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A Book on Loyola’s Transformation

Gautam Bhatia’s Laurie Baker: Life, Works and Writings, from which I quoted Baker last month, is not the only book that features Loyola. The school is discussed at length in Fr C.P. Varkey’s book Gently and Firmly.

Last month, on a Saturday afternoon, I drove to St Paul’s in Connaught Place, which stocks Christian literature, and has published Fr Varkey under their imprint Better Yourself Books. That day, the shop had in stock a few of his books, but I was instantly drawn to Gently and Firmly, which describes Loyola School’s transformation between 1978 and 1983.

The second chapter — ‘A School Transforms Itself’ — awoke me to a Loyola that I never knew.

“There was a time when it was not uncommon to see students smoking on the terrace of the school building. Drinking was not something unusual during excursions. Toilets had the usual lascivious pictures that are often found in the toilets of boys’ schools. Several attendance registers have been found torn…A few times the tyres of the school buses were found deflated. Once a motor was pushed into the well. Discipline in classrooms was far from exemplary. Though four or five students were detained in each class every year, the results in the School Leaving exams were around 85%. This, in spite of the fact that most students had private tuition.”

Fr Varkey, the legendary former Principal of the school, then writes, “A few years after the introduction of the new approach, the situation changed dramatically.” Not only did campus discipline take a positive turn, but also the academic results improved, to 100 per cent (and thereafter to 100 per cent first class). This, despite the school’s emphasis, in the new approach, on co-curricular activities over studies.

Chapter 6 describes ‘How the School Did It’. It talks of the school assembly, the squads, the doing away with ties and shoes, smarter use of library and games periods, and several things which we have taken for granted at Loyola. “Some of these practices were in the school already,” writes Fr Varkey. “The difference was that a concerted effort was made to introduce as many elements of it as possible.”

Gently and Firmly has several anecdotes and is an interesting read. But as a chronicle of the transformation of Loyola, it is weak; it is at best, a starting point for serious historical inquiry.

I wish that in the coming years:

  • Loyolites of the 1970s and 1980s will explain how they saw and felt the transformation; and
  • Priests, parents and teachers of that era will tell us how they were agents of change.

Such jottings will help us craft a good and critical history of Loyola, in time for the school’s golden jubilee in 2011.

Update: Fr Varkey passed away in 2013.

IAS Exam: 3 Loyolites in Top 10

IAS Exam: 3 Loyolites in Top 10

first off the block graphicI dreamed of this newspaper headline a few years ago in the exam hall in Trivandrum, as I sat for the civil services examination, with Vyasan R. (1996) and Anup Kuruvilla (1997). Tomorrow, that headline will be a reality.

Vyasan called me four hours ago to break the news of this year’s all-India civil services exam result.

4th rank – Prasanth N. (1995 SSLC)
6th rank – Vyasan R. (1996 ISC)
7th rank – Anish Rajan (1997 ISC)

Wow! About 150,000 candidates appear for an exam, and three Loyolites make it to the top 10. They join a handful of Loyolites who are in the elite civil services.

  • Paul Antony (1974) – IAS 1984 – Kerala
  • Jitendra Srivastava (1990) – IAS 2000 – Bihar
  • Sreejesh K.V. (1990) – IPS 2000 – Tripura
  • Babu A. (1993) – IAS 2003 – Andhra Pradesh
  • Anup Kuruvilla John (1997) – IPS 2004 – Kerala

Getting into the civil services takes hours of hard work, months of effort and years of patience. And perhaps, moments of luck. It’s a marathon exam that spans a year, from the day of the preliminary examination (May) through the Main written examination (October) and interview (April) to the declaration of result (next May). And worse, you might have to go through this exam cycle more than once to get a coveted service. Ask Prasanth. Ask Vyasan. Ask Anish.

The room where Vyasan and I prepared for the civil services exam

Great companionship, long-winded sessions at Indian Coffee House and the joy of learning — these keep the candidates going as they chase the dream. For their parents, though, it is a nightmare all the way. Anxiety levels and frustration rise by the year as bright sons offer their best days at the altar of the mother of all UPSC exams. The CAT may be tougher, and the GRE may offer a better future, but neither stretches middle-class Indian parents to breaking point. The Indian civil services exam is a test for parents, as much as it is of a young Indian’s ability to recollect, and write concisely and accurately.

As we celebrate the success of Prasanth, Vyasan and Anish, let us say three cheers to their families who supported them, year after year.