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Scooping happiness in school

Q. When and where were you happiest?

A. In school. Money had a lot of value then. We knew how to get the best from the limited money we got. For Rs. 2, I would get an ice-cream. And how we treasured that.

— Santosh Sivan (1976), in a recent interview to The Hindu

Back to School

Back to School

DesiPundit

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?

25 Years Ago: 1984-85

25 Years Ago: 1984-85

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.

Videos on Loyola

The 2009 edition of LA Fest is scheduled for 18 July, and there is a promise of live videostreaming. With videos on YouTube, LA Fest has always been a step ahead in providing Loyola videos on the internet. So, here’s wishing the organisers all the best for their forthcoming small-step-giant-leap.

1. LA Fest 2008 (in 50 parts)

On more than one School Day in the 2000s, I have seen video cameras capturing the events on stage. Excerpts from that rich visual collection have made it to YouTube, without commentary. Here is an example.

2. School Day 2008 – IXth Std Dance (4:55)

There are a few other Loyola videos too on YouTube — still-image videos with background music, as well as very short video clippings.

3. Loyola School Trivandrum (4:38)

4. DP (1:47)

5. BOSS Cricket 2007 (7: 34)

6. M.M. George Speech – 1978 Batch Reunion (0:35)

There are no excellent, scripted videos about the school. I wonder why neither students nor old boys have taken the initiative so far, given that many of them sport expensive cameras and mobile phones, or already have access to rich raw visuals. The creative edge is surely not lacking in Loyolites. The absence of videos is probably because putting together even a good, still-image video takes time; a good, scripted, actual video is beyond the patience and energies of most enthusiasts. Such nicer videos are usually spotted on Vimeo, but my search there for Loyola drew a blank.

Wishlist Item#1: A 10-minute highlights version of LA Fest 2009
Wishlist Item #2: LENS video (one per term)

Would it not be wonderful if LENS published at least one video story every term? I am sure that the squad will find it an exciting, creative, and learning experience. This month, former President Abdul Kalam is visiting Loyola. Since the school is treating it as a major event, LENS can try producing a 3-minute video report — background of visit, his speech, interaction with students, post-visit responses of Loyolites — that includes narration as well as audio excerpts.

“Till the game is won”, let us march asinging to the fare that exists. They give us a taste of Loyola. To those who uploaded those videos, this blogpost is a note of thanks.

Readers hungry for more Loyola-related videos can hop across to YouTube.

25 Years Ago: 1983-84

25 Years Ago: 1983-84

Last year on 30 December, I began the “25 Years Ago” series based on school magazines, by writing about 1982-83. Let’s move a year forward and see what Loyola was like in 1983-84.

Loyola School Trivandrum annual magazine 1984

In June 1983, the school’s new building (the Silver Jubilee Block) was inaugurated by Bishop Acharuparambil. According to the accounts presented in the souvenir released on the occasion, the building was constructed at a cost of Rs 15,53,116.55, and further works worth Rs 1,50,000 were expected at that time. The money for the building came from loans (more than Rs 9 lakh), from the school (Rs 3.15 lakh), building fund fees (around Rs 1.95 lakh), donations (about Rs 1.29 lakh), the souvenir itself (Rs 1,09,959.17), and interest. To publish these accounts immediately after the Principal’s Preface, and before Page 1 of the souvenir, suggests an ethic of transparency that was extraordinary. Interestingly, the same publication also carried the fuzzy presentation of results of a Jesuit evaluation of the school.

The most historic happening of 1983-84, when I look back, is the change of guard at Loyola. Readers will quickly and rightly guess that Fr CP Varkey left that year. True, after fourteen years at Loyola, Fr Varkey left in September 1983, and Fr Varghese Anikuzhy became Principal. But in retrospect, an equally important change of guard had happened four months before Fr Varkey’s departure. For when school reopened in May 1983, two priests returned after several years to Loyola: Fr John Manipadam (as Rector), and Fr Mathew Pulickal (as teacher of English and History in high school). Together and separately, they were to influence a generation of Loyolites, and build Loyola’s alumni network.

The School Magazine dated 1984 had quite a few pages on Fr Varkey — including the Malayalam poem written by Loyola’s bard Mr PK Sebastian (which was presented as a “mangalapatram” from the staff during Fr Varkey’s farewell function), and an article on Fr Varkey by the other Sebastian in the staff room — Mr BO Sebastian. But here, I will present extracts of only two of the many brief notes by students:

The boys of my class told me how Fr Varkey used to thrash the boys (V to X). I was frightened. But during that time he experienced a change….From then on he started using a new phrase “Golden Heart!” Once when some money and books were stolen, he became very angry. In the Assembly he gave us a verbal beating. In the end he overcame his anger, urged us to kindly return the money to the owner. After a few days the owner got back his money and the boy had apologised to Fr Varkey.
– C Prem IX B

Though one could not call him perfect, one had to admit that his good qualities far outweighed all the others. We boarders were a group to which he had always been attached.”
– Cherian Abraham IX B

In his annual report on School Day, the Principal Fr Anikuzhy said, “From 1st Sept 1983 we arranged for a special bus-trip from the school at 4.45 pm to encourage games to build up teams.” (sic) That year Loyola won the Junior Championship in the District Sports Meet, the athletes also shone in the YMCA Meet, and our cricketers and mini basketballers were runners-up in the District. The “second trip” was an innovation that extended opportunities to day scholars to develop their sporting abilities.

I didn’t know that Loyola had student postmen. But the the school magazine says that the Postal Squad debuted in 1983-84. “With the introduction of this Squad many problems regarding the mail have now been solved,” said the squad member’s report. This squad perhaps served the hostelers. I request the beneficiaries of that era to enlighten us on what problems you faced — mails missing? mails opened before delivery?

As in the previous year, there were various squads which went about their work routinely. But three bits struck me:

  • The LENS Squad “put up weekly bulletins and special issues on important occasions like the Youth Festival and the School Day”. Note the impressive regularity of LENS once-upon-a-time.
  • The Squad for Sneha Sena and Soldiers of God reported that there were 96 subscribers for Sneha Sena, and 164 subscribers for the English edition of Christian booklets. English was the preferred language of reading, even though not of speaking, as the Squad for English-Speaking would attest!
  • The Quiz and Debate Squad reported that “the students were found to be demanding new Quiz Programmes but they were not interested in debates.” Today, we should read that slightly differently — quizzing was rising in popularity in Loyola even before Siddhartha Basu began Quiztime in 1985.
  • I’ll end with an excerpt from one of my favourite articles in that school mag. Abhilash Mohan’s “Mahabali 33, 83” probably owes it intriguing title to a savvy teacher who decided the topic of the school youth festival’s Malayalam essay/story competition. And this VIII B student rose to the occasion. The article begins directly but poetically “1933-le ponnin chingam. Paadangal thelinju. Pathaayangal niranju.” Two paragraphs later, we zoom fifty years to “1983-le thiruvonappulari. Maveli airbus-il vannirangi.” And a few sentences later,

    Nattucha. Nadakkaan vayya. Auto-yum taxi-yum city service-um onnum kaanaanilla.
    ‘Mooppinnay, enthaa eri veyilu kollunnathu. Valla nerchayumundoe?’, oru cheruppakkaaran chothichu.
    Maveli: Oru Auto kittiyaal kollaam.
    Cheruppakaaran: Thaan eviduthukaaranaa? Innu bandh alle?

    In simple sentences, the 13-year-old Abhilash not only wove in the lingo of the times, but also captured a timeless aspect of the political culture of modern Kerala.