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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.