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The Missing X Factor

“If this is one helluva school, why have we not broken into the Big League? Fifty years of sifting and nurturing talent in Trivandrum, and none of international repute,” observed Rajkin in his article on Loyola’s Specialness. I invited Vijayaraghavan V (1993 ISC) to share his thoughts on why Loyola does not produce stars and whether schooling has anything to do with it. This is the second in the Reflections on Schooling series. Featuring guest posts by Loyolites, the series aims to deepen our understanding of ourselves and Loyola.  Editor


To say that each of us is proud of being a Loyolite and to an extent positively arrogant about it, is no surprise. After moving out of the school I have many a time tried to objectively assess the greatness of this school. One of the parameters that many would use is the number of influential or famous alumni who have passed from  the institution. In a way, it also means the number of alumni who have been able to make a significant impact in society and in turn are recognised by society.

Closer home in India, two of the institutions which are known for their influential alumni are the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in the business space and the St Stephen’s College, Delhi in the political and bureaucratic domains. (I have not taken an example from schools for want of authentic data.) Where would Loyola rank against this measurement index? Probably very low.

While it can be argued whether there is a need for this kind of measurement, it can be reasonably concluded that Loyola does not figure highly in this index. The next obvious question would be the reason for the same. Loyola, as a school, provides the basics of education and values very efficiently and this sets it apart from other schools in the area and region. In terms of academic results, it ensures that the students perform well above the average. Over a period, this became a tradition and got institutionalised. Typical role models when I grew up in the school were the “Best Loyolites,” who went on to become engineers and doctors, some of them going for higher studies abroad and settling down there.

Typically, students who become stars or influential in the positive way, are ones who have the X factor and have the ability to go beyond the known in whatever way. As a school, Loyola does not seem to instill that trait in any specific manner nor is there a history of former students who the current crop can look up to. Loyola does produce good and amazing students, but it does not produce students with the trained ability to be influential or become famous. A few exceptions have not helped change that view. I do, however, endorse the argument that a school’s responsibility is not to make star students and that there are many things beyond the school environment which leads to greatness and fame.

So the question still returns – Is Loyola just another school? Certainly not. For students who studied there, it will continue to be the most defining and enriching experience they have had. In more ways than one, it has shaped what we turned out to be in the future. But for all the values and basics the school has instilled in us, I certainly do not feel that Loyolites need to feel they are more talented or skilled than others. This certainly is not the case and facts do not support that in any way.

Do we want to take Loyola to a level where the alumni are spoken of as one among the most influential people? If the answer is yes, then apart from many other things, there needs to be awareness that there is a big chaotic world which exists, beyond the Loyola School and Trivandrum, where the students are expected to participate in the future.

Vijayaraghavan V (1993 ISC) is Vice President – Business Development at Emcure Pharmaceuticals in Pune. Read his blog Simple Thoughts.

(c) Vijayaraghavan V 2013

Reflections on Schooling series of articles


Loyola’s Specialness

Welcome to the inaugural post in the Reflections on Schooling series. Featuring guest posts by Loyolites, the series aims to deepen our understanding of ourselves and Loyola. Back to School, cerebrally!


What does “Loyola” signify? Why do people rush their wards to the school? It might look ironical and shameful that a Loyolite should moot the question, yet, it is not. I tried to jot down what has been unique—from the reform days of Fr (Sir?) CP through the deforestation times, right up to the DP year. Is there a trademark that has endured?

To be a part of something, you thought was perfect … to see a structure, an equilibrium signifying stability so early in life … decorum and discipline (not Kafkaesque) … weekly assemblies, speeches, recitation … plastic minds mopping it all up … there you stand, unable to ingest the infinite possibilities that beckon … to be part of something special … respect, teachers, seniors, and the system … an aura that never fades …“Cheer Loyola’s sons / Cheer till the day is done” … There was so much “special-ness” around, as we all swear; yet, when you analyse threadbare, the ironical voidness hits you hard. What special-ness?

How do you define a good school?

Academic results? We have done reasonably well on that count but have we ever produced a First Rank. If you were to sidestep saying you would rather concentrate on the group as a whole, I should add, by that yardstick, bigger outfits (Cotton Hill/St Mary’s) have achieved nothing short of a miracle.

Teachers? Not the ideal impartial epitome of kindness or extraordinary brilliance. But something made them special. An unassuming efficiency. Unlike colleges, they were punctual, completed “portion,” corrected papers on time, and gave reasonable evaluation, besides teaching reasonably well. More than content, it was an earnestness that touched us, a seriousness that mattered. Some secrets will never be known. How did the SJs drive their philosophy within the teaching faculty? Perhaps, they knew that the secret did not lie in textbooks but in the creation of the right psychological ambience to imbibe and explore.  The teachers themselves must have been equally motivated (and proud) by the brand they helped create. I am sure, whatever special-ness that Loyola created in its disciples rubbed off on the faculty too. I am told, teaching there has been a rewarding experience (except monetarily) especially, given the talent one dealt with.

Extra-curricular? Nothing extraordinary. We never made it to state youth festivals. Perhaps a few state/zonal appearances when it came to sports, but nothing really to write home about.

Stress on values? Well, how many of us remember the Moral Science classes? Are we sure we picked up our demeanour there?

How then?

Every year, Loyola handpicks a motley bunch of kids (through interviews!). Kids from all backgrounds: the rich and influential, the educated middle-class, and the average! Loyola then strips them of their differences and clads them in lacklustre uniforms (white shirt and black trouser). A new egalitarian identity is thus created.

How are principles born? It comes by creating special-ness around you. Loyola creates an ecosystem (a value system) with fair play and discipline. Such stabilising instruments help get one’s fundamentals right. It is like being a part of a strong and stable parentage/pedigree built on values. Even the conscious decision to keep Loyola boys-only was perhaps to nurture fraternal bonding towards successful tribe building. This is how distinctness or special-ness is ignited. The question “special-in-what-or-how” does not really signify or merit an answer.

But the feeling of special-ness triggers wonderful things. It pushes your limits. I always felt that I studied with the very best. And a few things must happen then. One, you must up the ante, to stay afloat. Two, you feel extremely humbled seeing so much talent. It is not about inferiority or superiority complexes. The success lies in genuine competition. Were we really studying among the best in our hometown? Of course not! But we were led to believe so. Loyola’s ecosystem empowers, makes you feel special, and thus slowly makes you one. There can only be two outcomes with such boosting experiments. You either end up with levelheaded gentlemen or sophisticated snobs. But the saving grace is that snobbishness eventually wears off with age. That’s another master stroke.

Another instrument was respect. One learnt to give respect to take respect. Respect, for not one’s teachers alone but for seniors too. Seniors were like Roman Gods! Legends! Athletes like Biji BR, Shekar, … the Soccer Gods of Lunch Hour, the countless BB Titans … the Orators Mahesh, Sreejith Sukumaran, Dramatists … and now the Quiz Wizards …. Thus, besides Loyola’s own apparatus, these legends created a bonding … these superheroes and their accomplishments, the rich traditions and rituals, the symbols of pride … the Apollo Pioneers, the Gemini Giants, the Jetsetters, and the Sputniks marching … the Rolling Loyola BB Crown … the war cries … “Whiskey, Brandy, Soda, pop / We want Loyola on the top” … all that further built the case for special-ness. After all, Greatness, just like Beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder alone. And we, the beholders, were proud to be part of the legends and their exploits.

And teachers, not in what they taught but in how they taught it. Perhaps, in their magnanimity, was sown the seeds of our civility. By questioning them, by debating, and fighting with them, and thus nurturing the will to think independently and lead fearlessly.

Perhaps, the size of Loyola did matter too—everyone knew all their seniors by name. Discipline and order were in the very air, without the stick (the exception being Fr Pulickal, in our times).

Be not carried away by the Magic. The brand has succeeded, but not every Loyolite. For, I am aware of many Loyolites who have been unlucky. We have also had our fair share of petty gang-fights (even during prestigious School Days). There are many more skeletons in the closet. Well, things do happen but that does not take away what is truly more significant.

And yet…

Loyola never produced a real star—a Nilekani, an Amartya, or a Tharoor. We have had successful entrepreneurs, professors, and professionals. But Stars? A Sivan, perhaps! If this is one helluva school, why have we not broken into the Big League? Fifty years of sifting and nurturing talent in Trivandrum, and none of international repute.

Probably, schooling does not have as much a bearing on career as does a professional course, say at IIT. Besides, primary/secondary education serves entirely a different purpose: make a person, a civilised human being. And in that respect, Loyola may have OD’ed us. While uplifting us from mental poverty, it also extinguished audacity. Following the “Kindly Light” all too obediently, most of us got institutionalised to accept the rules; never to test them. Alas, the Big Brother’s objective was to only create law-abiding civilians and Loyola has excelled at it. Except that, outside Loyola’s ecosystem, the rules of the game change. This Society is no Plato’s Republic.

Perhaps one needs to be disenchanted with a system to disbelieve it; and innovate, to disprove it. It was interesting to hear Sanjay of MobME fame, say “I’ve always wanted to do something different. When everybody was going to school (Loyola School) to study, I went to school to play basketball!”

Loyola assured for most of us, rather early in life, a secure and decent future. And, it has been its greatest strength and weakness as well.

CP: Rev Fr CP Varkey, former Principal
DP: Deepa Pillai, former teacher
SJs: Jesuit priests, who belonged to the Society of Jesus
Pulickal: Rev Fr Mathew Pulickal, former Vice-Principal
Biji BR: Biji BR (1985), leading athlete in school
Shekhar: Rakesh Shekhar (1987), leading badminton player in school
Mahesh: Mahesh Surendran (1984), former school leader
Sreejith Sukumaran: Sreejith Sukumaran (1987), speaker and sportsperson in school
Sivan: Santosh Sivan (1976), award-winning cinematographer and film-maker
Sanjay: Sanjay Vijayakumar (2002 ISC), celebrated young entrepreneur and CEO, MobME Wireless
OD-ed: overdosed

Rajkin G (1993 ISC) is an Associate General Manager at NeST, Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram. He blogs at Lucidity in Motion.

Copyright (c) Rajkin G 2013

Other articles in the Reflections on Schooling series