Thank you, Mr Mohanraj!

The Old Lawrencians Association, the alumni outfit of The Lawrence School, Lovedale has initiated an interesting virtual event called the OL Assembly. I have written about this in my blog post of November 20, 2020 mainly because ” Glimpses Of A Glorious Past: An Informal History of The Lawrence School, Lovedale” – which I edited- will feature every month, at least for the next few months.

There were many interesting features in the December event but one that was very important for me was the interaction with Mr V M Mohanraj. He used to be the Librarian at Lovedale when we studied there. VMM served there for 40 years, in the process becoming as permanent a fixture in the Lovedale environment as the thousands of old books in his library. I didn’t know till recently that both of us began our association with Lovedale in the same year – 1959. I joined the Prep School as a young boy in Std 3 and he joined as the Librarian.

We had a fabulous collection of books in the Library. I am sure if many of us Lawrencians are avid readers it was because we were gently encouraged to read more by Mr Mohanraj. He instilled in us a love for books and reading which has stood the test of time. To quote Mr Mohanraj, a Librarian goes beyond being a manager of libraries. He is a guide, mentor, educator and facilitator. This is from his book, ” Mulitifacted Librarian” published in 1988. I was happy to see he has written and translated a number of books as you will see from Amazon India.

I am sure he will be pleased to know that a number of us from Lovedale have over time written and published books on a variety of subjects. Indeed, it is a happy co-incidence that I completed 10 years as a writer in November 2020. My debut novel, a psychological thriller called, ” It Can’t Be You”, was published in 2010. I am glad to see is still available in Amazon. My second thriller, ” Lucky For Some 13″ -published in 2012 -to maintain the balance- is available in Flipkart!

From an early age we were voracious readers, devouring books as fast as we could get them! This influenced us, I have no doubt, to want to write some day! I am happy that – even if it was virtually- we got a chance to interact with Mr Mohanraj, who is now in his 90s.

I think I speak for many Old Lawrencians – across the decades- who caught the reading bug early when I say, ” Thank you, Mr Mohanraj!

Our Super Patriotic Hindi Sir

This story again dates back to my school days at The Lawrence School, Lovedale. On September 13, I had written about Mr Gupta and his “steady slap”. Today’s tale precedes Mr Gupta by quite a few years. We must have been around 10-11 years of age and we were in the Junior School. Mr B L Singh had the difficult task of trying to teach us Hindi. I must say he did his best and a more sincere teacher it would have been hard to find.

However, we were more playful at that age. Many of us were recipients of his slaps, for work not done, for dreadfully wrong answers etc. Almost 60 years have gone by since those days but I can still vividly remember his saying, ” Bewakoof Ladka, ek chaanta maarega tho ghir jayega” or words to that effect. A Google search tells me that it means, “Foolish boy! If I give you one slap you will fall down. ” We may not actually have fallen down but those slaps stung!

If he had a fault, it was that Mr Singh was super patriotic. Now, being patriotic is indeed laudable but perhaps not to the extent he was – in the context of his being a teacher. He was likely to get carried away with his stories, much to our amusement. When he was in the mood, one story would follow the other until it was too late to get much Hindi text book work done in that period.

It was easy to lead him away from the task at hand by asking him about India’s freedom Struggle, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi and the like. Often when he spoke of Netaji and the fight of his Indian National Army, his eyes would become moist. He would say one of his favourite phrases with dramatic pauses, ” Believe it or not , boys……..Ladai Huaa…..” .

On the day a Hindi Test was scheduled, Mr Singh was greeted on entering the class by the sight of two boys arguing loudly, standing chest to chest and on the verge of having a physical brawl. He broke up the fight by employing a technique most schoolmasters of his time used. He pulled them apart by holding one ear of each of the boys! When he asked what the matter was, Boy A said excitedly , ” Sir, he is saying Godse shot Gandhi because of the British”. Boy B hotly denied this . ” No Sir, he says Gandhi shot Godse.” Boy A : ” Sir, he says Netaji ran away to Germany because he was scared! ” Boy B : ” Sir, how can he say ” ran away”? You told us he went by submarine! ”

” Silence! ” roared Mr Singh. After giving them a slap each to cut short their arguments, he settled down on the edge of the table, his usual story telling position. He began with shakes of his head as if telling himself to be calm irrespective of how maddeningly ignorant these boys were.

” Boys, in January 1941………” he started off. Soon he was telling us ( though he had told us this story many times before) how Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose escaped from Calcutta, under the eyes of the British Intelligence. As the minutes went by, we sat , some like me, deeply interested in his story, others listening quite indifferently, some playing “book cricket” the immensely popular pastime of those days. Despite our varying levels of interest we were all privately happy that there would be no Hindi Test that day.

The events that Mr Singh spoke off had taken place just 20 years before that time and must have been fresh in his memory. He went on and on, assisted by some questions from an eager audience ( to keep the flow going) and was about to conclude when the bell rang signalling the end of his period. He mumbled something about the Hindi test being postponed to the next week. He then strode off, not before glaring at the errant boys who fought at the start of the class.

As soon as Mr Singh left, many boys rushed up to congratulate Boy A and Boy B the brave volunteers who had fielded a slap and a tug of their ears by Mr Singh for the greater good of the class!

You would have guessed by now that Mr Singh failed in his attempts to teach me Hindi. However, I thank him so much for instilling in me a great admiration for Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who I firmly believe was the most admirable public figure in the India of the 1940s. Those interested may like to check out this link on books about Netaji.

“Glimpses” features in the OL Assembly

I must congratulate the Old Lawrencians Association, (OLA) the alumni association of my alma mater, The Lawrence School, Lovedale for their new initiatives. One of them is called the OL Assembly. You will remember from your schooldays that the morning Assembly was an integral part of school life. Here, the OL Assembly is positioned as a Variety Entertainment of sorts and features hymn singing, interesting features relating to the school and its alumni, etc.

In the recent edition of OL Assembly, held on November 14, we the OLs who contributed towards the writing of “Glimpses of a Glorious Past: An Informal History of The Lawrence School, Lovedale” were pleased to feature in a video made for the occasion. This describes the genesis of the writing of this book. You can see the OL Assembly-7 of November 14, 2020 in the OLA’s YouTube Channel.

For those who may not know about the book, I had spent the better part of 2015 to 2017 editing this book which covers the history of The Lawrence School, Lovedale from 1858 to 2008. The 150 years are divided into 3 books which reside in the website of the Old Lawrencians Association.

Should you be interested, you will find the links to access these books in my blog post of August 21, 2020.

The future editions of the OL Assembly, which are held on the second Saturday of every month, will have more about “Glimpses” in them.

I hope you will watch future editions of the OL Assembly on the OLA You Tube channel.

Remembering Mr Gupta!

A subject that I dreaded in School was Hindi. Perhaps it was more my fault than that of my teachers. To start with I could not understand , for example, why a chair was of the feminine gender and cloth was of the masculine gender. It was not surprising that I struggled all through School!

Mr Ganesh Prasad Gupta, known far and wide as “Gupu” was one of our Hindi teachers at The Lawrence School, Lovedale. He could pack a punch and I write with considerable personal experience in this matter. This was, of course, long before the days when corporal punishment was frowned upon. Masters could- and frequently did- slap us to put some sense in us. Whether they succeeded or not is highly debatable!

For reasons best known to himself, Gupu used the phrase, ” steady slap” as against the more common, “tight slap.” He once asked us to write an essay on ” Urban vs Rural” expecting us to write about the differences in outlook, facilities, economies etc. He was a sticker for exactitude. If he expected 1000 words, by God that’s exactly what he accepted. 999 was not good enough. You had to pass the magical 1000 mark.

I was on 950 words or so and the clock was ticking. We had to hand in our papers soon. To cross the much wanted finish line, from out of the blue, I made the Town Guy say, ( in rudimentary Hindi, of course! ) : ” Hey, look at that guy! ” To which the Village Guy asked, ” Where? Which guy? ” Town guy, ” There, there! ” Village Guy, ” Just look at him, ha ha!! ” Town Guy: ” Yes, look, look, ha, ha ha,” There was more along these lines and the essay finished well past 1000 words.

Over 55 years have gone by but I still remember the walloping I got from Mr Gupta, much to the amusement of my classmates. They howled with laughter when he read out the last few paragraphs to highlight how an essay should NOT be written.

Mr Gupta perhaps prided himself on being a stickler for grammar as he would ( for reasons best known to himself) start with the future tense. ” Bewakoof ladka! You need a steady slap!” This was fair warning for fellows like me as to what was coming in the very near future. He shifted then, more hurriedly, to the present tense, ” I will give you a steady slap now.” That was the signal for me to take a deep breath and brace body and soul for what was imminent. Whack! There came the steady slap! Your head reeled and you could actually count the stars. Then seemingly in the distance you could hear Mr Gupta, as correct as always, summarize recent events with his customary, ” I gave you a steady slap!!!” As if you couldn’t make that out!!!

Sadly, Mr Gupta is no more. Wherever he is, if he could, I am sure he would have a chuckle on reading how his ” steady slap” – if not the Hindi he taught- is remembered even after five and a half decades.

“Looking At Life” My Days At School

Speaking of my school days, you will find a number of posts of my life as a school boy in my old blog, “Looking At Life”. I don’t use that much anymore, having consolidated all my writing and blogging work in this website/blog.

A few recent events flooded my mind with many memories of my days at School.  For us ” School” meant The Lawrence School, Lovedale, where I studied from 1959 to 1967.

The first was the recent passing away of Mr N S Selvapackiam. The second was the return to Facebook of Mr V M Mohanraj. The third was, in these days of Covid19 and Lockdown, the creation of an on-line Virtual School Assembly by some enthusiastic Old Lawrencians like Kartik Raghava Murty and Gul PanagContinue reading ““Looking At Life” My Days At School”