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Switch in Time

by MADHU C. MATHEN (1978)

A recent news item in the Times of India stated that corporal punishment had been banned in schools in Thailand. My mind raced back over a quarter century, to an age in which the cane was a fixture in every house and an extension of every teacher’s hand. Parents and teachers believed that a switch in time saved crime and that the best way to straighten out a child was by bending him over.

I was in the seventh standard. Mr Jacob, our chemistry teacher, would start every class with a quick revision of the previous lesson in the form of questions. Those who failed to answer would be kept standing, while I, the class leader, would be sent to fetch a stick from the adjacent garden.

On this particular day, the revision topic was valency and half a dozen unfortunate ones were left to face the stick. I ran a quick eye over the victims as I set off for the garden. There was fat Sunil, who would let out an ear-piercing howl and prance around the class clutching his hand as the cane struck his outstretched palm. Gallant Rajan, the only one who could unflinchingly look the teacher in the eye as the cane swished through the air and made contact with his rock-steady hand. Then there was agile Anand the cricketer, who would incur the teacher’s wrath by withdrawing his palm at the very last millisecond, shouldering arms Gavaskar-style, and end up getting an extra lash on the thighs. Silent Sabu’s reaction was always poignant–a single tear-drop flowing down his chubby cheek; whether it was an expression of grief or a stoic protest against the injustice of it all, we never could tell.

stickSo, there I was in the garden, testing the slender branches of several bushes. Today’s victims included several of my baiters. So I was not inclined to pluck one of those less pain-inflicting branches that I favoured when the victims included my cronies. Off I marched to the classroom swishing an incredibly flexible stick.

As I handed over the stick, the master’s voice boomed: “So, what is the valency of zinc?” I turned back to see whom the question was addressed to, before realising with a clammy feeling in my stomach that it was indeed directed to me. Now, while I could recite reams of poetry even in my sleep, I never had a head for chemistry. I didn’t have the faintest clue about the answer. I realised that the stick I had wielded just moments ago was going to wound me first.

“Two,” I blurted out, more in anticipation of the number of lashes in store for me, rather than with any idea of the wretched valency of zinc. “Correct” beamed the master, as I thanked my stars.

Though I never touched a chemistry book after leaving school, I still remember the valency of zinc and its fellow elements, not to mention scores of formulae and equations. As one old schoolmaster put it wistfully, applied child psychology was more effective when the applicator was a small cane.

Madhu C. Mathen is Deputy General Manager at Air India and lives in Melbourne. This article was originally published in the Times of India newspaper on 18 September 2001 and later on the 1978 batch’s website. It has been republished here with the author’s permission.

New Principal for Loyola School

New Principal for Loyola School

Rev Fr KP Mathew SJ has been appointed the new Principal of Loyola School, Thiruvananthapuram, according to the March 2013 newsletter of Kerala Jesuits. Rev Fr Varghese Anikuzhy SJ and Rev Fr Joseph Edassery SJ (the outgoing Principal and Vice-Principal respectively) will be on sabbatical, the newsletter noted.

Fr Mathew retired as Principal of St Xavier’s College, Thumba in March 2007. He was then the founding Principal of St Xavier’s College, Jaipur. In July last year, he was appointed Superior at Santhinilayam, Kottayam.

Fr Mathew also brings to the school his experience as a Jesuit alumni counsellor. In the World Union of Jesuit Alumni(ae), he served as the Kerala Province coordinator in 2009, according to the Directory of Jesuit Education. He has been an active member of the Jesuit Higher Education Association South Asia.

Fr Kuruvila Cherian, Former Principal, Dies at 68

Pic courtesy:

Fr Kuruvila Cherian SJ, former Principal of Loyola School, died in British Guyana yesterday, confirmed a source at the headquarters of Kerala Jesuits.

Born on 18 July 1941, Fr Cherian taught in various Jesuit schools in Kerala for three decades, and was Principal of AKJM (Kanjirappally), and later Loyola School (Trivandrum). In May 2000, he left Loyola and joined the Jesuit Refugee Service in Nepal.  He served there as the Assistant Project Director of the educational programme, in camps set up for refugees from southern Bhutan, who had been expelled from their country in 1991 for being of Nepalese origin.

After a stint in East Africa in the Jesuit Refugee Service, Fr Cherian moved to British Guyana, the English-speaking country in South America. There, among other things, he worked in Berbice on the east coast, at the Human Development Center, a Jesuit training centre for children, young adults, and women.

Towards the end of February 2010, Fr Cherian suffered a stroke and was admitted to St Joseph Mercy Hospital in Georgetown. While in hospital he also suffered from a lung infection, but recovered and was discharged on 5 March. According to a news flash from the Jesuit residence in Georgetown, announced via Facebook, “his night was not too restful so he was left dozing until after 9.30am [on 6 March]… and then he was sitting up and having something simple to eat to take down the tablets. Although he was responding to people, his responses were somewhat dazed and sleepy.” Around 10.20 in the morning on Saturday (1820 hrs IST on 6 March), Fr Cherian collapsed again. He was rushed to the hospital but did not recover.

At Loyola, for many years in the 1970s and 1980s, Fr Kuruvila Cherian was Vice-Principal. He was “a great support to all of us in this venture,” acknowledged Fr C.P. Varkey, reminiscing on the new approach to students adopted in those years. Fr Cherian had worked with Giles Francis on the design of logos of houses. In his last years in Loyola, he encouraged student  representatives like the School Leader to get involved in decision-making about the school. But he was also perceived among the staff, as a priest who pushed Christ and Christianity in Loyola. That might not be entirely unfounded; as reported earlier on this blog, Vice-Principal Kuruvilla commissioned a series of paintings on Jesus Christ (Jesus as a toddler, a young boy, and so on), one to be hung in each classroom, .

In 1982, Fr Cherian took a break, left for the US and successfully completed a two-year Masters programme in School Administration. Although he came back in 1984 to Loyola, he spent much of the late 1980s and 1990s in AKJM. In 1998, he returned to Loyola, this time as Principal. Alas! School and society had changed. Swimming against the tide, he tried to place emphasis on students’ extra-curricular activities, rather than academics.  After an unusually brief tenure, he left Loyola (and Kerala) for good in 2000, amidst rumours over difference of opinion with the then Jesuit Provincial, and against the backdrop weeks ahead of the announcement of a poor academic result in Loyola. [Readers are advised to see the comments section of this blog, especially Fr Toby’s clarification.]

Since starting this blog, I’ve repeatedly tried to contact Fr Kuruvila Cherian by e-mail. He replied with silence. Perhaps he did not wish to take credit for his work in Loyola, or share his views in public about the changing face of Loyola in the 1990s. I should not have expected a bull in the china shop; after all, he was our karadi.

Hat tip: Fr Toby e-mailed to me the news of Fr Kuruvila Cherian’s death.

G. Thrivikraman Thampi, Schoolteacher and Scholar, Dies at 79

Dr G. Thrivikraman Thampi, who taught Malayalam in various schools including Loyola, died 29 May at his residence in Parvathipuram (in Kanyakumari District), the Mathrubhumi newspaper reported yesterday.

Hat tip: Harikrishna M. (1994 ISC)

* * *

Thampi Sir taught in Loyola in the late 1980s and 1990s. The bald schoolteacher with a doctorate degree stood above his colleagues, also literally — he was over six feet tall. The news of Thampi Sir being awarded a doctorate reached him when he was a teacher in Loyola. Hence, many of us know that it was awarded for his research on place-names, which has since been published as Sthalanama Padana Pravesika. (According to the Mathrubhumi obituary, he won it from a German university, but my recollection is that it was a Belgian one.) My brother, who was taught by Thampi Sir, always used to go ga-ga while discussing his Malayalam classes. Those less fortunate, like me, have to content ourselves with discovering Thampi Sir after his death.

* * *

A neglected aspect of the much-praised student-teacher relationship of Loyola is that students know very little about their teachers. That neglect is most striking and shameful in the case of Dr Thampi, for he was a scholar who, even before he set foot in Loyola, had etched his name in the annals of Malayalam literature and Kerala historiography.

GTT was born on 23 September 1929 in Manavalakurichi, in Kanyakumari district of Travancore state. Growing up in a Tamil-speaking village in a state dominated by Malayalam speakers, GTT became proficient in Tamil and Malayalam. When Kerala state was created in 1956, his native village, along with other Tamil-speaking taluks, went from Travancore state to Madras state (renamed Tamil Nadu). But GTT began his teaching career in 1957 in Kerala. For the next four decades, he taught in various Nair Service Society schools and Loyola, Trivandrum. He also served as President of a cultural history organisation in Kanyakumari district.

Our generation will most likely remember GTT as a teacher. When we are gone, he will be remembered as a scholar and litterateur. His oeuvre comprised researched studies (on place names and ballads), a biography (M Rajaraja Varma), children’s literature (Bhoomi Enna Muthassi), on grammar (Vyaakaranavum Vrithaalankaarangalum), historical non-fiction (Mandaykkaadinte Charithram; in Tamil), and a historical novel (Aditya Varma; in Tamil). He also published articles in periodicals (including Malayali, Malayala Rajyam, Manorama, Vijnana Kairali, and Vachinad) and presented papers at seminars organised by the University of Kerala, the latter on studies of grammar and folk literature.

In 1984, the Kottayam-based Writers’ Cooperative published two works by GTT — Thiruvaathirakali Paattukal, and Valiyakesi Katha. The first was prompted by a “renaissance” of thiruvaathirakkali performances in youth festivals. GTT compiled several songs of this popular art form of southern Travancore (according to the book, the corresponding art of northern Kerala was kaikottikali) and wrote a researched article to accompany the compilation. The second (Valiyakesi Katha) is his most notable contribution. Valiyakesi Katha was a ballad that he had heard of when he was young. When GTT began his literary odyssey by going about collecting thekkan pattukal (literally, “songs of the south”; the vadakkan paattukal are more familiar to Malayalis), he had little hope of stumbling upon Valiyakesi Katha, estimated to be written around AD 1696. After several years, when he discovered this popular ballad of southern Travancore, he published it with his notes explaining the meaning and historical context of the composition. This work became a textbook for MA students of Malayalam, in Kerala University in the 1990s.

In 1999 and 2000, out came two studies on thekkan paatukal. The 1999 work — Thekkan Paattukal: Oru Padanam — was published by the Trichur-based Kerala Sahitya Akademi and is a good introduction to songs and ballads of southern Travancore. In less than 80 pages, GTT lucidly touches upon various aspects of the songs — their language, their descriptive styles, their themes (devotion, heroic exploits), their typology, and the method of writing on palm leaves (even how the leaves were readied and bound with wooden pieces). In it we enter the world of southern heroes like Eravikutty Pillai,  who match Thacholi Othenan of the northern ballads.

In contrast, GTT’s 2000 book — Thekkan Paattukal: Chila Adisthaana Chinthakal — published by the Trivandrum-based Rajarajavarma Bhashapadana Kendram, is not for just everyone. It is a sequel to the 1999 book, and intended for those who wish to go deeper into the linguistic and literary aspects of the songs. It is based on a study of 17 songs and ballads, that include those he found in books, unpublished scripts, and palm leaves; those he could recall; and those he heard from others. A dying tradition, some of these songs continue to be sung, in private temples in Kanyakumari district, every evening after deepaaraadhana. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the foreword to this scholarly book was written by GTT’s Loyola colleague, poet, critic, and my Malayalam teacher in high school K.V. Thikkurissi.

In his books, GTT lamented the neglect of the study of thekkan paattukal and in general, the literary culture of the past. “It is not just stories that we learn from the ballads. We can, in them, find the political conditions, cultural customs, and social history of that time. In these ballads, we can see the people of that era,” he wrote. These two recent works on songs of southern Kerala reveal a patient man who went about collecting songs, and decoding them, so that our past can be enjoyed by our future. His native soil was fertile to supply the knowledge of Tamil and Malayalam that such an enterprise called for, but the passion and persistence were cultivated.

It would be a fitting tribute to institute GTT prizes for researched essays in Malayalam by school children, on any aspect of Malayalam literature. GTT, who pored over songs written on palm leaves as well as quickie publications that appeared on pavement stalls will not object to the medium of the document — it can be a humble essay, a creative multimedia presentation, or one prepared for the mobile phone screen. As long as the research exercise fans the flames of curiosity and students learn more about their culture, Thampi Sir would be alive in Loyola, perhaps more meaningfully than he ever was.

This blogpost is based on an obituary in the Mathrubhumi (31 May 2009, p. 8), and four books by GTT.

Maya Thomas (1916-2009)

Maya Thomas (1916-2009)

In a guest-post, Peter Panicker (1970) writes about his aunt and legendary teacher Maya Thomas, who died this month.

The death of Mrs Maya Thomas at the age of 92, in February 2009 marked the passing on of an original teacher who taught in Loyola during the early days of the school. The ones who spring to my mind are Mr KS Jacob (Science), Mr Pillai,  Mrs Varghese (Geography), Mrs Muthunayagom, and Mr Doss, all  under Fr E Kuncheria. They taught me way back in January 1965 when I started studying in Loyola English School, as it was then known.

Maya Thomas with niece (c. 1936); Courtesy: josephclan.comShe was an excellent teacher of English and stressed to her students that knowledge of English was the ability to express ideas simply and concisely. She used to allude to George Orwell’s book Animal Farm as a prime example of how even such a complex political philosophy such as communism could be dealt with at various levels, be it as a story or political satire, and still appeal to a range of ages. Her corrections of my homework and test papers would have the comment “Keep it simple.”

Her style of teaching was not formal; nor was she one to pile on homework. She did expect you to behave in her classes; there was an element of old-school expectations in her demeanour and style of handling her students. She taught us English Prose and Poetry (including Shakespeare), as well as History.

She used to display righteous indignation at any “injustices” shown towards students, especially by the Jesuit priests. She would storm to Fr Kuncheria’s office and make her case with little regard for repercussion.

The obituary at her family website says “Mayakochamma was a remarkable individual and anyone who interacted with her over the years could not help but be struck by her personality. … She was an intellectual in the true sense, interested in ideas and had a fine critical mind. She was not given to the usual preoccupations of many middle class Indians — money, family connections and status symbols. She was an idealist and a true secularist through her life, having no time or patience for communal or religious divisions.”

The obituary also reveals how she came to be named “Maya” (after Buddha’s mother), and her early influences in life, including her visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, and her participation in the freedom struggle.

She spent the last two decades or so at the Yuhannon Marthoma Mandiram in Manganam, Kottayam. She was buried at the St. Andrews CSI Church near Puthupally, and is survived by her three children (a daughter and two sons) as well as three grandchildren.

Peter Panicker (1970; Eapen Joseph Panicker) lives in the United States and works in the infotech industry.

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.