Saturday, August 14, 2010

Article by Capt. R.N. Ghosh

Ever since we joined the Junior School we would we watching, with great envy from the boundary walls, the freedom with which the Boys' School boys would we running down the hillside to reach the Lower pitch. This hillside from the road above to the Lower pitch gave us the first few lessons in mountain climbing. And the sides of the stairways that went down to the Lower Pitch was the slipway that had been smoothened by the bottoms of generations of Oak Grovians. We all would go back home with patches on our pants in the area where our bottoms had rubbed down the not so smooth slipway. And the stairways that went down to the front pitch had a vertical cliff on the left that often would challenge our adventurous spirit to try and climb it. Those that have done it know that it was no easy task as the cliff is practically vertical and is some three stories high with practically no toe holds. I remember once while I was returning after a game of hockey at the Front pitch I saw the Khurana brothers trying to climb this rock. The elder Khurana was in my class while the younger Khurana had just joined Boys' school and was trying to copy his elder brother. From down below I could make out that this little fellow was shivering with fear as his tiny hands and toes could hardly hold on to the face of the cliff. He would be looking up to his brother, who was a little higher up, and try and copy him, toe hold for toe hold. Well, I managed to get both of them down and showed the elder brother the condition his younger brother was in. That poor fellow was still shivering. When I asked him if he himself had climbed the rock before. He told me that he had done so twice before and that it was something he wanted his brother to do for sure. Well that was the spirit of Oak Grovians. Come hell or high water, when a job has to be done it has to be done. Well this practice of hill climbing did help us out once. Some of us boys once decided to go over to the Girls' School to just chat with the girls. When we were close to their boundary wall we noticed that some of the girls had noticed us and were just shocked to see us . There was some commotion and in that commotion the teacher on duty also happened to come. One of the girls gave us a sharp warning cry and knowing that some danger was imminent we all covered our heads with our shirts and in that blinded condition practically ran down the hillside. And of course the teacher had very sportingly reported that she had seen some boys but as their faces were covered with their shirts she could not identify any one. Well those were the Oak Grove days and I wonder how crazy could we get.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Changes In Oak Grove, Then......and Now

The latest outburst and disgust expressed over changes in Oak Grove, remind one of protests in 1975-77 when Standard I and Standard II were abolished. Incidentally, those were also the years of Internal Emergency in India. The difference is that at the time it was the parents who were at the forefront, protesting and arguing that their wards are being deprived of timely education.

When my sister, Manisha, was to appear for the Standard I entrance test, it was abolished. Next year, when she tried for Standard II, the class also ceased to exist. So she only made it the third time around. Similarly, my sister Meenakshi and myself, first studied in a school only from Standard III, when we were eight years old. And of course, Oak Grove is the only school we studied in.

Now it is the school alumni which is feeling sad, disappointed and agitated, to say the least.
This is understandable because our alma mater is part of our soul. The problem occurs only if the Establishment feels it is always right and doesn't want to budge on its stand. If things are talked over, authorities are receptive, then changes can be made for the better.

It also reminds one of the 1973 Supreme Court case, Keshvananda Bharti Vs The State of Kerala, where a 13 Judge bench ruled that the basic structure of the constitution can never be changed, no matter how large the majority in Parliament. Later on, the apex court struck down part of the 39 th and 42 nd amendments to the Constitution on the grounds that they are against the basic structure.

Arguably, the maroon blazer/banner/crest/tie/pullover is part of the basic structure of the school, which shouldn't be tinkered with. Basic structure is not about the architecture alone but about the spirit of a school, which includes its uniform, curriculum and diet. Just because Indian cricket team wears blue or Indian Railways has changed color of wagons to blue doesn't automatically qualify Oak Grove to change its colors. But yes, we did have and may be still have blue overcoats.

What happens to the nomination for being declared the World Heritage Site, if UNESCO learns that the school isn't retaining its basic structure. As Nirad C. Chaudhuri said in his last book, "Three Horseman on a New Apocalypse", three important strands of a culture are its dress, food and language. OG needs to preserve its culture. Of course it is a profitable venture to supply blue cloth in bulk and do tailoring of hundreds of blazers but it doesn't necessarily enrich the school traditions.

A strong alumni can always help preserve traditions in co-ordination with the establishment. One has to think big and get the big thing done. As Greek poet Archilochus said in the seventh century BC, a Fox knows many things but a Hedgehog knows one big thing.

This is not to say that changes have not been made in the past. There have been numerous changes, some can even be linked with religion but the motive was never questionable. This was particularly because the school had to undergo transition from the British to the post-independence period. Changes were made in this context.

As a result the crest, motto and tie had to be changed to bring them in line with the post 1947 period. The tie which was adopted in 1988 during the centenary, had all the three crests, used from time to time, imprinted on it. That tie was welcomed by almost everyone.

Even though the school motto, Tamso Ma Jyotir Gamaya is from an ancient Hindu text - Shanti Mantr of Brhadāranyaka Upanishad which is one of the older or "primary" of the 108 Upanishads, but it is universally accepted and it doesn't even occur to us ever that it is religious. It is just about what it means - From darkness to light !!

During the 1950s, Mr Edwards, one of the best headmasters, Boys' School ever had, decided that the names of houses, until then after British personalities such as Kitchener need to be changed and brought in line with an independent India. So we now have Ashok, Patel, Shivaji and Tagore, Padmini, Sarojini and Mirabai. But as I said, all these changes had a context, so no one saw it as Hindu God Krishna's devotee, Mirabai. The latest changes don't have such valid context. I don't even know, when exactly did the color of school blazers change for the worse and why?

Some changes are just natural. They just happen, and it doesn't even occur to us. Take the case of Service Hall, adjacent to the covered shed of Junior School. In the earliest years of the school, it was meant for the Sunday Church Service. Later it became multipurpose hall, where students sat for Board Examination of Standard X and XII, also doubling up as Badminton court and music classroom.

Many would just remember Service Hall as the venue where Lord Krishna's birthday, Janamashtami was celebrated, one of the best organized festivals in Junior School. Later, when our Arts teacher and Badminton player, Mr Verma, suffered a stroke while playing in Service Hall and passed away, the Hall was simply named after him as Verma Memorial Hall.

With the passage of time Christian carols gave way to Bhajans. Everyday, during morning assembly in Junior School, we recited bhajans before the National Anthem. Remember, Hari Tum Haro.....and Hamko Man Ki Shakti Dena...... By the end, the pitch for Hari reaching a peak. Hariiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. But this was just a way of life, nobody thurst anything on us. It was just natural, like breaking a coconut before starting something new in our everyday life. It was supposed to be auspicious rather than religious.

Even in 1992, when posters of freedom fighters were handed over to us, we didn't go overboard. We got all of them framed from the IOW and put one each in all the seven classrooms of Boys' School.

During the winter vacation, when the school used to be whitewashed, all group photographs were removed from the walls of the Boys' School corridor. The tradition of placing them back on the walls in February was getting a little erratic. Some photographs were gathering dust in the junk room and frames had cracked. All these had been restored in 1992, thanks to the help from then IOW Mr Shrivastava. Many of the vintage trophies, which we found while cleaning, what was then known as the Geography Room had also been restored. Their use during inter house competitions was resumed.

If the school is doing extremely well in academics and sports, it is a matter of great pride but at the same time archives and traditions should also be preserved.
There is no harm in linking donations and corpus and alumni-linked funding to this issue.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My memories of 1968, when I joined class 1

The year 1968
Joined OG junior school.From the HM, Mrs.L.K.Gupta's office was sent to class one 'A' along with ayah,Kalawati.My class teacher Mrs.Mathur,made me sit along with all others.The day passed with sobbing,crying with surges of homesickness.I remember gradually adjusting and making few friends some names do come mind Rajesh Chaudhri,Sanjiv Khandpur,Yogesh Mehta to name a few...
Come March-April.The snakes used to come out basking in the junior school courts The classes were of Cl-1 of two sections, cautions exerted by teachers.In the days followed got fever and then of course one of the dreaded diseases chicken pox.I was sent to hospital.There were many others from SBS,two names I remember are of P.S.Paul boys' school captain and the much feared Sister Blake.. Paul was comforting and so were a few seniors,but when we used to sit in the sun, the numbing cold and the fearsome voice "Baccha log sab ward mein body to sit outside......"We youngsters rushed in but seniors boys did not fear..Then came the blood freezing cry..."Bada logon ka pyjama utaro...ayah! aur baba log bed se nahi niklega.....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

THE HISTORY OF OAK GROVE - As submitted by Carolyn Martin

(Originally by Anil Edwards)

Oak Grove used to be part of the Garhwal and then Nepalese Kingdom when it was annexed from the Raja of Garhwal. Pauri Garhwal and the Nepalese/British Garhwal wars.
Aunt Katleen Mother,who I met in Sikander hall with Mom and Dad in 1953..waz
Their grandmother was Ashgari Begum, a devote Muslim who said her prayers five times a day. She could only speak a limited amount of English,
History of Oudh
1857 Reigning Dowager Rani Begum Hazarat Mahal Iftikharun-nisa
She was with of Wajid Ali Shah, the last reigning king of Oudh, who had 40 sons and 32 daughters with his 250 wifes. Together with her son she lead an uprising against the British.
Died in exile in Nepal in 1879.
Oudh (Ovadh, Avadh or Awadh) More details in Women State Leaders
1739-96 Politically Influential Nawab Aliya Sadrunissa Begum, Nawab Begum of Oudh
She was the oldest daughter of Burhan-ul-Mulk, Subedar of Avadh. Married to her cousin and father's successor Mirza Muhammad Muqim (Safdar Jung) (1739-64) in around 1724. When her father died in 1839, Nadir Shah plundered Delhi in 1739, and the Avadh landlords and small chiefs who had been effectively subdued by her father, raised their heads and arms in the attempt to secure their individual independence. In his capacity as the Nawab of Avadh, her husband was hesitant to face them despite his superior military strength. Had it not been for Nawab Begum's forceful promptings which eventually culminated in success, there may have been no further history of Avadh. She lived (Ca. 1712-96).
1775-81 Politically Influential (Amat-uz-Zehra) Janab Aliya Muta'aliya Bahu Begum (Bahu Begum was) of Avadh
After her father-in-law' s death, she payed off the huge debts of her husband, Jalal-ud-din- Haider, (Shuja-ud-daula) , to the East India Company, thereby ensuring his succession. After this he seems to have decided to entrust his finances to Bahu Begum. After his death in 1775 she secured the succession for her son, Mirza Amani (Asaf-ud-daula) against the advice of her mother-in-law, Nawab Begum. Her son continously demamded money from her. In 1781 both the Begums were arrested by the British, two eunuchs, whose position at the court of Bahu Begum were unrivalled, were tortured until they handed over the treasure. Members of the royal zenana and khurd-Mahal were harassed, humiliated and made to suffer enormous privation. She remained illiterate all
her life, but it never seemed to hamper her perspicacity or tenacity in dealing with the outside world. Born i Persia and lived (Ca. 1747-1815).
1814-37 Politically Influential Badshah Begum
Her husband, Ghazi-ud-din Haider, preferred death for his son, Nasir-ud-din Haider, rather that his succession to the throne. Badshah Begum was childless. She, therefore, matched her husband's whim by having Nasir-ud-din' s mother killed (another wife of Ghazi-ud-din) , and by then adopting Nasir-ud-din. She brought up Nasir-ud-din as her own, and later took up arms against her husband. It was no ordinary confrontation. In 1837 King Nasir-ud-din Haider died of poisoning. The British Resident had already drafted a paper ready for the signature of the next King of Avadh. But Badshah Begum wanted Farid-un-Bakht to be king, and she marched at the head of some two hundred heavily armed men towards the Palace. Her troops removed the incumbent ruler and his
relations. The following day the British opned fire and most of the Begum's men were killed or wounded, and she were sent to the fort of Chunar which was in British territory, where both she Farid-un-Bakht died in captivity. (d. 1846).
1819-56 Subadar Nawwab
1857 Reigning Dowager Rani Begum Hazarat Mahal Iftikharun-nisa
She was with of Wajid Ali Shah, the last reigning king of Oudh, who had 40 sons and 32 daughters with his 250 wifes. Together with her son she lead an uprising against the British. Died in exile in Nepal in
Ca. 1990s The Begum Shehzadi Wilyat Mahal
It is not clear when she succeeded to the title of the state, which today is part of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Her oldest son is born 1961 and she lived in New Delhi (b. 1934).
Skinners Horse

On 17th March 1999 Brig. Michael Alexander Robert Skinner passed away in the UK. He was in direct line of descent from Col. James Skinner, the founder of the Regiment and St. James Church.
Brig. Michael Alexander Robert Skinner was born on the 29th Sept. 1920, and passed away at the age of 78. He was the second eldest of the family of six brothers and three sisters. Brig Skinner was commissioned into Skinners Horse in 1942. He saw action with the Regiment in the PAI Force and Italy during Second World War and was a member of the Regimental contingent at the Victory Parade in the UK in 1946. He also served with the International Control Commission in Vietnam but prematurely retired from service in 1966 to look after the family's lands in Hansi, India, which was granted, to his ancestor Colonel James Skinner.
When the British first started prospecting their colony and moved into India, they firmly incorporated friendship with the Moghul rulers. While the Moghul rulers considered the British as their trusted friends and advisers, the British carefully observed, and waited for an appropriate opportunity to take over the country from the Moghul rulers. This was the time when the intermarriage between the British and the Hindu princess, or Muslim Princess, took place and the Anglo-Indian community began. The intermarriage of the two races at the time started for political purpose. A good example was the founder of the Skinner family in India, Nasir-ud-Dowlah Colonel James Skinner Bahadur Ghalib Jhung. Colonel James Skinner, the legendary founder of Skinner's Horse, who died in 1841.
The last Moghul emperor was weak. During his time many new independent small principalities of the Hindu Rajahs, and the Muslim Nawabs began springing up. There was no unity amongst the rulers of the small principalities or kingdoms, they were frequently fighting with each other. These made it easier for the British to move in and take over the Delhi Durbar successfully from the last Moghul Emperor, and make India one of the colonies of the British.
Colonel Skinner's mother was a Hindu Rajput princess, and his father a Scot, the son of the Provost of Montros. Yet, for most of his life, Skinner lived like a Moghul and liked to be addressed by his formal Muslim title. He was brought up a Christian, of sorts, but kept a harem of Hindu and Muslim wives, and showed his open-mindedness by building not only a church, but also a mosque and a temple. Most of his children seem to have been brought up as Christians, but some converted to Islam.
As a reward for his services, the Moghuls and the Marathas both gave him huge estates. At his death in 1841, Sikander Sahib or James Skinner left his five sons 194 villages, several palaces, some Moghul gardens, a network of indigo factories and caravanserais, a grand townhouse, and several bazaars in Delhi. The family squabble indolence and extravagance whittled away the fortune, but by mid 1930s the family had 60,000 acres of land and enjoyed the status of a Maharaja. Despite Skinner's grand Moghul titles, to the people of Delhi he was known simply as Sikander Sahib or the reincarnation of Alexander the Great because his cavalrymen never lost a battle. Skinner commanded his own mercenary force of irregular cavalry, with whom he had fought both for the Marthas and the Moguls, before finally taking service under the Union flag. Skinner's Horse enabled the East India Company to secure
great chunks of Northern India for Britian. With their scarlet turbans, silver-edged girdles, black shields, and bright yellow tunics, Skinner's cavalrymen were, "reckoned to be the most useful and trusty, as well as the boldest body of men in India." They never lost a battle.
According to William Dalrymple, "during the Raj, both Indian and British tradition conspired to place people in rigid class, caste and religious compartments; there were few family who managed to break out of these communal entrenchments the way the Skinners did. But this success placed the family in a particular quandary at Partition: where did they really belong - Pakistan, India, or Britain? In the event, most of the Muslim Skinners fled to Pakistan, while many of the Christian Skinners emigrated to Britain, the USA, and Australia. Only a few remained in India to try and maintain the family estates, while also keeping a lifeline to Britain."
The Skinners spent their entire summer months at Sikander Hall, Skinners' hill palace in Mussoorie, and when the winter came they left the hill estates for Hansi. The whole family went down the road to the plains in great procession, with the boys on the horseback, and all the women in palanquins. The day they arrived in Hansi, Brig Michael Skinner's father would hold a durbar. Urdu was the first language of his father but he was just as fluent in English. Brig Michael Skinner's father preferred to keep friendship with the Indian landowners or princes rather than the British. He often said that 'the more you kick the British, the more you get out of them.' During the durbar he sat cross-legged on a bolster wearing an angurka (Nehru-style frock coat). The headmen of his villages would come and offer a nasr (symbolic tribute) of one rupee, and a basketful of dried fruit. After a lot of
speeches, the family would present quilts and ladoos to the poor, and then the bards would recite the genealogy of the Skinner ancestors. The family munshi or teacher would then recite a poem about the deeds of the Skinner ancestros after the genealogy.
During the partition in 1947, there was a terrible communal riot in Hansi. Hindus and Muslims, who lived peacefully upto then, started killing each other. All his friends became enemies of each other. Besides the news that the new Land Act would take away the landowners' estates made Brig Micheal Skinner's father terribly depressed and one evening when he was all alone, he took his twelve-bore and putting it into his mouth, he pressed the trigger and died.
Today Lillian Skinner and her brother Jimmy Skinner still live in India. Jimmy never married. His brother Mike, Brig Michael Alexander Robert Skinner died with no sons to carry on the name Skinner as an Anglo-Indian. That brings to the end of the Skinners in India, although there still are many more of them in Pakistan, USA, England, and in Australia. Their grandmother was Ashgari Begum, a devote Muslim who said her prayers five times a day. She could only speak a limited amount of English, one of them being, "damned swine." At the time Hansi was like a little colony of Skinners. The house was originally built by Sikhader Sahib as his officers' mess. There were various aunts and cousins living in the house. One of the grandmother' s younger sister was Nasira Begum, who called herself Fanny Skinner when she was with the Europeans.
There were armies of servants at the Skinners' palaces in Mussoorie and at Hansi. There were six guards at the gate and a jamedar in charge of them. There were syces to look after the ponies, whole families of sweepers, and bhistis who carried the water. After independence and the land Act of in 1947, no one was allowed more than eighteen acres. All their villages were taken away. They were to get compensation of about hundreds of thousands of rupees but nothing came to them, except the Sikander Hall in Mussoorie, and the house in Hansi near Delhi. The Indian judge at the court remarked that the Skinners were relics of the British Raj, and that they were imperialists who had plundered the country.
Brig Michael Alexander Robert Skinner was the Chairman of the Board of Governors, St Thomas' College in Dehra Dun from July 1988 to 17th March 1999, till the day he died.
Many other Anglo-Indians who possessed huge amount of land and properties during the British Raj faced the same plight as the Skinners family members left in India. Average Anglo-Indians at the time remained in the dreamland of the past. They never thought of the future, and what it would mean to them if India became independent. They continued living their stereo type life, content with their job, social life, and entertainment, while the British and the Indians were fighting for independence of India. The Anglo-Indians in India did not anticipate the glorious British Raj to end so soon, and were living with the hope that if it did happen, the British would provide for them, or they would immigrate to England. They were sure that anyway they would remain in the same superior and prestigious status as they did during the British Raj times.
The Gardners of Khasganj, India, are another complicated families. Some Gardners claim to have descended from Lord William Gardner of Coleraine, who commanded a company at the siege of Derry, and whose son also William, was a Lt Col in HM 11th Dragoons. Lord Gardner was a Methodist by religion and his descendants have remained Methodist.
Then there was a soldier Alan Gardner, an Anglican, who raised Gardner's Horse and died in 1828. He is buried at Khasganj. His relative was the Hon. General E. Gardner, a resident at Kumaon, who retrieved and captured Almorah with Colonel Nicolls in April 1815 for the English during the establishment and of British ascendency in India. Many of Alan Gardner's descendants also seem to have been soldiers.
Alan Gardner was married to a Muslim Begum by the name of Bibi Sahiba Hinga. They had a daughter, Susan, who married a Mirza Anjan Sheko, the son of Mirza Suleman Sheko, and grandson of Alam Shah, one of the later Mogul Emperors. Alam Shah was a descendant of Ghengis Khan. Alan's brother, William James Gardner, also married into the same family, his second wife being Mulka Humani Begum, sister of Mirza Anjan Sheko. Descendants of Alan Gardner and his brother still live in India. Mr Russell V. Gardner, Mr Winston Gardner, their sister Enid can trace back their family tree to Alan Gardner, William James Gardner, and Ghengis Khan. Both Mr Russell Gardner and Winston Gardner are Principals of Anglican schools in India. Mr Russell Gardner being the Principal of St Thomas Collegiate in Dehra Dun. Two of his sisters are married and immigrated to USA and UK, while his son, also Russell J.
Gardner, lives with his family in Melbourne, Australia. His daughter, Michelle Gardner married, Reggie Khanna, the son of an Anglo-Indian lady, Mauveen Carbery, from Dehra Dun, and a Hindu Punjabi pilot officer, Mr Ram K. Khanna. Mr Russell V. Gardner also has his own private Junior High School, St Jude, in Dehra Dun. His wife, Violet Lyons/Gardner is the Principal of their private school. Although Mr Russell V. Gardner is an Anglican, his wife is a Catholic, and he has a strong faith in Saint Jude, the patron of hopeless cases, that is why he has named his school by the name.
Mr Winston Gardner, the Principal of St George School in Ketty, in the Nilgiris, is married to an Anglo-Indian, Joan Daniels. They have two sons and a daughter and are living in India. Russell Gardner and Winston Gardner's one brother, Vivian Gardner was in the Calcutta police, but died early in his thirties leaving behind a son and two daughters.
There are many Gardners in the various Catholic registers also, mostly from Khasganj area, this being complicated by different spellings such as Gardener or Gardiner. The Gardner family tree is very complicated and many-branched. There were tremendous intermarriage between the different lines, and many marriages to muslims. Many of the names are of unrelated families. A missionary by the name of Gardner also lived in Khasganj and converted many Indians giving his surname, 'Gardner' to all those he converted to Chrisitianity.
Dehra Dun, a city close to Mussorie hill station, belonged to three main Anglo-Indian families during the British Raj times, the Skinners, the Hurseys and the Powells. The three families owned many villages and land in and around Dehra Dun area. After the independence of India, most of the land was taken over by the government of India, although each of the families have managed to retain a small portion of what belonged to them till the present time.
Members of the Hursey family eventually sold off their land and property and immigrated overseas, leaving behind no members of theirs to carry on their Anglo-Indian line in India. Jimmy Skinner and his sister, Lillian are still taking care of theirs, just as much as the descendants of the Powell family.
Mrs. Doris Powell left her land and property to her daughter, Mrs. Carbery, who in turn left it to her two daughters, Jennifer and Mauveen Carbery. At present, Jennifer and Mauveen have nineteen acres of land plus a huge farmhouse between them in Dehra Dun. The rest of the land and property were taken over by the Indian Government after the independence of India. The farmhouse belonging to them is built in the Californian style and has antique furniture and crockery belonging to their ancestors. The farmhouse is surrounded by huge expanse of land, which has orchards, wheat, and vegetables growing in abundance. The villagers work on the land for the family.
Jennifer Carbery is married to Mr Mann, and they have their own private school, Carmen Public School in Dehra Dun for many years. Their son, Greg Mann, also has his own private school, while their daughter married an Indian. Mauveen Carbery married an Indian Air-Force Officer, Wing Commander Ram K. Khanna. While Mauveen's children have immigrated to USA and Australia, Jennifer's family still live in Dehra Dun. The villagers around living in the land which once belonged to her ancestors, still look upto her as their chief and the head of the villages. They call her the Pardhani or the chief of the village. She attends all the village functions and gets a great respect from Indian villagers the same as did her ancestors during the British times.

Reference :-
(1) William Dalrymple's television series "stones of the Raj."
(2) 'Salaam Surrey,' an article on the Skinner Family by William Dalrymple.
(3) An article about Brig Michael Skinner in the School Magazine of St Thomas Collegiate after his death.
(4) A personal interview with a family member of the Gardners.
(5) Robin Volkers research on the Gardeners.
(6) Indian History book by Mukerjee about General Gardner of Almorah.
(7) A personal interview with Maureen Cabery.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rajiv's Account

Jayashree, as most of what you wrote about is about "my" era, I can really empathise. As I'm fond of repeating every few months, I'm personally deeply in debt to the originator(s) of the WWW. They put me in touch with my alma mater in a manner I had never even dreamed of. You know - before the net came in, before we started looking around AND finding our long lost friends and peers - it was a different world altogether. One could only dream ; the only possibility used to be either word of mouth - mainly by chance - or thru an actual trip to OG.

Since we were there in the same period, nearly everything you write applies to us in the BS too except that as boys we would be naughtier and naturally have more pranks to recall.

For instance, one incident that always comes to mind when people relate "Orchard raids" was the "The Great Kitchen Raid" - '69 or '70, most prob the latter. I'm usually grey about those two years because they went in a whiz & I really enjoyed each moment of that period ! I'm sure I've related this earlier.
The Great Kitchen Raid as we called it came about on a day when the dinner had been exceptionally bad and we were all hungry ; so we decided around midnight to raid the 'larder'.
One guy got in thru the main entry via the ventilator above the huge door near the boiler and opened the Dining Hall door from inside ; we all trooped in - about a dozen of us. The almirah which had milk was locked so one guy made a long straw with a sheet of paper and......... . The biggest feat was the haul of a few dozen cans of condensed milk and a few KGs of dry fruit !
These lasted just a couple of nights so for the next 3-4 days there were quite a few cases of upset stomachs & queues in the toilet. The funny part was that the staff refused to admit openly that something like that had happened - so it remained a secret for the entire time! I remember some of the Milkmaid tins were hidden in a small ingrowth down to the poolside

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jayashree Bannerjee's Account

My memories of OG

I first heard about Oak Grove School from a neighbour of mine in a place called Chakradharpur. They were two boys whose last name was Malhan. Unfortunately their mother committed suicide one winter and they left school. But the first school I went to was St. Patrick's school, Agra. Some friends I had there later I met again in Jhigs...... but that's another story.So, in 1967 my Dad decided that I should move to Oak Grove ...... why? Because he thought the hills were a better place to grow up in.

So anyway, Dad escorted me to OG the first time. And guess what... we met an OOG on the train who had come from Canada to have a look at the school. I cannot remember what his name was. He would probably be in his nineties now, as even then, he was a bald mid-aged man. So we arrived in Dehra station from Lucknow and took a taxi and went to school.... Uh hun... the roads were all done and ready by then.....and we paid Toll tax....

The first person we met was Miss N.C. David who seeing us arrive very graciously came out of her office to greet my Dad and me. My father was so impressed to note that the Head Mistress of the school cared enough to welcome a new student, that he was convinced he had made the right move in changing my school. It was the last day of February and a day before the actual reporting day so not all students had reached school by then. Miss David called Dorinda DeCamp, and told her to take me inside. I still did not know which class I would be in as I had to write an admission test.( I did get into ClassVII). Anyway Dad went away. I was ok as this wasn't new to me having been in a boarding school before. I was however, awed by the beauty of the mountains and the green surroundings. ...the chirping of the birds and the silence of the hills...... all made a lasting impression on me. Even today when I think of my childhood the mountains are my best memories.

The only thing that bothered me in the first few days was the cold. As it grew dark it got colder and God, was it cold!! I don't really know how we all managed to stay in that shivering cold with no heating! But except for the first few days I cannot remember ever minding the weather whatever it was....... The clouds in the monsoons months blew right into the class, the mist was forever filling the rooms, the dormitory was a ice box....... but we lived through it quite happily. I suppose we were so busy living life that we didn't notice anything else.......

A lot has been said about Mula Bux, so I shall not repeat the same except to say that never have I been able to buy stick-jaws,éclairs and buns like that anywhere else. I do however remember with great pleasure the many Socials we had. These were special occasions because boys were invited to come for the party. And we girls planned and planned endlessly what we were going to wear as we were allowed to wear 'colours' on those evenings. We exchanged clothes, tried out hairstyles and shoes and the Class-in-charge of the show also had to plan on games, music and food. Miss. Bibi, a cute looking house-keeper, arranged the goodies. The juniors were sent off to the dormitory early so they didn't get in the way. At one Social I wore a black saree....... and oh my God....... how embarrassed I felt all evening as some boys complemented me.In one such Social we had a fancy dress competition and Shubh Mehta of my class wore a maroon counterpane around her and had to announce herself as a 'beetroot' in case the judges failed to make out her costume. Of course we had to be very watchful of the teachers.... . particularly Miss Lyall. If she 'imagined' anything we did or say to the boys we would be given a very long lecture from her. When she read these lectures she often used the phrase 'boy crazy' . And when she said that it was the ultimatum. How we hated the lectures.Oh then of course the Socials were reciprocated and the BS also hosted them and we girls went there all decked in our best clothes again. Another occasion that comes to mind is the Janamashtami celebration. ..... that was a high point as it was celebrated at night and we trooped all the way to BS (or was it JS?) to sing bhajans and do Puja and Aarti and get back way past mid-night... ...

The regular fortnightly movies were another occasion. We had one movie on the screen and another going on in the hall........ boys and girls passing chits to each other....... looking back, its all so hilarious... .... but back then it was serious business. Oh and before I forget...... . chocolates and gifts also went back and forth along with letters..... Those who were grounded stayed back in the dorm and loudly whispered goodnight to the boys when they returned to BS passing the dorm windows. On one day Mrs. Mathur, our Senior Dorm Superv. stood right behind the girls as they waved good night to the passing boys........ but luckily she didn't say much. Her disapproval was enough..... more effective than Lily's lectures.... ..Lily was Miss Lyall's nick name in case you have forgotten!!

The girls went down to the Flats to play in the evenings. Oh how we loved that! There were 3 flats. The first was where we played tourniquet, throw-ball, badminton etc. The next flat was larger and we played basket ball, volley ball etc, the third and lowest flat was a small field and we played hockey there....... .... you are right Carolyn we girls did play hockey!! The games teacher was Mrs. Siddiqui.But unfortunately we did not have many days in the Flats as the weather was not always good. And in the monsoons we hated the leeches..... .

Speaking of leeches..... Ms. Kohli was a weirdo. She had some problem with her gums and she would stick leeches to her gum to suck the bad blood out of them...... or so she said. In my class, which was large by OG standards being 17 of us, there were only 2 girls who chose maths for ISC. Chitra Kapoor and me. And Ms Kohli was our teacher. She may have been an intelligent person herself but she had no idea about teaching methods. Oh how we suffered at her hands....... . she just didn't care about our classes. Sometimes she took the class on the pushta outside, sometime in the dining hall........ and till the end we did not know what to expect in our exams.

That reminds me.... dining hall. I hope the girls remember the stage in the dining hall? It used to be our dance floor. The late Ranjana Lall, knew all the dances and we learnt to do the jive, cha cha and fox trot from her. Oh how we danced to Binaca geet mala songs and the 45rpm single records (recs, we called them) we played on the record player. Primrose Raikhan was in charge of the music. There were two very distinct groups..... the Elvis fans and the Cliff fans, and there was no compromise between the two. It had to be one Elvis rec and one Cliff rec........ else all Hell broke loose.

Our class teacher was Miss Joshi, who taught us Biology. Miss Tandon taught History, Miss David- English Literature, Miss Bhattacharya -English language, Mrs. Joshi- Hindi and music, Miss Lyall-Geography, Mr.Verma-Art. Mr. Verma used to give us work to do in the Art Class and sing all the Mukhesh songs....... he had a good voice!!

Once we represented OG for the inter-school Rotary Debate Contest held in Muss. In the English section I got the 1st prize and a SGC boy got the 2nd. When it was over the SGC boy came over to congratulate me and I almost fainted with fright in case someone reported me to Ms. Lyall.... so great was our fear for the lady! And as we walked back to the school bus, the late Anil Bhakri, a fair and lanky guy then, walked up behind me and passed me a chocolate in front of the Chic Choc shop....... I was sure I would be reported ...... couldn't trust being lucky twice....

I could go on endlessly... ..... I have a head full of memories of all my years in school...... .. and I loved being there. The best years of my life I have spent in OG with friends who I can still count on today....... ..All I can say is a big Thank you. All of you have made my life so much more meaningful.

Virender Gupta's Account

Oak Grove – the alma mater

The other day an unusual thing happened. I grilled some food outside and decided to eat it inside, where the stereo was playing old Indian music. The combination of eating a hamburger and listening to "jo vada kiya vo nibhana parega" struck me as extremely incongruous and got me thinking. It was not just a quick flashback but rather a deep retrospection. Oak Grove figured quite prominently in those thoughts. And, rightfully it should – I did spend almost eleven of my most formative years there. I have always known that it was an important part of my past, so as I reminisced I decided to pen some thoughts - actually I banged them out on a computer keyboard.

I arrived at Oak Grove in March of 1954, barely five years old, not speaking a word of English. I clearly recall that I was speaking it in a week, at least enough to get by. The fact that everyone - kids and teachers spoke only English, no matter whether you understood it or not, must off course have been the key to learning it so rapidly. My teacher in lower kindergarten, Mrs. Regalini also certainly had something to do with it. The academic program at the time consisted of lower and upper kinder garten, followed by ten standards. Tenth was Senior Cambridge. Somewhere along the line it was reorganized, the K.G'g were done away with and the entire program was collapsed into eleven classes. In 1963 Senior Cambridge was renamed to Indian School Certificate (ISC). Junior School used to be up to fifth grade, due to overcrowding, in 1958 the fifth grade was moved to the Boys / Girls school.

While I was in the Junior school some of the teachers I recall were Miss D'Colis (headmistress) , Mrs. Haslam, Miss Lyall, Miss Gifford, Mrs. Regalini, Mrs. Neelam, Miss Gandhi, Mrs. Carol, Mrs. Arnold, Miss Luke, Miss Spencer, Miss Fernandez. Some of my early classmates were Jasbir Singh, Billy Gomes, Brian Regalini, Mohinder Midha, ( ) Bewtra, Baldev Singh, Clifford Tims, Winston Tocher. Some of the girls were Attia Ahmed, Priscilla Ralph and Anita Verma. On Priscilla I had the greatest crush a little boy could ever have! Later that was followed by crushes on the Verma sisters – Preeti and Anita, and one of the six Kaur sisters. The Kaurs must have been the most beautiful siblings ever. They were followed by a lone kid brother. While I'm writing I wonder how that boy turned out – an extremely spoilt brat, effeminate or just a regular guy? There were no organized sports in the Junior school, but lot of supervised playtime. Marbles were my favorite, gulli–danda was frowned upon and quickly stopped when noticed by the teachers. Food at school though wholesome was painfully dull and tasteless. I was a fussy eater and one evening when I didn't touch my plate Miss D'Colis forced the food down, only to have me throw up right on her. She probably didn't ever try it again on any other kid. To this day there are foods I detest because they were served so often – porridge comes to mind. Occasionally a kid would have a birthday and a lucky few would be invited to the center table, while others looked on enviously and longingly at the delights laid out there.

Dormitories had their own rituals. Communal baths were followed by an inspection. You had to stand in the nude on a stool or chair and be inspected by the one of the matrons (dorm supervisors) - gee I'm blushing thinking about young Miss Spencer checking me out. She was barely out of her teens then, but then I was just six or seven. By the way, I actually exchanged some emails with her a couple of years ago courtesy Bert Payne, who put us in touch.

In 1958 we moved to Boys school. After the protected, cocoon like existence of Junior school, Boys school was a shock. We were the littlest kids around and easy pickings for the bullies amongst the older boys. In big things and small we were fending for ourselves, where till now all these things were done for you or closely supervised. Hoofing (kicking), slapping etc by prefects was common as were other forms of harassment. Looking back though, I'm surprised it wasn't worse. This is the age when cliques and groups started forming and if you didn't belong you were subject to various torments. Although there were class teachers – more for administrative reasons, we were taught each subject by different teachers. The teachers I recall were Mr. Edwards (headmaster) , Mr. Gomes (math), Mr.Regalini (English), Mr. Fletcher (geography), Mr. Midha(history) , Mr Ahmed (English and history), Mr. Dina (Hindi), Mr. Kelkar (science), Mr. Chimwal (chemistry), Mr. Luther (woodworking) , Mr. Swing (physical Training) and Mr. Meston (dormitory). As Messers Fletcher, Regalini and Kelkar left, they were replaced by Mr. Kukreti (English), Mr. Banerjee (physics) and Mr.Rawat(geography) . Inspite of their individual foibles, I think collectively they were the best bunch of teachers a student could ask for - dedicated, caring and knowledgeable. With one exception – Kukreti.

Kukreti was a very fine teacher of English, but had to be the most mean spirited person I have had the misfortune to come across. As someone from the old American West might say "them's fightin' words". Yes, they are. I have a very laid back temperament, but I get so angry more than forty years later when I think of that person. Have you ever met a teacher who could revel in the failure of his students with words like "When you will fail, then I will laugh", when some kid(s) laughed in class. Or, would threaten them "with a stroke of my pen I can make or mar your future", this last because in those days if you failed English, you flunked the class. And believe me he used that power. On several English essay exams I would get 39/100, when the passing grade was 40. How does one get that score in an English essay? Did he count every missing comma or period or wrongly constructed sentence – no, I don't think so. It was pure malice. Fortunately this malicious grading was seen through by Mr. Edwards or Mr. Pasricha and was overridden. I am sure that many a kid was not so lucky. For the record I got a grade of A2 in English in the ISC final exams. There, I feel better after that venting.

I was an above average student for the most part, but did have my ups and downs. In the upper level classes (9th grade onward) I chose the Mathematics and Science group. The sound early grounding I got at Oak Grove, stood me at good stead years later, both at NDA and engineering school in the US, where I did pretty well. I did participate in sports but only at the fringes.

In my early years the school was mostly run by Anglo-Indians, which included the principal -Mr. Love, heads of the Junior, Girls and Boys schools – Miss D'Colis, Miss Garlah, Mr. Belew and most teachers. The Anglo-Saxon/ European names from the early years will confirm this. Many students were Anglo-Indians too. After all Oak Grove was a Railway school. No history of the Indian Railways would ever be complete without Anglo-Indians. They were completely intertwined. Indianization started when Mr. Pasricha arrived as principal in 1959. Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti began to be more formal and we began to appreciate their importance. The renaming of houses at the Boys school from Roberts, Kitchner, Haig, Wellington to Asoka, Tagore, Shivaji and Patel was great. Who needed bygone era British generals anyway. Similar changes were made in the Girls school. Not sure of the original names but the new names of Sarojini and Padmini do come to mind. However the changing of the school crest from a dignified one to "Kamal ka phool" was an unmitigated disaster. I don't think Oak Grovians of that era can easily shake off or live it down.

Jharipani was very remote. How did the British come across this location? I can't begin to imagine how those massive steel beams and other heavy supplies used in the construction of the schools reached that area. To get to school we took a bus from Dehra Dun to Kulukhet. From there we walked the two or three miles up to school. Our luggage, large tin trunks and holdalls of bedding were carried by sturdy Gorkhas/Garhwalis on their backs. This was the preferred method of getting to school till the sixties. The first bus service between Mussoorie and Jharipani was introduced in 1954 or 55. This was just a seasonal skeleton service as the road surface was washed away by the ferocious monsoons, making it impassable by vehicles. In reality the road was an unpaved mule track of stepped construction to prevent erosion. In later years the paving of the road, first with concrete and later with tar greatly increased vehicular traffic between Oak Grove and the outside world. The Dehradun – Mussorie motor road ran to the Library side of Mussoorie. The connection from Kincraig (spelling?) to Masonic Lodge/Picture Palace was only opened around 1960. It remained a one way road for quite a while. In Mussoorie affluent people moved about in push/pull rickshaws. In areas where rickshaws could not operate due to road conditions or steep inclines, they were carried in a "dandy". Children were carried in a basket like chair. The principal of the school, then Mr. Love and his wife used a dandy occasionally, but I don't recall any one after him using it. The use of dandies disappeared by the late fifties, but rickshaws continued. Looking back dandies seem almost medieval.

I was a very sickly child and must have the dubious distinction of being the most hospitalized kid in Oak Grove's history. You name it; I had it – chicken pox, measles, mumps, German measles and numerous bouts of fevers. When I see people wince at the sight of an injection I smile and think of those days. Thick, blunt, re-usable needles were poked into my arms and bottoms more times than I want to remember. I guess it was penicillin. Somehow it always did the trick. In 1957 there was a world wide influenza epidemic. Out of about 180 kids in the junior school all but twelve were hospitalized. The wards were over flowing, temporarily the verandahs around the hospital were filled with beds, some kids were moved to other hospitals. Off course I was not among the lucky uninfected twelve. With each outbreak of some disease came a quarantine, further isolating us from the outside world. During those early years, I recall Dr. Nakra, Dr. Banga and nurses Caston, Morris and Dewar. God bless them all.

Saturday was what we looked forward to most. The Tuck man, Maula Bux would arrive with several boxes of goodies - peanut toffee, jaggery stick jaw, sugary pastry and cream rolls. I've had the best French and Italian confectionery, but somehow they don't compare to Maula Bux's. Another vendor by the name of Motilal, who ran a general store in Jharipani would also come, bringing ladoos, jalebis and dal-mot. In a few minutes we would blow our entire weekly pocket allowance of eight annas (India started using decimal currency in 1959), later increased to a rupee. Then there were movies. The boys with their Brylcremed hair, drain pipe pants and pointy shoes trooped over to the girls school rain or shine. Movies were in a covered shed. Girls and boys sat separately and exchanged furtive if longing glances across the isle, occasionally a crumpled note was thrown over by some one, professing undying love for their beloved. It was the age of innocence. Since the girls and boys schools were so segregated it was difficult to really get it on with the girls, but many an affair ensued however tame or lame by today's standards. Once a month we were allowed to go to Mussorie. In the early years we walked, but later preferred the bus. Movies at Rialto or Picture Palace, roller skating and a meal at Kwality or Neelam's were the thing to do. A few friends and I would take pony rides on Camel Back road.

Sports day, Prize day and Fancy Fair were days for fun, showing off and ogling the girls! Inter-house competitions for sports and other activities were intense, the air always thick with rivalry. However, we all came together as one when competing with other schools – mostly St. Georges, Allen and Woodstock. We would shout ourselves hoarse cheering our side or jeering the rivals.

There are so many things one can recall with great fondness about their school years, but some things stand out more than others. Those memories collectively are what I call the "Wonder Years" – yes there was a TV show of that name.

I did not complete my ISC from Oak Grove, but finished from St. George's (long story that – for another time). My siblings Ravinder (RN) – `60 and Jitender – "Jackie" (left in '64, completed ISC from St.George's as well) were in Oak Grove too. My mother was a teacher/head in the Junior school from 1954 to 1975. People who have been on this board for a while may remember a piece I wrote about Jackie several years ago. I'm not sure the old articles were archived when the site was moved.