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Loyola’s Arundhati Roy: Anand R

Loyola’s Arundhati Roy: Anand R

Anand RaghavanToday I write about a classmate and friend who works on video software at a graphics processor technologies company in California. That, of course, is the wrong way to introduce Anand R (1993).

Those who remember Anand — thin as thin can be — will be amused to hear that he is running a marathon this year. To us of the 1991/1993 batch, it is no surprise to see him stretch himself for supporting education projects in India.

At Loyola, Anand was known for his academic brilliance and quizzing. What followed was predictable: 49th rank in the IIT entrance exam, B.Tech from IIT Madras, MS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and then to Berkeley for PhD. But life was not all engineering, electronics and academics for this lanky Iyer from Perunthanni. At IIT, under the spell of a few Professors, Anand had imbibed a degree of social consciousness that was wide and deep. We caught glimpses of it early on in our batch’s e-group, where Anand sounded like Arundhati Roy — green, anti-nuke, anti-Hindutva, anti-capitalism…in short, that guy who asks us uncomfortable questions. (Is it a co-incidence that their initials match?)

But it was not all jaw-jaw. At Illinois, Anand became a volunteer of Asha, the highly respected organisation that raises funds for promoting education in India. Now, eight years later, Anand is President of Asha, heading 66 chapters worldwide and 1,000+ volunteers.

As one would expect, the job is challenging. “Unlike the typical nonprofit, the coordination team in Asha has to work as a facilitating body and take decisions based on the majority decision among chapters. So it is crucial to be able to implement decisions that you might personally disagree with,” Anand said in an e-mail interview. “In a completely volunteer-driven organization, being able to motivate people to deliver tasks they volunteer for is another challenge that volunteers at every level in the organization face. Trying to see the larger purpose of the organization’s mission and objectives even in the middle of handling several unrelated emails, phone calls, paperwork, meetings and discussions is something that is important as well.”

Anand plans to run the Silcon Valley marathon on 4 November 2007 and raise funds for Asha Darshan — a project in Nalbari district of Assam, which runs primary and pre-primary schools in an area affected by insurgency. Last year, for various projects, Asha raised about $650,000 from about 350 runners in the US through the TeamAsha marathon training programme. Anand’s personal target for this year’s marathon? $2,400.

He explained, “The idea is to contact friends, family, coworkers and anyone else and tell them that you are training to run a marathon (something that is fairly difficult and requires a lot of commitment in terms of time, fitness and resources) towards the cause of education, and ask them for their support to meet your fundraising goal. It is amazing how folks step up to contribute, especially when they see your commitment towards the cause, and to running. After a long training run, having a limp while walking into work also helps 🙂 .”

I see very few Loyolites persevering in such activities for years. Most of us pursue careers and personal life goals, and have little energy left for voluntary work. Out of curiosity, I therefore asked Anand whether there was anything from Loyola that drove him towards charity work.

“More than charity work, I view the role of organizations like Asha as empowering people,” Anand replied. “Not just the people who receive the funds that we raise, but all the people who come in contact with the organization. I, for one, have got a lot more out of the organization in terms of awareness of issues around education and empowerment, than what I have given back in terms of time.

“Empowering people basically requires an egalitarian, democratic setup where no one is considered too big or too small, where there is freedom of expression and where there is commitment towards getting things done from everyone, so you motivate each other towards one goal. I think that several of our teachers and classmates at Loyola have been role models in this sense of empowering us as students, and more than anything else, I think that is what I took away from those years as a valuable lesson for the future.”

What can Loyolites do to instil in their children a spirit of charity? “I think the notion of seeing such work as charity has to change. The perspective has to be more about empowering people so they can ask for what is legitimately theirs. A nation that is in the headlines for being a superpower in the making cannot afford to have two-thirds of its population making under Rs. 20 a day, or 50% of its children under five malnourished. Just the sheer magnitude of these stats should remind us of what we need to do to help every citizen of India. Never get complacent with what you see around yourself everyday.”

He then added, “I wish that the social sciences got more importance in every higher education curriculum. Even though people like Fr. Pulickal gave us an incredible grounding while in school, science and engineering curricula pay lip service to social sciences and if anything, we need informed and educated human beings as much as we need great doctors and engineers, and this is an imbalance we need to correct outside of school through regular reading.”

Anand’s page on the Asha website quotes Sahir Ludhianavi

It is true, we did not turn this world into a garden
But atleast we removed some thorns from the paths we travelled

Know more about Anand’s run

Note: The views expressed here by Anand are his personal views.

Deepa Madam Moves On

Seek another kingdom, my son, for Macedonia is too small for thee.

It was the first school Assembly of the academic year 1991-92. A new teacher walked in late and joined her colleagues on the teachers’ benches. When the Principal, Fr Philip Thayyil, introduced Deepa Pillai to the students and officially welcomed her to Loyola (to a round of applause), I suspect that a few Loyolites amusedly asked themselves: a Late Kate in this paradise of punctuality?

Today, when Deepa Madam put in her papers, she had three more years to go at Loyola before retirement. Sixteen years ago, she had walked in late, but today, she was leaving early. And in contrast to her public entry into Loyola, it was a very private affair as she went to the Principal’s room to hand over the letter to Fr Varghese Anikuzhy.

Loyola’s loss is All Saints’ gain. Deepa Madam had come to the school after a few years’ stint at All Saints’ College in Trivandrum. And it is to there that she will return in the morning of 4 June.

* * *

I’ve often told Deepa Madam that when I write the history of the school, I will write about “The Age of Deepa Pillai”. For Deepa Madam democratised Loyola and made it more egalitarian. She wanted every student in her class to join in organising La Fest — was there ever a platform where every Loyolite in a group had a role? Unlike the Loyola I knew (of Fr Pulickal and others), where “the best” got to the School Day stage, Deepa Madam seemed to believe that “the best” is when everybody gets on to the School Day stage.

She joined Loyola three months after I had left the school, which means, I was not her student. But we collaborated on the school magazine of 2004 and thereafter on a couple of other projects. So, if I am not her student, perhaps that makes me her friend. Interestingly, while all her students call her “DP” as if she is their friend, I call her “Deepa Madam”, as if she is my teacher.

My explanation for this is simple: I grew up in a less egalitarian era of Loyola. The Age of Deepa Pillai is was the Age of Equality: students wishing to talk to her yelled “DP”, from one corner of the basketball court to another. (Imagine shouting “Puli” in the Age of Fr Pulickal!). The response? Deepa Madam acknowledged them, and made them feel important. In the Age of Deepa Pillai, democracy was no longer confined to the election of the School Leader; democracy spilled on to the streets and climbed on to the stage.

* * *

For years, Loyolites have debated: “Will DP leave next year as she keeps saying? What will happen to La Fest if DP goes?” and so on. Well folks, the time has come. Loyola’s finest teacher has left the school.

I am happy. For she’s now on our side. Deepa Madam, welcome to the Loyola alumni movement.

A Book on Loyola’s Transformation

Gautam Bhatia’s Laurie Baker: Life, Works and Writings, from which I quoted Baker last month, is not the only book that features Loyola. The school is discussed at length in Fr C.P. Varkey’s book Gently and Firmly.

Last month, on a Saturday afternoon, I drove to St Paul’s in Connaught Place, which stocks Christian literature, and has published Fr Varkey under their imprint Better Yourself Books. That day, the shop had in stock a few of his books, but I was instantly drawn to Gently and Firmly, which describes Loyola School’s transformation between 1978 and 1983.

The second chapter — ‘A School Transforms Itself’ — awoke me to a Loyola that I never knew.

“There was a time when it was not uncommon to see students smoking on the terrace of the school building. Drinking was not something unusual during excursions. Toilets had the usual lascivious pictures that are often found in the toilets of boys’ schools. Several attendance registers have been found torn…A few times the tyres of the school buses were found deflated. Once a motor was pushed into the well. Discipline in classrooms was far from exemplary. Though four or five students were detained in each class every year, the results in the School Leaving exams were around 85%. This, in spite of the fact that most students had private tuition.”

Fr Varkey, the legendary former Principal of the school, then writes, “A few years after the introduction of the new approach, the situation changed dramatically.” Not only did campus discipline take a positive turn, but also the academic results improved, to 100 per cent (and thereafter to 100 per cent first class). This, despite the school’s emphasis, in the new approach, on co-curricular activities over studies.

Chapter 6 describes ‘How the School Did It’. It talks of the school assembly, the squads, the doing away with ties and shoes, smarter use of library and games periods, and several things which we have taken for granted at Loyola. “Some of these practices were in the school already,” writes Fr Varkey. “The difference was that a concerted effort was made to introduce as many elements of it as possible.”

Gently and Firmly has several anecdotes and is an interesting read. But as a chronicle of the transformation of Loyola, it is weak; it is at best, a starting point for serious historical inquiry.

I wish that in the coming years:

  • Loyolites of the 1970s and 1980s will explain how they saw and felt the transformation; and
  • Priests, parents and teachers of that era will tell us how they were agents of change.

Such jottings will help us craft a good and critical history of Loyola, in time for the school’s golden jubilee in 2011.

Update: Fr Varkey passed away in 2013.