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He Who Pays the Piper

In my blogpost last month on evaluating the school, I had surveyed the readers to know their views on the Great School Campaign. Here are the results of the two-question survey.

1. Do you feel there should be a Campaign to make Loyola a great school?
86.7% (52 votes) said “Yes, I am in favour of a Great School Campaign.”
“No. Loyola is already a great school”: 10% (6 votes)
“I don’t care”: 3.3% (2 votes)

2. Who should lead the Great School Campaign, if there is one?
The top preference was for Loyola Old Boys’ Association (LOBA) to lead the Great School Campaign.
LOBA: 38.3% (23 votes)
The Principal or Vice-Principal: 18.3% (11 votes) 18.3% (11 votes)
None of the listed options: 13.3% (8 votes)
Parent-Teacher Association (PTA): 8.3% (5 votes)
School Leader: 3.3% (2 votes)

Many of those who chose “none of the above” favoured a combination — for example, LOBA and PTA, or the authorities and PTA. Other candidates proposed to lead were “a former teacher”, and “a senior and distinguished alumnus”.

60 people participated in the survey. Thank you, guys!

Will LOBA take the next step?

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I feel that there should be a Great School Campaign, and that the PTA should take the lead. Let me explain why I (still) favour the PTA, and not LOBA.

Due to the aura around Fr C.P. Varkey’s reform efforts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of us believe that the Jesuits lead the school. But that seems to have been an exception as much as exceptional. I feel that the Jesuits are led by parents and the prevailing social environment. That’s why I favour the PTA to lead the Great School Campaign.

When Fr Kuruvila Cherian became Principal (around 2000), he tried to bring back the emphasis on extra-curricular activities. But the pressure from parents was such that the school turned around to place a premium on academic study. According to a reliable source, when the academic result was not so glorious one year, parents expressed concern at the damage to image — a school producing poor results — caused by increased emphasis on extra-curricular activities. The Jesuits panicked, and Fr Cherian was forced to leave, goes the story.

Though there has been a crackdown on Loyola teachers taking private tuition, the school itself has not shied away from organising extra classes. A few years ago, I was witness to extra classes being held for a Plus Two class, when several sports day competitions were going on in the main field. More shockingly (for me), when student interest in the youth festival declined — initially in the late 1980s, but significantly in the 2000s — the Jesuits responded by slashing the number of festival days. Instead of convincing parents and students why the youth festival should be held the way it used to be, the Jesuits even okayed in-camera competitions — three judges and the competitors in a room — thereby signalling that extra-curricular activities are “extra” in Loyola. The merits of participating in an event or reciting a poem before the school were ignored; festivals were organised as rituals to select winners and write certificates.

Didn’t Fr Varkey face pressure from parents? I am sure he did. He explained his reform philosophy to the parents of the day, and won them over. His charisma may have helped, but he also benefited from the prevailing social environment. Fr Varkey may not have succeeded among today’s Loyola parents.

Consider the parents of today. Most of them grew up in a competitive era, and they believe that competition has only intensified since then. Also, most of them enjoyed reasonably good, private-school, English-medium education, and for their kids, they set a higher standard of success. Add to this today’s social values — the worship of wealth (the hype surrounding salaries emanating from an IIM diploma), and a tacit acceptance of getting what you want by hook-or-crook (result-oriented actions). All this is a planet afar from the Loyola parents of the 1970s and 1980s, and the environment they raised their kids in. Is it any wonder that Baker is out and big is in? Is it any surprise that children should play less and playgrounds should be fenced because cars have to ply on the school’s road?

For good or bad, the parents are more powerful than the Jesuits — he who pays the Piper calls the tune. If you wish to make Loyola a great school, I believe that your best bet lies in convincing the parents and letting them lead the Great School Campaign. What happens in Loyola happens because the parents let that happen.

Postscript: From my LOBA experience, I would say that the worst group to lead the Great School Campaign would be the LOBA. Its leadership lacks the intellectual strength and commitment to lead such a campaign, and the organisation is powerless in the school’s scheme of things. That’s hardly surprising, since all of us have left it to the rest of us to run the organisation. But if you insist that LOBA should lead the Campaign and make it a success, I suggest that you get enough friends from various batches to turn up at the next General Body Meeting, capture the organisation’s leadership (the six key posts and the Executive Committee) and settle down to business. The real poll is offline, not online.

Painter of Signs: Giles Francis

Painter of Signs: Giles Francis

In junior school in the early 1980s, we were assigned to either of the two clubs, Sparrows and Magpies. But on Sports Day and for inter-house games, we were free to align (mentally) with one of the four Houses of the senior boys.

When I was a very young Loyolite, I chose SS House. There were three weighty reasons: the attractive red flag of Sputnik Spacemen; the logo with a prominent Superman-like ‘S’; and that the House Captain commuted along with us in Bus Number 3.

Ten days ago, I met the man behind the red flag and the super logo.
Giles Francis - Photo: Ashok

Giles Francis, son of an army officer, was schooled for the most part in northern India. In 1963, he returned to Trivandrum and joined Mar Ivanios College to study Economics. While there, Giles did not merely draw demand-supply curves as I was to do thirty years later; he enrolled in a correspondence course in art. By the time he graduated in economics, Giles had also become a qualified commercial artist.

In the early 1970s, he drew greeting cards (bought by USIS staff in Trivandrum), designed textiles for firms in Madurai and Coimbatore, and in his spare time, privately tutored schoolboys in Hindi. Among his students were Loyolites.

One day (in 1973 or 1974), a Loyola student of his took the artistic Hindi teacher to Fr C.P. Varkey. The four Houses in school — Green, Yellow, Blue and Red — had recently been rechristened Apollo Pioneers, Gemini Giants, Jupiter Jetsetters, and Sputnik Spacemen. Giles was asked to design the logos of the four Houses and make a flag for each House.

Giles Francis in front of the building where he painted the House flags in the 1970s - Photo: Ashok R Chandran

Giles Francis in front of the building where he painted the House flags in the 1970s – Photo: Ashok R Chandran

In going about the task, was he influenced by the Houses in his own school, the Jesuit institution St Xavier’s, Hazaribagh? “No. The Houses there were Britto, Gonzaga, Loyola and Xavier”, Jesuit saints light years away from the space age names he encountered in Sreekariyam.

Logo of Apollo Space Program - Courtesy: Wikipedia“I was interested in calligraphy. For Apollo Pioneers, I used a monogram with the letters A and P joining together,” Giles revealed. “Sputnik Spacemen…the House colour was red. For the logo to be prominent on red background, I chose white. The ‘S’ with an orbit just struck me.”

I told Giles that I found the Gemini Giants logo quite complicated. I mean, AP had the spacecraft and SS had the orbit, but GG was bewildering. He asked, “Isn’t that the Gemini twins?” Gemini Space Program - Courtesy: WikipediaEven as I wondered whether it was he or me who had a memory lapse, I quickly drew a crude version of the logo. He took one look at it and said “Yes. That’s the astrology symbol for Gemini.” In less than a minute, by pointing to the stylised symbol for Gemini, Giles had snatched my admiration from the SS camp and placed it in GG.

As a kid I could barely say Jetsetters and the dark blue House vest is as unappealing now as it was then. Thankfully, I was in Jupiter Jetsetters only for one year. Yet, that’s where my loyalty lies. Because I led JJ House in my final year of school. And when you are house captain, you don’t fail to notice that on Sports Day, you carry a light blue flag but wear a dark blue vest. Giles unravelled the puzzle. “On a flag, from a distance, dark blue can look like black. That’s why light blue was chosen,” he explained.

Giles' original flag was light blue and had only Giles should know because he was the one who went to Chalai and selected the cloth for each flag. “The cloth is crape, not satin,” he said. That’s another Loyola myth broken. How little we know about the objects we worshipped in school! Giles tells me the benefit of silk,”Satin is heavy. A flag has to flutter. Crape is best.”

Giles used fabric paint to paint the logos on the flags of Houses. He then made badges for the House Captains, the School Leader, the Assistant School Leader, and the General Captain.

Giles’ artwork for Loyola was not limited to the logos of Houses. Fr Kuruvila Cherian was a man of ideas. He had worked with Giles on the design of logos, and as Vice-Principal he commissioned a series of paintings on Jesus Christ (Jesus as a toddler, a young boy, and so on), one to be hung in each classroom.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Giles drew a school map on a wooden panel, designed a school magazine cover, and served as a judge at La Fest. His other connection with Loyola is that Giles is a cousin of the former Rector Fr Dominic George.

When Giles’ father retired from the army, he had settled in Trivandrum and set up a foreign languages institute. But it did not take off. Today, on request, Giles takes language classes in German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and spoken English. His students include Japanese computer professionals visiting India, and Indian doctors wishing to learn Chinese.

After retiring from Keltron (where he worked in the advertising and public relations department), Giles has also been running a homestay for tourists. It was at Graceful Homestay, with a glass of pineapple juice in one hand and an afternoon breeze in the face, that I heard the story of Loyola’s logos. “You are the first to ask me about it,” said Giles.

As I took leave, it was his turn to quiz me, “Do you know who designed the emblem of Loyola School?” I began hesitatingly “Er…you did that one too?” “No,” he replied, “Laurie Baker designed it.”

Acknowledgement: The tipster wishes to remain anonymous. Fr Edassery and Madhu uncle helped me take the photo of the new JJ flag.

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