Jul 31, 2008
Mangalore: Every year when July 31 arrives, I am filled with nostalgia. My younger days studying in the Jesuit Institutions keep flooding my mind. With no regular classes, with a special festive mass to attend, with eatables to savour at the end, it was a joy for us as students to share our glee with the Jesuits as they celebrated with fervour the feast of their founder St Ignatius Loyola. Ignatius' feast day is observed by the Universal Church and the Jesuits on the last day of July every year, the day he died.
In the legacy of St Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556), the Society of Jesus is the largest religious order of the Catholic Church, serving in more than 112 nations, with over 20,000 priests, brothers and men in training worldwide. Observing vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, they make themselves available to serve God's people wherever they are needed most, all "for the greater glory of God" especially in the field of education running over 1600 Institutions spread across the globe.
My academic journey with the Jesuits
It was the last week of March 1976 … the end of our academic year at Mary Immaculate Girls’ High School, Wilson Garden, Bangalore run by the nuns of the Apostolic Carmel. We, boys, students of IV Std. were being bade farewell with our Headmistress Sr Stanislaus and class teacher Sr Vijaya Maria wishing us the very best. It was goodbye to the jungle green shorts and tie, dark cream shirt and the jade green ‘class-leader’s’ badge that I had proudly adorned for three years. Enter the V Std. at St Joseph’s Indian Middle School, Grant Road, Bangalore … and from here, my academic journey with the Jesuits began. Thence, except for a year in between, when we moved to Mangalore on dad’s job transfer, where I was with the Sisters of Charity, my association with the Jesuits continued uninterrupted until I graduated in 1987. The result at the finish of the long but steady race was my ‘academic resume’ declaring a victory for the Jesuits. They had won … out of the 18 years of my formal education, they had me for 10 years in total - 2 years at St. Joseph’s Middle School, Bangalore and 8 years at St Aloysius High School and College, Mangalore.
The ten years I had spent with the Jesuits is indeed a memory and there is plenty that I can recollect of each Jesuit with whom I was associated – of which a few glimpses I would like to share:
Fr Norbert D’Souza was my headmaster when I joined the St Joseph’s Indian Middle School. A jovial and humble priest, he was liked by one and all. Unfortunately, he passed away that very year from a massive heart attack in sleep. His body was kept for ‘viewing’ the following day. He looked calm and composed even in his death. I recall many of the teachers openly crying inconsolably. His words of encouragement when we were taking our entrance exam for admission to the School in April 1976 still ring in my ears. Five minutes into the test, he entered our class, greeted us and said - “Don’t be nervous … take a deep breath. Do well. Good luck.”
Fr Denis Coelho was the principal of the high school when I joined the Middle School and Fr Sunith Prabhu, his deputy. We, a group of eight, mischievous like the boys of our age, would take pleasure in doing some silly but adventurous things. Everyday after school, we had our agenda before heading home in the same direction, in those red double ducker buses of the Bangalore Transport Service (BTS). Tuesdays were normally marked as ‘Double T’ which read as Tamarind Tuesdays. We used to go to the nearby Cubbon Park (sometimes Lal Bagh), climb one of those tamarind trees, pluck the tamarinds, peel the brown covering off and have them fresh. Only five of us made it to the Cubbon Park that Tuesday. The four friends of mine were high-up being very skillful in climbing trees and its branches. I was the worst among the lot standing a foot or two from the ground on its trunk and busy giving directions to the ones who were above. We used to have lots of tamarinds until our teeth turned sour and sensitive to even the breeze, the remaining thoughtfully packed for our siblings at home. Our tamarind adventure did not go on for too long for on one such black Tuesday, we were caught. Caught, not by a ranger, watchman or a policeman, but by our high school principal (by now) Fr Sunith Prabhu.
That late afternoon, he happened to be passing that way on his scooter (to our bad luck) and seeing five small boys in school uniforms and that too on the tamarind tree, had no difficulty in ordering us down, jotting down all our names before leaving. Knowing him to be a strict disciplinarian, we knew the worse was in store for us the next day. The following morning in the combined middle and high school assembly that we had sometimes, this adventure of ours was mentioned and the disrepute it brought to the school … our names were called and we were punished by having to kneel down with our hands up on the facade for half an hour. My ordeal extended for fifteen minutes more as Father said I had dual status, that of a rank holder and the class monitor. What a shame! The black Tuesday indeed eventually turned out to be a good Tuesday for we did not venture to try that ever again … Tamarind Tuesdays had gone into the annals of history. No wonder, all my four classmates grew up to be ‘Branch Managers’ in life, a tribute to their skills of climbing branches when they were young. I am writing this incident because in due course, I came to know Fr Sunith from close quarters and he and his extended family including his late mom have had been good friends for years.
After Fr Norbert D’Souza left us to his eternal abode, as far as I can remember, we did not have a Jesuit headmaster for quite a while and a senior teacher was the stop-gap arrangement. After sometime, Fr A J Anbarason arrived and thundered as he took charge. He was very strict - would walk up the corridors of the Middle School and straightaway pull up the teachers who couldn’t control their classes. A tall and a serious looking priest, the students were fearful of him. The soft fluttering noise in the air of even his cassock was enough for us to know that the headmaster was somewhere around and go into the most disciplined of acts.
In mid-1978, I attended my School one last time to collect my Transfer Certificate (TC) and to say good bye to my friends for we were relocating to Mangalore on dad’s transfer, a state government employee. As I entered the Middle School headmaster’s office nervously to bid farewell to Fr Anbarason, instead, I was surprised to find a different figure. Fr A S Rodrigues was in the hot seat with his big name plate of golden letters on the desk. I introduced myself to him and let him know why I had come and he in turn wished me the very best of luck in ‘Konkani’ exclaiming, Mangalore … good place!
Over to Mangalore …,
After a year in St Gerosa School, Jeppu run by the Sisters belonging to the Missionaries of Charity, my second innings with the Jesuits began in St Aloysius High School.
Fr Lawrence Pinto was my headmaster for all the three years of High School. He taught us English in the X Std. By his explanatory way of teaching, he made the class interesting. He never appreciated anyone who allowed his hair to grow over his ears. One could see his fondness for nature in the special care he took in maintaining the school grounds. Fr Austin D’Souza was our class teacher in Std. VIII and taught us Social Studies. The late Fr Victor D’Souza taught us Science for all the three years in high school. He used to add a bit of his own spice into his teachings and make his classes exciting.
Fr Lawrence D’Souza taught us Social Studies for the Std. IX and X in St Aloysius High School. He had a unique way of commencing the class with ‘current events’ and extensively using charts while teaching. As an acting headmaster, when Fr Lawrence Pinto was away, he did exceptionally well. The Annual Independence Day Quiz and the Inter-School General Knowledge Test were his brainchild. He was the founder of the UNESCO Club and under his guidance, as members, we conducted a Symposium on Modern Industries in August 1981. In the seminar pertaining to different countries of the world, I was given Poland of which I had to do an extensive research. Thanks to Fr Lawrence, ask me anything about Poland, I can blurt it out right away!
Fr Ronnie Prabhu was the Rector during few of my high school and few of my college years. Not many of you would have known that he had a melodious voice to evenly match his smile. He conducted a couple of workshops for us in the high school and taught us catechism in college. Even to this day, I remember the many bhajans he taught us. One of the Hindi ones went like this: “Hey Prabhu … bolu ab tu, Sun raha hey das tera; Sun raha hey das tera … Mei akinchanu toohey dhata.” Both my daughters would soon snore to glory when I used to pat them to sleep singing these bhajans in a base voice. Having grown since then, my bhajans gradually fell flat as the girls began substituting with their own bhajans of rock-n-roll. Fr Aveline D’Souza was appointed as the Rector of St Aloysius College Institutions after Fr Ronnie Prabhu left. He taught us Commercial Law in our final year of B.Com.
Fr Dr Leo D’Souza was my Principal for the entire span of my college life. A research scholar and a man of many talents … the first time I really saw him close was when he came with his camera/stand to take our class photo of the outgoing X standard batch in 1980. Everyday, he used to do his walks in the College passage to see whether all the classes were running smooth. When the noisy class would go suddenly silent, it was due to the ‘Princi Factor’ – who would be observing over our shoulders from the class window sill without our knowledge. Many a times he would enter the class in a flash before our minds could comprehend and pull someone up for being too distracted. Stepping into the late Fr L F Rasquina’s shoes, he took many firm decisions in my days. It was during his tenure as Principal, the first batch of females was admitted to the all-male-College until then.
Fr Lawrence Castelino was my Vice-principal for the entire five years in College. Whenever a student was absent, the College rules made it mandatory to get our leave note signed by the Vice-principal. One could see a long queue in the mornings in front of his office, before the first bell could go off. We had to give a reason for our absence before Fr Castelino could place his unique signature in our College Calendar as approval. The common reasons included flu/fever, head ache/stomach ache and sometimes vomiting/diarrhea. The habitual ones invented modifications when their reasons ran out … and there were many stupid ones too! Anyway, whatever the reasons, it would seldom work with our sharp Vice-principal as he would read our body language, grill us further to ascertain the fact, before approving our absence.
Fr Denzil Lobo headed the All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF) in College. TheoOffice was the basement of the Centenary building. AICUF had organized a ‘poster exhibition’ for the general public in the ‘Catholic Club’ in the heart of the city with a theme that was well received. Being a member, I made it in the group to Madras (Chennai) to another Jesuit College Loyola for the World Youth Day where thousands of young men and women had congregated from all over the world. Whenever I was in town, I made it a point to visit Fr Denzil who used to take me around the IT campus and here I can use the chemistry term ‘catalyst’ for it looked he had not changed in any way (including his appearance), but the IT campus that evolved and revolved around him would look different - upgraded each time.
I had first seen Fr Prashanth Madtha at the Father’s residence in the St Joseph’s Indian High School campus, Bangalore as a very young priest. He had his room on the first floor. Later I learnt from him, it was indeed he - pursuing his MA. Fr Madtha, was a Reader in the Languages Department in my days at St Aloysius. He was in-charge of the ‘College Annual’ and so I had the opportunity to work with him at the end of the year.
Fr. Ambrose Pinto was our assistant headmaster followed by Fr J B Mendonca in the high school. Being in the School, one could not miss the sight of the late Fr L F Rasquina setting off to the College and the late Rector Fr Mathew Lewis in toe with the Old Boys’ Association secretary Santosh Kumar Kadri walking those many miles for their ‘centenary mission’ from the Fathers’ Residence.
Being in St Aloysius College weren’t without its share of spice. For the eight years I had been there, here I narrate eight of my experiences with a tinge of being a Josephite in between.
In my final year at St Aloysius, I was appointed as the Editor-in-Chief of the College Wall Magazine ‘Co-Life.’ I requested Andrew L. D’Cunha, a noted Konkani writer/poet, to manage the Kannada Section, so we could make a great team. Together with our teams of dedicated correspondents/artists, we brought the best out of the College. We were provided with everything we had asked for and couldn’t have bargained for more. All the essentials were in the ‘Co-Life Den’ -- a small room under the stairs on the left hand corner of the College, a ‘Co-Life Box’ for students’ for dropping questions/grievances in a prominent position near the main stairs and three huge boards in a prime spot that used to see a new ‘Issue’ every ten days. Though there was a limit for the funds for each College Association, whatever bills I presented to the College office over the limit in running and maintaining the Wall Magazine was promptly sanctioned and refunded. The typewriter was serviced within seven days of my request. Since we used to have our regular briefings in our Den, I requested Fr Leo D’Souza, our principal to provide us with some extra chairs. Within a fortnight, a few were painted and were ready … In fact, Fr Leo personally came to our Den to give me this message that we could go to the staff room opposite his office and take five of them. Over to the Law College, where I was unanimously named to a similar position, I got absolutely nothing … not even white sheets!!
Somewhere, in between my tenure as an Editor, I bumped into the then Deputy Commissioner (DC) of the District, in one of the social gatherings in the city. He had made time for an interview with our reporter amidst his hectic schedule as a priority and I thanked him for it. In the short informal chat we had, he had this to say – Quote: “Whenever I need something - be it a Hindi to English translator for a visiting prominent federal politician, be it materials pertaining to the history of the city, be it anything for that matter - my headaches are lessened considerably. I lift the receiver and dial St Aloysius. They never say ‘no’ and with the depth of talent and the richness of resources they possess, they come back to me sooner than I would expect with a positive and concrete remedy to my full satisfaction. It’s amazing.” End Quote.
The 1986 part of the event of Aloysian Satellite (ALSAT’86) was launched on November 22, 1986. We had a perfect countdown for the takeoff as the satellite blasted, roaring into space. We, the ALSAT’86 Managing Committee members had done all the groundwork that would pull off a glorious event of seven days, working – days-in-and-days-out. As a start off, we shot off individual letters to the principals/headmasters to over 100 colleges that were affiliated to the Mangalore University, signed personally by our principal. Though Fr Leo did not look amused with our drafting skills, nevertheless he let them go. This triggered a massive response as principals/headmasters of all the colleges addressed, took enormous personal interest. From November 22-30, the participants from other colleges filled our Campus and lo behold! It was a sight to see!! For many, I reckon it was a glorious moment, just physically being present on the Aloysian Campus. From - Just a Minute (JAM) session …to Dumb Charades …to Collage… to Essay Writing, it was all electrifying!! The Debating session in the Auditorium went down to the wire as the sun set in the nearby Arabian Sea, but one of our judges Manohar Prasad of Udayavani was still holding on to his smile.
‘Election 1986’ - It was mutually decided by the management and the contesting candidates that from the current academic year the ‘traditional victory procession’ through the streets of Mangalore would be discontinued for it was bringing a bad name to the College because of a few who misbehaved on the way. The elections brought the victorious … the understanding was forgotten … and a ‘Victory Procession’ was indeed taken out. The action from the management was swift. Both the president and the Vice-president elect, influential on their own, were suspended with immediate effect. This sent ripples across the Colleges of Mangalore city in particular and the University in general. The suspension was never revoked … leaving the College without a president and a deputy for the entire academic year. I had voted for both and so it was very unfortunate … but between the managements ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ there was not even a space for a pin to go. In the high school, during the SSLC exams, a student was debarred from taking further examinations after he was caught using unfair means after repeated warnings by the invigilator… the fact that he was given admission for the degree course in the College shows the compassionate side of the Jesuits as well.
[Above picture - I am indebted to Fr Lawrence Castelino (extreme right, centre) and Fr Denzil Lobo (extreme right) for blessing my nuptials (wedding) at The Holy Cross Church, Cordel, Kulshekar in January 2000]
The WONDER and AWE
While an active member of the debating society, we criss-crossed numerous Colleges of the undivided district of Dakshina Kannada. Almost in all of the places of debate we visited for participation, the audience was noisy and the judges distracted, even as the debate was in progress. But, the moment St Aloysius College was announced and the two debaters named - for and against the topic in question - pin-drop silence emanated and from then on … we, being identified as the contestants from the Mangalorean Jesuit College, every move of ours looked to be under scrutiny. We were closely watched with attention and of course we lived up to all of their expectations. Behind the podium, the most forceful of points were made, with the tightening of our fists and thumping of our index fingers on occasions, for emphasis. Swaying and weighing our voices per the importance of each sentence conveyed as the debate raged on, we tried to make a mark and impress the judges. Of course, it bore fruit as we took away the shield/prizes/certificates most of the time – be it elocution, debating or extempore.
Once I noticed an elderly man dressed in all white – a long mundu, white shirt with a napkin on his shoulder, resting a big black umbrella on the ground with his right hand, who looked to be standing almost motionless glaring at the College building on the left side main entry to the College steps near the Central Bank extension counter. By the time I had finished another hour of class, he was still there in almost the identical position. I had to go to the Bank to deposit a cheque anyway and on my way back thinking that he might be in some distress looking out for someone, approached him and offered help. This is St Aloysius College, he seemed to mutter within himself. As I spoke in Tulu, he opened up saying that he had come from many a mile to see this master edifice. “One of my cousins from mom’s side studied here long ago. But I did not think it will be anything like this. What a pity! Not even a board!” I do not know how long he stood gazing there…!
Meet any Josephite or an Aloysian who has passed through the porticos of the Evening College. Look at their eyes of gratitude as they speak and get a first-hand-account of the role the Jesuit Colleges have played in their lives. These guys and gals, the less fortunate ones, had to support themselves and their families for a living, though they were in no way inferior to any of us in brilliance and talents. But, at least they were not denied quality education … had the best of lecturers who made themselves available in the evenings … of special mention I would like to name Prof B S Raman, Prof Hebbar and Prof H R Shetty in my days. To earn and to learn required a lot of determination and conviction. They did it and today, you would be surprised to know that many of them are doing very well in their lives, at least in the Middle East and are ever thankful to their Alma Mater without which they would have perhaps been still struggling.
In my own time Melvin Pinto made it to the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad in his first shot at the entrance examination; Jairaj Walder bagged the first rank in CA (Chartered Accountancy) intermediate exam at the national-level, keeping the second rank holder at an arms length; Anand Adiga used to answer any question under the sun just like the click of a mouse; my own siblings Newton and Iris made it high in life, the former completing his doctorate in a record time in the United States and the latter making it big in a leading IT Firm in Canada. Needless to say, the few I mentioned were toppers with distinctions and made it only by merit and scholarship by their sheer hard work and determination and took off from where they left - with the solid foundation they had in the Jesuit Institution. This is just a part of it.
I had the privilege of seeing, participating and experiencing the Aloysian Centenary in 1980. Seven years later, I had the honour of penning the “One Hundred and Seventh year” in the opening pages of the Aloysian College Annual - ‘The Aloysian’ in its historical year of co-education, as its Student Editor. More than two decades from then, I am writing this piece from a Continent Down Under.
During my time, St Aloysius was a gigantic river effortlessly flowing into the sea and now it’s a sea all by itself with early signs of forming into a mighty ocean trickling in. Nineteen Institutions on the main Campus … nearly ten-thousand students … over five-hundred staff … innumerable choices of courses to pursue … opening of new campuses … we, the alumni can admire its growth to match with the time only from afar and wish the very best to our Alma Mater.
On this special day, the feast of the Jesuits, I salute them for their commitment for their untiring selfless work. A special remembrance of those who have had completed their mission on earth and left to their heavenly abode. For all the sacrifices of the Jesuits, today we are a cut above the rest, more than able to compete with our peers in this vast planet. The world of education would be poorer without them.
In our College days: We, men and women:
Together we fell and together we rose It was not in mere studies we shone
Not knowing what the future held in store For our personalities blossomed too…
Once out into the world we knew its worth The two combined what mattered most
Of Jesuit education, for it took us forth! To triumph in the never ending queue!
A Jesuit educational Institution is the perfect envy to all those around in its vicinity and beyond … and for those who had the fortune of being a part of it, it’s the pride that swells within!
Proud to be a Josephite and an Aloysian!
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