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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.

    Rejuvenating LENS

    Rejuvenating LENS

    In school, although a regular reader of LENS, I was never a member of the LENS squad that published the wallpaper. So, last fortnight (5 September), when I interacted with Loyola students about the publishing of LENS, I did not tell them about “those glorious years”; instead, I spoke to them about the future of LENS.

    Not because LENS was bad in my time. In the 1980s, LENS used to be elegant — typewritten on a letterhead, with a green band a few inches from the top, the name “LENS” left-aligned and in maroon, a graphic of a lens to magnify the “L”, the expansion “Loyola English News Service” written beneath the logo, and available on the notice-board in front of the school office in the main building. Despite such attractiveness, the first word that comes to my mind when I think of LENS, is “irregular”. Because LENS was sometimes available in the Silver Jubilee Block, but often not. LENS was sometimes published every week, but often not. In my middle and high school years, LENS was like a 60+ in history from Fr Pulickal — you long for it, and you’ll get it one day, but not today.

    A few years later, I learnt from other old boys that LENS had turned even more irregular — it got published well in the odd year, but in some years it did not appear at all, and the LENS squad was no longer a ‘star’ squad that students competed to join. This year’s school newsletter brought out before Onam holidays lists a few staff advisors for LENS, but doesn’t mention even one student’s name.

    It seems funny, because the LENS largely disappeared at a time when desktop publishing wove itself into our lives, and opened up numerous ways of publishing LENS smarter. Today, than ever in the past, it is easier to snap pictures using digital camera, key in articles using MS Word, choose multi-column option, and get a neat printed look that rivals the frontpage of any mainstream newspaper. Also, it takes just an hour to get the e-version ready and publish online, to reach out to old boys and former teachers scattered across the world.

    In an earlier post on the Great School Campaign, I had argued that the school was getting stronger in hardware (more computers, in this context), but probably weaker in software (poor training to bring out LENS). Rather than just whine, we decided to do something. We got in touch with a student who had published LENS this year. Noel and his friends were not officially in the LENS squad, but they had displayed initiative and talent. The school too welcomed our idea to rejuvenate LENS.

    That’s how, last fortnight, I was speaking to Loyola students about the future of LENS — the heights it can achieve in two years. I talked about journalism principles, shared tips on reporting, editing and design, and outlined the possibilities of a web edition. That Friday evening, we took stock of where LENS is, and where LENS can be. We’ll now try to travel from point A to point B.

    The rejuvenation of LENS is also an experiment where old boys partner with the school to make Loyola a great school. Because we aren’t satisfied with Loyola being a good school.

    ***

    Visit http://lens.loyolites.com to catch the first issue of 2008. To stay tuned, subscribe to our free, monthly e-newsletter.

    School Magazine 2008

    School Magazine 2008

    Cover of the 2008 school magazine of Loyola School

    Download the PDF version of The Loyolite 2008.

    Pages 01 to 21 (including cover; 9.5MB)
    Pages 22 to 40 (9.3MB)
    Pages 41 to 56 (class photos; 7.4MB)
    Pages 57 to 120 (excluding Principal interview; 8.7MB)

    If the files are too large for download, please read the Table of Contents (1.8 MB) first and identify your favourite pages for download. Given the discussions we have had on this blog, you might enjoy reading the Interview with Principal (transcript; 74KB).

    This year’s school magazine was released before Loyola closed for summer holidays. I am told that this was the first time since 1999 that the magazine was distributed before the holidays. Kudos to the editorial team for bringing the publication date back on track.

    This year’s magazine makes it to the Web here thanks to student editor Arun Sudarsan (2009 ISC), and old boys Hari Gopal (2005 ISC), and Jiby John Kattakayam (1998 ISC).

    Missed last year’s magazine? Hop over to The Loyolite 2007.

    On Becoming a Four-year Old Boy

    On request, Bimal Rajasekhar (2004 ISC) wrote a poem about Loyola. He’s studying at the National Law School in Bangalore, and runs a blog Rabble Rabble Rabble, where you can catch more of his creative writing.

    ON BECOMING A FOUR-YEAR OLD BOY

    ‘Sabse aage ladke kaun..’
    You remember those words, don’t you?
    And how they fell from your lips,
    With the passion of a kiss.
    The sweet nectar of a fervent chant
    In it we found reassurance.
    Something to believe in,
    Lapped up by generations of us.

    From a baby to a boy,
    Not much to ask
    Boy to man,
    A difficult task.

    Your school performed the feat,
    You yell to all you meet.
    “It moulded me,
    It breathed life into me.
    The perfect creature I am now
    Is because of my school.”
    And your eyes slyly ask of theirs,
    “Whither your little school?”

    But just pause, and wonder.
    The others; the boys and the girls.
    Study in your school they did not,
    Yet there they are, in your office.
    At the desk next to yours.
    Men and women, doing just what you do.

    Look at them; like you they are.
    The only thing that defines you,
    The ID card around your neck.
    The number that you are.

    If for you, Loyola was your sun
    For them, their school was their moon.
    So, ask of yourself this,
    How can the sun be better than the moon?
    For long years, proudly,
    With faith unwavering
    You have worn Loyola.
    But repulsive the accumulated dirt of condescension,
    And perhaps the time has come,
    To take your skin for a wash.

    Essays on Schooling

    Let’s take a break from Loyola and go on a picnic. Let’s read what others have written about their schooling.

    Here are two I liked, for different reasons.

    1. “Such, Such Were the Joys” by George Orwell
    2. “My Favorite Teacher” by Thomas L. Friedman

    Orwell is an author I’ve enjoyed reading. I loved Animal Farm and often return to “Politics and the English Language”. When I ploughed through his essay attacking St Cyprian’s School, I did not take an instant liking to it. The tone was so negative that I felt I should read Cyril Connolly’s positive recollections of the same school.

    But why I list Orwell here is probably because he has done what I have not dared to: he has gone public. Now, you won’t catch me always singing hallelujah to Loyola, but I shy away from presenting (what I feel is) the ugh-liest side. As a blogger, that’s a dilemma I face. If I hear about corruption or paedophilia in a bygone era, should I investigate and if true, publish about it in this blog on Loyola history? Forget the school. Should I publish a story about a Loyolite whose extraordinariness lies in his current misfortune or notoriety? Even when the writer in me wants to probe and publish, the editor in me is too green to weigh the merits and demerits. Maybe I should learn from Orwell who knew his article to be libelous; it was published in the US only after Orwell’s death, and in the UK, even later — after the villains died.

    Thomas Friedman’s piece, in contrast, is a feel-good story that will evoke memories of Loyola. It is as American as Orwell’s is British. But that’s not why I bring it to your attention.

    For Loyola bloggers, Friedman’s article is an example of how to write a polished recollection of one’s school or teacher. For students in Loyola, it shows the potential of LENS and the need to re-ignite the paper. For the rest, the essay is a steady flight to a higher plane — of gratitude, excellence and responsibility.

    Enjoy!

    Phantom of the Comics: Vineeth Abraham

    Phantom of the Comics: Vineeth Abraham

    It is a Sunday morning in Delhi, and there’s only one place to catch Vineeth Abraham (1977): Daryaganj, home to one of India’s largest second-hand book markets. Vineeth has been visiting the weekly market every Sunday since he arrived in Delhi, in 1989.

    Daryaganj market for second-hand booksOn Sunday, Vineeth Abraham is at his Vineeth picking up books and comics - for himself and others
    I first heard of him four years ago when Rajiv Varghese (1977) told me of a Delhi-based batchmate who maintained a huge collection of books and comics. In July 2007, I contacted Vineeth for this blogpost and he suggested that we meet at Daryaganj.

    The first Indrajal comic“I am a great western fan and have currently got a collection of 3,700 odd westerns, almost 90% of them purchased from Daryaganj,” Vineeth wrote in an e-group four years ago. His other envious collection is of comics, which includes the first Indrajal comic: The Phantom’s Belt, published in 1964.

    In January 2002, when Vineeth was invited to contribute to Outlook magazine’s Special Issue for Schools, he wrote an article ‘Thought Balloons’, where he described how comics grew on him:

    It was Phantom who pulled me into the world of comics when I was seven. But it was only at the age of 15, when I read the Asterix books by Goscinny and Uderzo, that I began noticing new facets of comic books. They now had more complex characterisation and narratives. The old good-against-evil storyline had changed now and the whiter than white hero had begun to acquire shades of grey. Batman now began to show psychotic traits. The Incredible Spiderman was a super hero all right, but he also was an insecure, nervous and even neurotic teenager who I could totally identify with…Comic creators like Walt Kelly in Pogo and Garry Trudeau in Doonesbury were producing scathing satirical evaluation of political climate of the day.

    Vineeth and a seller share a joke.At Daryaganj, as Vineeth moves from one bookseller to the next, it is clear that he is known in these parts. “Yes, when they get a ‘new’ old comic, they inform me on the phone,” Vineeth says. There are buyers and there are buyers.

    Today, he has picked up two June and School Friend comics, a 1968 edition of The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, seven westerns, and four other books. For just Rs 107.

    Not all the booty is for his collection; some of it is for book-loving friends he has met in e-groups. Vineeth is active in international e-groups and bulletin boards on comics and westerns, where fans converge to share story summaries, upload cover scans, clarify one another’s queries, and occasionally bump into the artists and creators of the comics. When members ask for books and information, Vineeth procures them to the best of his ability. “Without Vineeth’s help this whole web site would not exist and the joys of Indian comics would not be open to us all!,” writes Terry Hooper-Scharf of indopakbangcomic. Elsewhere on the web, Vineeth is thanked for his “amazing efforts” in preparing a publishing history in India of the Phantom, or for helping to compile a list of Indrajal’s Mandrakes.

    Seeing is believing. So, we head for his flat in west Delhi.

    Vineeth with a part of his collection in Delhi
    Cartons of comics and shelves of books touch the ceiling. I wish to see the first Indrajal comic and he fishes it out for me in less than five minutes. In the process, out come a few others–Sherlock Holmes comics, Art Spiegelman’s Maus (which won the Pulitzer), the Pogo collection We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us (a famous quotation picked up by environmentalists), and Ompa-pa (who makes cameo appearances in Asterix but has a series of his own by creators Goscinny and Uderzo).

    In Maus, Spiegelman depicted Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. In the world of comics, which character does Vineeth think is closest to a Loyolite? He replies, “Phantom.” What??? I know that Vineeth is a big ‘phan’ (that’s how Phantom fans call themselves), and that he lurks among the phans as Patrolman (his chosen avatar in the e-club), but I can’t hide my surprise. So Vineeth explains.

    “Phantom is for the whole family to read. When he shoots, it is invariably to knock off a pistol or scare somebody, not to kill. Honour, truth, goody-goody. He is not a superhero, but an ordinary man who has developed his abilities fully. He has a treasure house in a jungle but uses it for the community, not for personal gain.” After I’ve taken down all this, Vineeth adds, “Not a realistic character, too good to be true.”

    Vineeth shows me the first Phantom comic in the worldEven as Vineeth preserves the older comics in plastic covers, new comics keep arriving. The white packet on the table has just come from a collector in Australia, who has sent him the 1,500th issue of Frew Comics’ Phantom. It starts with a reprint of the first-ever Phantom comic, The Singh Brotherhood (1936).

    Vineeth pulls out Phantom comics from different publishers (Goldkey, Charlton, Moonstone, Indrajal, Budget) to show me how the same story appears differently when published across time and space. Phantom - published by various publishersVineeth does not buy every comic that comes his way — the year of publication, and the artist matter. Sometimes, you judge a book by its cover.

    Vineeth grew up on the reprints of foreign comics, which he says are more sophisticated in art and content than the Amar Chitra Kathas that came later. That’s why, despite having a decent collection of ACKs, he is not a fan as much as his juniors might expect him to be.

    Cliched, but I have to ask. Favourite author? P.G. Wodehouse. “In the sixth standard, I was reading some pulp book in the Loyola library, when vice-principal Fr C.P. Varkey came by. He asked, ‘Isn’t this your games period? What are you doing here?’. I told him that I liked to read and I was not the only one not playing.” Fr Varkey picked a book from the shelf, handed it to Vineeth and said, “Read this, if you must.” That book, Right Ho, Jeeves, introduced him to Wodehouse. More than thirty years later, Vineeth tells me, “Anything that Wodehouse writes will have takers. Even his laundry list.”

    Not surprisingly, Vineeth is a mine of information on comics: Dhenkali in Phantom comics was Bengali in the original foreign editions; in the Indian version of Spiderman, you will meet Pavitr Prabhakar (Peter Parker) and Meera Jain (Mary Jane); one comic in Vineeth’s collection is going for Rs 1,500 on the web…

    Ah! Any plans to sell? His collection would be worth a few thousands of dollars, right? “No, not for sale. I never bought any comic or book with that in mind. I kept on buying because I liked reading, that’s all.” Vineeth’s wife Fisal says,”In Irinjalakuda [his hometown near Thrissur], he has stocked the almirah with books, instead of clothes.”

    And is there an old school magazine in the Irinjalakuda racks? “Yes,” says Vineeth, “there is a copy of the 1972 magazine, the year in which I joined Loyola.”

    This 44-year old desk officer in the central government is different from most Loyolites I know. He has built expertise over decades with dedication, focus and fun. While many of us, I suspect, do this in our professional area, excel at work and earn the respect of peers, Vineeth has done it outside the cubicle. With a hobby from his school days, Vineeth Abraham has created a world of joy outside the workplace.

    The holy grail is Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, Dell comic, issued 1942. “Once I get it, I’ll probably retire on that.” It’s for sale on the web. A blog reader might gift it, I tell him. Vineeth smiles and says, “It’s selling for $10,000.”

    Vineeth will pick it up from Daryaganj one day. For Rs 10.

    Acknowledgement: Fred Gomez (1977) helped me get in touch with Vineeth. Joshua Newton clicked the second photo in the opening panel.

    Update: A modified version of this blogpost was published in the Business Standard newspaper (subscriber login required).