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.

29 Comments

  • I joined the school as a kindergarten kid in 1983, not too long after the above mentioned transformation is said to have taken place, but I don’t remember noticing anything that would remind one of this past that Loyola had. I know that Loyola once had hostelers, that corporal punishment was rampant, and that students used to wear ties. But, students smoking on the terrace, “lascivious pictures” in toilets! LOL… that I never knew!

    Here’s hoping that some of the old boys from the 70s and 80s batches will shed some light on this remarkable transformation that Loyola made.

  • Ashok, I just can’t wait to read this book. There is a Pauline Book Centre here in LA on my way to work…i wonder if they will have it…will have to check it out. After having committed a serious breach of discipline and getting away lightly punished, I remember Sara Madam telling us of all the canes being collected from the teachers and being burnt in the quadrangle…i think she said it happened in 1982. Wow…i never knew Loyola had this dimension to it in the 70’s. Most of the seniors of then I have talked to, always romanticized the place in glowing terms. The old boys who co-operated and lived through the transition really deserve a big cheer from us and Ashok, like you said it would be nice to hear their side of the story.

    Superb post, Ashok…recently I read about a school in Kerala bringing out its own autobiography through its alumni and teachers…Fr.Varkey has begun the initiative, its time we ex-Loyolites too pitched in.

  • Have heard that the boarding facility was quite reputed, during the Fr C P Varkey days. A few months back met somebody whose brother was a boarding student in Loyola those days. She was full of praise for Fr Varkey, saying he used to give individual attention to the boarding students and even visited their homes (We are talking of places like Kochi and Kanjirapally).
    And during the boarding days the profile/background of the students must have been different. There might have been more rich Syrian Catholics from the Palai/Kanjirapally area.
    Having joined in 1988 this seems to have been an entirely different world. Wasn’t the hostel the building adjoining the hockey field?

  • Two interesting anecdotes that came to my mind in this context:

    1. I think this book was displayed in the notice board outside Fr. Pulickal’s office while I was a student. If my memory is right, it had a blue and black cover depicting a child and an adult.

    2. In 1993-94, Joseph John and I were representing the school in a Quiz competition we eventually won. The runner-up was a guy (he was a 1-man team) from a school that was not very prominent. Before the prize distribution ceremony, this guy’s father walked up to us and said that he knew quite a bit about Loyola as he had read Fr. Varkey’s book, and that he was influenced by its principles.

  • Oops… maybe I made a factual error in my previous comment. I just found that “Gently and Firmly” was published in 1995 – so it had to be some previous book written by Fr. CP Varkey that the guy’s father was talking about.

  • Thanks for this new light into the dark ages of our school. it goes on to prove that everything starts from zero and improves through continuous innovation and commitment.
    Way to go Loyola!
    Cheers

  • great to know about the new facts about our school , i always felt that loyola was the loyola i always knew .. thought nothin can go wrong with the way it is .. hmmm so keep posting all news about loyola .. hope to get my hands on the book..

    i feel u guys .. i mean .. jiby & urself should penn down a book about loyola ..

    chucks

  • I was there from 79-90, still can’t remember any thing of those types, but anyway what uve brought out is really interesting. I can tell u the staircase leading to terrace was notorious in our times also, can’t mention it here!!!

  • The description of discipline in Loyola of the 1970s sounds more like a description of MG College! 🙂 I am not discounting the possibility of all that having happened as Fr. Varkey has chronicled. I have heard many others recount similar memories of Loyola in the 70s. My aunt was a teacher in the junior school for a few years until 1982 and I had a recent conversation with her on how the teaching fraternity reacted to Fr. Varkey’s “despotic” and “high-handed” methods. Whatever said, the transformation that Loyola has undergone is unique and astounding!

  • Jiby, if your friend does not get the book in 15 days, please let me know.

    Joseph, yes, to my knowledge, the school hostel was the one next to the hockey field.

    Deepak, the book cover that you mention is likely to be of Handle with Care by Fr C.P. Varkey. The edition of Gently and Firmly that I have has a pink cover with a cartoonish illustration of a teacher and students in a class. In the illustration, the students are amused as the teacher reads the students’ greeting on the blackboard: “Welcome to the Donkey”.

    Girish, let’s hope that innovation and commitment continue to exist in Loyola. About today’s Loyola, I hear anecdotes of all kinds.

    Arun, it would be great if you can share your thoughts here, after you read the book.

    Sreejesh, we want to hear those stair stories. Nothing like an IPS officer telling us crime stories!

    Sandeep, I must admit that I hadn’t heard stories of this kind. How come you didn’t share such tales with me in Ivanios, and thereafter in JNU? Devan and others who accuse us of bleating “Loyola” will roast us at our next get-together. 🙂

    I know that old boys from the 1970s read this blog. Funnily, all the comments here so far have been from Loyolites after 1980s, right? Chettanmaar odi olicho?

  • I just passed out this year. So i don’t have much to add. But i just noticed the comment about the book. And yes “Deepak Madhusoodanan (ISC ’96) ”
    is speaking about “handle with care”. Written by Fr C.P Varkey himself, that book once used to be given to the parents of all the students who joined in UKG. The book i think is currently unavailable. I asked FR Varkey about this and he said yes there was some prob with the printing. But it will be available again soon. Oh by the way. We had a chance to meet him. He came to school to give a talk. Before that i had a chat with him in the presence of our dear vice principal- without being aware who he was.

    Heh a teacher of mine borrowed my copy in 9th and shes yet to return it.

  • I was a student from 1979-1983. I am surprised to see his comments and I feel it is a bit of a publicity stunt and a disgrace to the students of this time. I was in the hostel and you know that there can be no secrets in school. It is a pity why Fr CP has to resort to this sort of work. Probably he has faded memory due to old age.

  • I must confess that I haven’t read the book or any of the others by Fr.CP for that matter. I was a student from 1970-81. I had classmates who were boarders. Never heard of such events …surprises me

  • My brother & I were boarders from ’79 – ’80. I think I was the youngest and always had special treatment. Fr. M.M. Thomas was the boarding director and it was run by Sr. Francina (who was my class teacher in UKG), Sr. Marceline & Sr. Vitalice who used to stay at the Pundit’s house (near the compound wall North of the football court and behind the old Junior School). The hostel was not near the hockey court. It was between the Loyola College and the Bus sheds. It was demolished a long time ago so that’s why no one really remembers it.

    Boarding was loads of fun and according to my Dad, he had a tough time taking me home when he came to take us for a short break for Deepavali. There was a boarding dog, a pomeranian called Chikkoo, and we used to spend endless hours running around in the Loyola College building and surroundings with it. Then there were the boarding outings…I remember the whole crowd going for Star Wars (the first one, not the remake), the trip to Ponmudi, the ever helpful chettanmaar.

    I also remember Fr. C.P. Varkey and also how approachable he was. I was collecting stamps then and I could walk into his office and claim a stamp every once in a while (he used to get mail from all over the world). I’ve heard the old teachers talk about how he introduced the “no beating” rule and how everyone was skeptical. The fact that most of the “bad” stuff he recalls seems so incredible to the later generations of Loyolites itself is proof that it worked. I guess the results have spoken louder than any book. I think I joined just after it was implemented. But I’d also love to hear from people who were there when the transformation happened.

  • Hi Issac, I did not know any of this — right from “My brother & I were boarders…”. With a fantastic memory like that, you should not be spared. Watch out for pestering emails from me. And thanks for turning up here. I was kind of sad that I seemed the grandpa Loyolite in these parts of the blogosphere.

  • lol..
    ashok chetta i shud ask the present LOBA prez to pay a visit..
    hes the founder secretary of the org…
    jimmy anthony … 69 batch
    so long grandpa ashok 😀

  • Ashok,

    Nice site and good work!!! Keep it up!!! First a bit about myself:
    I was a student of Loyola from (1969-82), and my brother from (1969 thru 1978). Yes that is right 14 years. Took me that long to get out of there, had to repeat 4th and 7th and Thanks in great part to Fr. C.P!! During that period (69 thru 82), the Principals were, Fr. Kuncheria(my LKG thru 2nd), Fr. Makhil (my 3rd and 4th) and then Fr.C.P. (from 4th onwards).

    No I have not read any of his books and am not sure if I will ever be able to bring myself to!!! To be frank, I have no respect at all for that man!! There have been incidents that are just not going away how ever hard I try to forgive and forget!! I am certain Fr.C.P. remembers me too… scars left in a child’s mind is difficult to erase (I can say that so with conviction now, since we are all parents too) and imagine when there was a concerted effort to fester that wound over an over again…..

    So now when he writes “SELF-HELP” books, I got to just say, “Dear Father, please practice what you preach!!! Do humanity a favour and resist from publishing pure Hypocritical work!!!”. Know this Father C.P.: You can blow smoke on humans as long as you are here…. but when you go over there… you will be answerable to your OWN Consciousness!!!

    He now preaching, kindness?? WOW!!!
    He now preaching, understanding?? Amazing!!!
    He now preaching equality and forgiveness?? GIMME A BREAK!!!

    He taking credit for the upholding the name of Loyola?? Got to give it to him since he did get “The Loyola”-brand going during that stretch and he was at the helm. Now believe me my friend, I have never seen anything like what you say quoted from the book: “students smoking on the terrace, lascivious pictures in toilets”!!! Never!!! So all that is just Bull!!! We had the luck and privilege to have a ton of great teachers and mentors.

    Loyola had a name since its inception. Remember, during those days (late 60s thru early 70s), there were not many private English medium schools in Trivandrum. The only 3 of any repute were: St.Josephs, Loyola, St.Thomas and among them St.Joseph’s was an SSLC school while Loyola (by same management) was considered the best ISC school. That was it!!! It is really Fr.Kuncheria who brought this school to prominence. You got to talk to the parents of us oldies to understand that!!!

    All said…. I love LOYOLA to the core!!!! Three-cheers to Loyola… HIP-HIP-HURRAY!!!! and can I forget this one: Whiskey, Brandy Soda-pop… We want Loyola on the TOP!!!

    Cheers,
    -Radhakrishnan

  • Sorry… had to correct one thing: “During that period (69 thru 82), the Principals were, Fr. Kuncheria(my LKG thru 2nd), Fr. Makhil (my 3rd and 4th) and then Fr.C.P. (from 4th onwards).” Well the correction is that I forgot to mention about another man who was Principal after Makhil but before Fr.C.P(or was it befor Makhil. That was Fr. Stanford (he was a white). I do not remember if he was before Makhil or after Makhil….

    I have heard that he was sent packing by behind-the-scene-politicking by Fr.C.P. as he himself (Fr.C.P) was sent packing by politicking in late 83-84 is what I heard too… 🙂 So take that with a grain of salt 🙂

    Love,
    -Radhakrishnan

  • Radhakrishnan, I suggest that you read Fr Varkey’s book which talks of his own transformation, and how he and his colleagues transformed Loyola thereafter. He does not deny that he was, once upon a time, worse than his worst student. He also notes in his book that some of the practices originated before his tenure as Principal.

    You have raised a couple of issues, which I’ll look into. Thank you for dropping by.

  • Ashok, Thank you for your suggestion and it is well taken. One thing I got to thank you for…. this blog. It was the spring-board for me to get in touch with my classmates of 82. As Uday had mentioned in one of his posts here…. we owe it to you. So… Thank you.

    Re: your suggestion of reading Fr.Varkey’s book, we will see… Having known him and his dark side first-hand that will be quite an undertaking for me. I would much rather prefer a man-to-man talk with him which I have tried to initiate without any response yet from him. Let us see if he is really transformed enough to invite me to a “open-hearted-chat”. I got to see and feel to believe…. because even if I read his books, I will be reading with a biased mind. That is not doing justice to anybody.

    Love and prayers,
    RK

  • As I expected, this topic has raised strong feelings, particularly among the students from the ’70s. Having been a student from 70-81, I have come to know of the different sides of Fr.CP. That he did raise the profile of the school is I think without much dispute. That he was an efficient administrator is also indisputable. He knew almost all the students personally, even by name, often knew their parents. His assembly speeches were almost always interesting…were quite conversational in nature. I have seen him seeking opinions and views of Year10 students while dealing with difficult situations facing the school..something not many administrators would be willing to do. Equally, we had some fine teachers who no doubt made his task easier.

    However… as written by Radhakrishnan, he did have a dark side, close friends of mine would vouch for that. He does owe answers for some of his actions to many…. perhaps he will have little to say; perhaps an apology would go some way. Radhakrishnan, I hope you do get an opportunity to meet him in person

  • Thank you Isaac for presenting both sides. The question remains: Did the school undergo a transformation? Is the pre-transformation Loyola (which the book talks of) fictitious?

  • I was a boarder from 71-78. I remain a proud Loyolite, the school gave us a solid foundation. But I have to disagree on those “facts” purportedly described in CPVs books. There certainly wasn’t any smoking or drinking during my time. “Dirty pictures”(not exactly draping the toilet walls)- it was a boys’ boarding for goodness sake, no surprises there!! I wouldn’t touch CPs book with a pole 10 ft long. The audacity of that man feigning to be this great reformer!! I have to agree that he was a great administrator, and ruled with an iron fist. It’s been thirty years since I left the hallowed grounds, but the whizz of cane lashes still send shivers down my spine. We also know the story behind how corporal punishment came to a halt. The ‘dark side’ as mentioned is something we would all like to forget. Such matters would not be tolerated in this day and age.

    I do not want to sound too bitter. Most of the memories I have of Loyola is still fantastic. But some thing just touched a raw nerve. I apologize if I have hurt anyone’s feelings.

    I read with great interest the blogs of recent batches. The fantastic all round achievements of Loyola boys just fills me with me joy and excitement. As always, the great staff of Loyola continue to teach and inspire the new generation. The knowledge and values I gleaned from my time at this great institution have helped me throughout my life. Our batch finally managed to cobble up a web forum and we have an upcoming class reunion. I’m hoping to join the celebrations and relive some of the old days!!

  • Hi !

    I was a student from 1969 to 1978 and just stumbled upon this blog now.

    It now appears that C.P.Varkey’s legacy will be controversial.

    He was no doubt a good administrator but his ‘dark side’ will always dog his legacy.

    Corporal punishment was a common feature in the 70s, not just in school, but also in homes.In fact , there was one infamous headline-grabbing incident in Loyola, when a wooden ruler with which a teacher was lashing a student’s palm, accidentally hit the desk, splintered and injured the student’s eye.

    I would say that putting an end to corporal punishment was just keeping in tune with the times and not something radical.

    As far as I know, Loyola was exceptionally disciplined till the year I passed out (1978) , but being a day scholar, I am not sure of the reported incidents of drinking etc.

    The improvement in academic results from 100% pass to 100% first class has also more to do with the liberalisation of evaluation standards over the years. Scoring over 95% average for ICSE or ISC in the 70s was well nigh impossible, but has become quite common now.

    Madhu Mathen

  • I was a student there when Fr. CP Varkey was the principal…and really feel proud about it ..Remember all the assemblies with Fr. Varkey talking about the Golden Heart ….Remember my first speech in the Assembly after which Fr. Congratulated me for keeping it straight and simple…The Teachers who built what ever goodness I have in me..If that was the period of transformation ..totally agree !!!! not just the school but every one there including students and teachers and non working staff every one experienced it and did transform themselves..

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