An old boy who visits Loyola School is always greeted with affection, whatever his station in life.
On arrival, you are glided into small talk by a priest or staff member who recognises you. You ask about the teachers of yesteryears, and comment on how the school looks different. In turn, you are quizzed about your whereabouts, whatabouts, and family. If you have chosen to visit alone, you are asked why you did not bring your wife, or classmates. The school seems to always have space for more of us.
I wish I could say the same for the colleges and universities I attended. A few years after we left Mar Ivanios College, a friend and I visited the place. The nice folks there could not grasp why we would care to visit our teachers. The security guards stopped us at the gate. A teacher-nun walked by, acknowledged us with a smile, and requested that she be spared from recommending our entry into the campus. A phone call to the Principal did not help either. It was probably an off-key day at Mar Ivanios. But such a situation is unthinkable at Loyola, even for a day.
Why do old boys visit Loyola? In the early 2000’s, I saw old students regularly dropping in to play football in the evening, on their way home from the nearby engineering college. During annual events like the basketball tournament, the School Day, and the inter-school youth festival, Loyola is invaded by hordes of alumni. Official batch reunions are usually held on holidays or weekends. On a weekday, if you find an old boy on campus, he is most likely handing over wedding invites to teachers personally. I could go on.
Perhaps it is easier to turn the question around and ask “Why not visit Loyola?”. After all, who wouldn’t drop in at a place he is so welcome to bathe in nostalgia?
Loyola is warm to those who visit her, and less kind to those afar. Do not expect an active Loyola fan page on Facebook. Or an up-to-date website on the internet. Loyola wants old boys to pamper her, as much as she pampers them. Hospitality begins, and ends at home.
Yet, visiting one’s school is not always a pleasant experience. The sadness too springs from the same deep well of nostalgia. For our images of the school are frozen from the past. On entering now, the tree-lined avenue and the fresh coat of paint lend the school a youthful appearance that syncs with our evergreen memories. But minutes later, face-to-face with more snapshots — a fenced playground, vanished woods, ugly buildings — our eye readily absorbs, but our mind refuses to accept. It takes a few hours to sink in: like us, the school has moved forward in life.
In that mood of reflection and appreciation, let us seek to uncover the secret of the school’s hospitality. What do we really mean when we say that the school welcomes us? Peel off the abstract layer. Look behind the buildings, and amidst the trees. Fr M.M. Thomas. Joseph Uncle. The priest, the teacher, the handyman, the bus conductor, and the gardener — they who continue to serve. Our visits to the school would be poorer without these people who link our past to the school’s present.
As the school grows bigger and older, and familiar faces fade, we will perhaps rely on abstract symbols like the school song, or House colours, to connect. But how will the school connect to us?
Third annual instalment, in the 25 Years Ago series.
Typically, when a Loyolite is in his primary or upper primary classes, he views seniors with admiration. The good speakers and sportsmen in high school are heroes, and even their routine performances appear extraordinary. 25 years later, when I set aside my 4th standard glasses, and pick up the amateur historian’s lens, I see those years differently.
What happened in 1984-85? Two Loyola athletes picked up medals in the state schools’ meet, Loyolites figured in state school teams (three in rural basketball, one in rural hockey, two in cricket), Loyola were district champions in shuttle badminton, and we won the St Thomas Basketball Trophy. This is typical of the kind of sporting excellence one saw in Loyola in the 1980s and 1990s — each batch would have two or three individual sporting talents (in the 1985 batch, Aju R, John Cruz Stellus, and Pradeep Suthan) who would excel in their chosen sports. These youngsters could fuel a match or two for Loyola, but they were insufficient to power the school to championship trophies consistently. Team games like basketball, hockey and and cricket require more than the odd star.
NCC seems to have had a good run that year. At the annual training camp, “the Loyola troop got the trophy for aeromodelling and shooting, and the overall championship”, says the Principal’s annual report on School Day. Loyolites also won the quiz competition, and picked up the best cadet, and second best cadet awards. I wonder whether such a clean sweep has been repeated since.
The highlight of the sports day was gymnastics by Loyolites. The school magazine captions a photo “We introduce gymnastics”, and the Principal’s Report talks of gymnastics coaching. Was it triggered by a display by armymen, or the televising of 1984 Olympics?
I thought the first computer reached the school in 1985-86, when LOBA donated one white-box PC. But the magazine of 1984-85 talks of a computer club in the school. Wish somebody would throw light on the pre-computer computer club (which teacher guided it? how many members?). The school magazine carried an article “The Computer” by Deepu John (1986; then in 9th standard). An excerpt would be of interest to today’s geeks too:
Once I got hold of a computer. I had heard so much about it. I knew it was a wizard and I knew it could answer any question I asked it. So, immediately with great hopes, I punched in the sentence, “what is your name?” Then I pressed some other button. To my surprise and disgust, I got a reply “ERROR”. I had never expected this. I had expected something like “My name is FABIO FX Z100 XP”. I was disappointed. It was only later that I found out my mistake. A computer cannot understand human language.
Those of us who were in Loyola in the mid-1980s would remember a Jesuit volunteer teacher. Yes, James Conway! He joined in 1984-85, and was a popular (and prominent) figure on the campus. Young, athletic and cheerful, James Conway used to join the Loyola basketballers for games in the evenings. The magazine places on record that he was from Canada; my impression was that he was from Ireland.
I was a bit surprised to find an unsigned article titled ‘Qualities of a Christian Leader’, right after the Principal’s Report. Coming as it did in Loyola’s school magazine, I would’ve expected it to be titled ‘Qualities of a Leader’. As far as I recall, Loyola rarely injected or projected Christianity (or any other religion) into public spaces, in an in-your-face way. The monthly Mass, the weekly Scripture classes, etc were never thrust upon non-Christians. The school song, as well as a few other songs taught in music classes had a Christian tinge, but one noticed that only decades later. The school magazine used to have only the photo of first communicants. The only Christian ritual which seemed to attract student attention was the blessing of the buses at the start of every academic year — even though blessing of vehicles is not a Christianity-specific ritual, the priests went about it in the way they were most familiar with. Religion, in general, took a backseat in those years. No wonder the prayer service assemblies were unexciting.
If you have only two minutes at hand, and you wish to dip into the 1984-85 school magazine, read “My Dangerous Trip to School” by Girish S (1987; then in 8th standard). Anybody who has walked to school from Pongumoodu will sink into nostalgia; others can relive the fun and fear of being chased by dogs.
For a few decades in the US, everybody seemed to readily know the answer to the question, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” (or “where were you when you heard the news of the assassination?”) I suspect that the corresponding marker of popular history in India for a later generation, would be Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The academic year 1984-85 had quite a few other emotional flashes too: PT Usha losing Olympic medal by 1/100th of a second, and the Bhopal disaster. The former was perhaps too parochial, and the latter too distant to make it to the school magazine. But not so the assassination of the prime minister. Two articles, both uncritical, kicked off the Malayalam section. The student article, I suspect, revealed the politics of the average Loyola parent (viewing the Emergency as necessary, and Indira Gandhi being punished unjustly at the end of it); the teacher article, in poetic prose, was silent on the Emergency but loud on Mrs Gandhi’s efforts to usher in stability, protect India’s unity, and defend secularism.
It reminded me how our perceptions change over the decades, be it about politics or sport events of our schooldays.