Years in Tibet (also made into an atrocious film starring Brad Pitt). What made reading the book so personal was the discovery that on his escape from Clement Town prison in Dehradoon, Heinrich Harrier actually went through the grounds of OG, on his escape to Tibet. The other warm memory from the stay in hospital was a beautiful young nurse, among four brought in to cope with the number of kids in hospital due to the epidemic. She was in Love with me. Absolutely. No two ways about it. Every evening she brought me a toffee. If that doesn’t convince you nothing will! She too went back to Delhi after the epidemic, taking my heart with her. Fortunately I managed to retrieve it shortly thereafter, but that’s another story.
Back to ’59, we used to be woken up each morning by Jhuria clanging the large, heavy, hand-held bell, up and down the dormitory. Those of us who weren’t affected by the bell, got a rude awakening courtesy Mr. Meston’s cane on our nether parts. (On my last visit in 2005, during the Reunion, I was taken aback to see the two-tier bunk beds, and TVs in the Dormitory. I know, I know, all us old fogies complain about how tough it was in our times). Quick wash-up was followed by two, at least, rounds of running around the back-pitch before breakfast. There was a 15 minute break before class, during which a student each from standards 9, 10, and 11 went to the Garden in front of the Headmaster’s Office, opened the Meteorological Box, noted the High and Low temperatures, and measured overnight precipitation, all recorded in a Log Book. Mr. Fletcher reported these figures on a periodic basis to the appropriate Government of
India authorities. I really regretted the dying down of this practice once he left to join Campion in Bombay.
In those days, and I am sure even now, OG had its very own peculiar slang. My introduction to it was when I was standing around in class and Francis “Mule” (after “Francis the Talking Mule” Comics and Movies) Samuels, the prefect told me to “perch”. It took me a while to figure out that I was being asked to sit down. Other examples are not for polite company, but are very funny. Even now when I explain some of these I have folks in stitches.
In class rooms we used to have twinned desks. One bench occupied by two students, with a single top divided into two desk tops. Each desk top was inclined, and hinged, covering a cavity for books and other study material. Each desk top was latched to enable locking them. Invariably, however, keys would be lost and latches broken. The problem was solved by hammering nails into the inclined top, in the edge abutting the other top, so that when the other top came down, both desks would be locked when the other was.
Trouble was this provided opportunity for great mischief, to the guy with nails in his top. He could always disrupt you by insisting on opening his top while you were studying, so that you were forced lift your top as well and could do nothing until he decided to close his lid. You get the picture. One time I had had enough of K.K. Sabharwal, my desk mate, doing this to me. We got into a major disagreement, and he poked the back of my hand with the point of his compass. Infuriated, I let fly with my right hand holding a pencil. I hit him on the left side and ended up breaking the lead in his chest, drawing blood. He started to cry, and I started to sweat, as we were both convinced he was going to die. Needless to say we both survived to tell the tale.
About this time we were introduced to Hydrogen Sulphide gas by Mr. Chinwal, in the Chemistry lab. Given the possibilities presented by its smell, I promptly purloined a few pellets of Ferrous Sulphide and poured some Hydrochloric Acid in my Quink Ink bottle. The idea was to disrupt the after dinner study period. As providence would have it, Mr. Gomes, the best Math Teacher I ever had, was Master on Duty that night. Mr. Gomes had a unique way of wagging his index finger under his nostrils whenever he detected noxious smelling human emissions.
Choosing a quiet moment, barely had I opened the bottle of Acid and dropped in the Ferrous Sulphide pellets that the Chemical reaction started in full force. The concoction was bubbling and emitting the god awful smells sending Leroy D’Cunha, my new desk mate, into paroxysms of giggles, thus alerting Mr. Gomes to come running. I quickly tried closing the bottle, but the tell tale smell continued to hover around my desk. Mr. Gomes’s index finger went into full wag mode, and the continuing chemical reaction sent the cap of the half closed bottle flying. There was complete and utter pandemonium in the class room. Guys were crying from laughing so hard. I single handedly sent Tagore House down to first place in the ignominy department with the Black Marks I earned that night.
Phew, and that wasn’t even all of ’59! Those were the days.
– Vipin Sehgal (1963 Batch)