Bangalore: Aravind Adiga, Leo Fernandes, and Growing Up in St Aloysius

October 20, 2008

Bangalore, Oct 18: Early morning on Wednesday October 15, I was rudely jolted out of a well-earned slumber, by an SMS. I silently cursed, imagining it to be yet another telemarketing message, on brokerage houses making comical market predictions and buy recommendations. But surprise!! Emblazoned in bold capital font were the words ‘Aravind Adiga won the Booker’. What? Adiga won the Booker? It was the perfect wake-up call to a fine day of reminisces.

Aravind and I made our acquaintance at the tender age of seven (3rd standard). He had just taken a transfer from Canara School and boy, did he take us by storm! Shaken out of our complacence, we had to double our efforts in order to compete with him. We maintained a healthy competitive spirit, both within and outside the classroom—him, Ajith, and me. I remember the inter-school competitions together—fights, debates, cricket (he had a strange bowling and throwing action), laughter, and schoolboy jealousy. But beat him in class tests, I did—only twice—I still cherish the elation.

Aravind was made of strong stuff; an introvert in many ways, he always wanted to be perfect—even as a young boy. I remember him being emotionally lost and empty when he lost his mother to cancer, a few months before the board exams. But would he wallow in self-sympathy? Not him. He went on determinedly to secure the first rank in the state board exam. What a tribute to the woman who inspired him, he told me once.

File Photo of Threesome with Fernandes Sir

Back then in the late 80s, we had an unobstructed view of the Arabian Sea from the path leading to St Aloysius High School. The warm, salty, gusty, breeze was occasionally marred by the putrid smell of hydrogen sulphide from the PUC chemistry lab. Once done with class, we would invariably be found tucking into tangy bhel-puri at ‘Manguli and Laura’ next to the Light House Hill mosque.

St Aloysius College had just turned co-ed, and watching the girls stroll from our vantage point on a granite bench near the cycle stand, was certainly the highlight of the day! Back home, on Wednesdays it was watching Prannoy Roy on ‘World This Week’. A weekend out with family was a trip to Kadri Hills or the beach. Life was devoid of cable TV and mobile phones. A lot of water has flown under the Nethravati bridge since then.

Our batch was blessed with inspirational teachers. Getting a rank was not top priority then, though rote memory helped. Fr John Mendonca, now retired, was the school headmaster, who taught us mathematics. His office was always open to all and to top it, he never compared or belittled students before one another. Leo Fernandes, a methodical and principled man, taught us science. Ruby Lobo, who took us into a reverie of splendorous battles, fought on the banks of rivers, and the shaping of post-colonial and post-world war Europe, taught Social Studies. Joseph D’Souza, always punctilious and articulate, taught English. He would inculcate a habit of reading newspapers by asking a student to gist three important news items for each day. Malathi Bhat tried her very best to make Sanskrit an easy, scoring, subject.

With such flashbacks, I was browsing the net and I hit upon a related article on the Booker award by Melka Miyar on Daijiworld. A cursory glance and time stopped still. I saw a picture taken years ago in Mangalore in 1990. The photo had Fernandes sir, Aravind Adiga, Ajith Mascarenhas and me. I was truly amazed! A colleague of mine brought a copy of the Deccan Herald and Deccan Chronicle in Bangalore and showed a paragraph of what Fernandes sir had to say, ‘I took Adiga and two others of the same class, Sunil Furtado, and Ajith Mascarenhas, to a studio to take a photograph of theirs, because I had never come across such students in my entire career. I considered the three boys a treasure; I took a photograph of theirs in the year 1990’.

I emailed Ajith immediately and he replied that Aravind deserved the award and that we looked like we were caught in a time warp with strange expressions and clothes to go with it!  Memories came flooding in. The three of us had just finished our board exams and Aravind any myself had secured ranks. Unfortunately, Ajith’s papers (as rightly commented on the Daijiworld message board) were ‘lost’ by the exam board, only to be ‘found’ at a later date with a diluted result (though he was equally capable of securing a rank).

Arvind Adiga, Ajit Mascarenhas and Dr Sunil Furtado

Fernandes sir met us in between classes at St Aloysius College and requested a group photo with us. We were flattered to say the least! So we marched to his quarters in Kodialbail after physics class. This was prior to advent of digital cameras, so, he took us to a photo studio at PVS Building, Kodialbail. A dwarfed table with a lonely sheet was arranged and the cameraman told us to keep still, hands-on-thighs, and the photo was captured for posterity.

Fernandes sir then took us for lunch at Hotel Ayodhya in Kodialbail and thanked us for making time for the session and wished us all the best. The photo had Aravind Adiga to the extreme right, Fernandes sir to my left and Ajith Mascarenhas to Aravind’s right.

Aravind migrated to Australia two months later. I met him once at Woodlands over coffee in 1993 when he had come down for a week.

He sounded different, his speech had calmed down and words sounded voluminous. The accent had undoubtedly changed, and he seemed to be in transition. Of course the rest is now history. Ajith studied computers at KREC, Suratkal, and now holds a doctorate in computer science and artificial neural circuits and works as researcher in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, San Francisco and I am a neurosurgeon in Bangalore. The three of us captured in time and now in three different genres, reliving the promise an inspired teacher saw in us.
I used to see Fernandes sir at Milagres Church at Saturday evening mass occasionally and we used to exchange pleasantries. I visited the school last Christmas, but all the familiar faces had changed. Fernandes sir had retired. ‘The three of you must have really left an impression on your teacher, for him to have taken a photo. Besides, he has mentioned you and the other boy by name, even during Aravind’s moment of glory. You don’t get inspirational teachers like that anymore. He still does not differentiate between the three. He is like a parent. Congratulations to you,’ said Dr A S Hegde, my department head and director at Satya Sai Super-specialty Hospital in Bangalore.

‘Sure’, I said, ‘He was an inspiration for us’. I hung my head in shame because I’m sure that we forgot about the photograph after it was taken. ‘The three of you and the teacher must have a re-union like in the movie ‘Rock On’, said other colleagues.

I switched on the TV to find Aravind holding the Booker prize; talking about his inspirational character Balram Halwai whom he met at a wayside tea stall. ‘Go away, don’t write about me, you’ll be gone to the city and soon I’ll be forgotten’, he had said to Aravind. My heart skipped a beat.  I hazard a guess that I and a lot of others have forgotten a hundred Balrams in our lives. How much they would have cherished our memories, while we took their guidance and support for granted?

Our ‘busy’ lives have locked their memories in a storeroom far away, only to be jolted by sharp shocks like ‘I considered the three boys a treasure; I took a photograph of theirs in the year 1990’.

Dear sir, teachers, and St Aloysius School and College, and pure serendipity; I thank you.
Congratulations Aravind. Thanks to you, Daijiworld, for re-kindling old memories.

Also Read:

by Dr Sunil Furtado
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Comment on this article

  • Nelson D'Souza, Mangalore/ New Delhi

    Mon, Oct 27 2008

    Reading this article made me go back in time and nostalgic about the various events in school. Congratulations to Arvind Adiga on winning the Booker...I really felt proud to be an Aloysian and I am sure many more Aloysians will make us all feel proud in the years ahead.....Cheers

  • Jacqueline Rebello, Mangalore/Mumbai

    Sun, Oct 26 2008

    Sunil, I had always known you to be a voracious reader and a brilliant student.Now,through your article, you have proved that you are very good at wielding both, the pen and the scalpel. Congratulations!

  • Dominic, Mangalore

    Sat, Oct 25 2008

    "Genius does what it must,Talent does what it can"......yes you have done that by winning "Booker" award not just that but you have made aloysian to be proud in the whole world that shoud be aloysian motto('lucet et ardet'- it shines & it burns). Thanks a lot you...keep up this glory.

  • Pradeep Rao, mangalore/oman

    Fri, Oct 24 2008

    this article has made me stop and recollect my days at st aloysius. I had forgotten all about it now that i m away from India. But how simple life was then, for us as students. It was carefree. I was senior to the three of them, but could hear thier names in school assemblies. Wish we could go back to that era!! Thanks again.

  • Mahesh Prabhu, Bajpe/Kuwait

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    Dear Dr. Sunil Furtado, When I joined St. Aloysius College for 1st PUC, you were in the 2nd year. Coming from Bajpe, my first question to my new friends from St. Aloysius High School was ... where are Aravind Adiga and Sunil Furtado. Of course, I could see you and remebered your face that I saw in the newspapers a year ago. But, I was told that Aravind was in Australia. State 1st rank in 10th std was no mean achievement! I just felt India's loss was an Aussie gain! Months later I even heard of his mother's demise just before the 10th std exams.

    He was already my role model then! Aravind was somehow lost in history until I heard about him couple of years ago and his role with TIME magazine. A person of his caliber only had to be there and beyond! I saw an artcile by him on speaking about his visit to Mangalore after so many years and explaining the city's facelift since he had left. Thanks to modern technology and media available on this day, Aravind is back amongst us! I could go on and on ... but, let me cut it here with a huge thanks to you Dr. Furtado for your wonderful article.

    The neurosurgeon bettered many a journalists herewith! And ... yeah, I do remember seeing and meeting Ajith Mascarenhas on the corridors. If I'm not mistaken they could communicate in sign language (they included Sushanth Tharappan and one more guy, whose name I don't recollect). Hope I'm not wrong here ... this is something that I saw 16 years ago :-) Cheers and happiness always,

  • Rekha Chatterjee, Mangalore/Delhi/Kolkata

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    I am proud that an Mangalorean has brought Laurel's to his country.Congrats Arvind Adiga on ur Booker's prize.

  • June Carvalho, Bangalore

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    Sunil, it's a beautifully written piece, because it's straight from the heart....provided us some rare and wonderful insights into your school life and made me too think of all the unsung people who touch us in ways that we never realise.... Really proud of you, my dear cousin....

  • Darryl Albuquerque, Hyderabad

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    I remember this batch, they were full of 'brains'. Sunil, thanks for putting your thoughts down and for reminding me of Leo Sir (I still remember him teaching us the Pythagoras theorem), just like Aravind had done so with his earlier article in Time magazine. I had also forgotten all about Ajith. Cheers!

  • Sushil Kumar, New Delhi

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    Congratulations Aravind Adiga and best of luck for your next book

  • Murali, Mangalore

    Wed, Oct 22 2008

    Thanks to Leo sir. Because of this photography, we were able to read such a beautyful article from Dr. Sunil. I was Junior to Arvind and I heard many things about him from my teachers, his memory power by remembering the Registration Numbers of the vehicle that passed by... Congrats to Arvind! This article makes me to miss my Aloysius school.

  • Ramesh, Kundapur/Johannesburg

    Wed, Oct 22 2008

    Nowadays, we see people from second tier towns doing well. In sports, academics, writing, governing, business. It is because of education. Education is the biggest leveler. I used to get scared of confident students from big towns during interviews in big metros in India. They had better sources of knowledge. Now this divide is disappearing.

  • Vivek , mumbai

    Wed, Oct 22 2008

    we should always respect and remember our unsung teachers who have given us good education and success

  • Avinash, Mangalore/ Paris

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    Wow, Dr Sunil. I was junior to you in St Aloysius and I used to hear Aravind, Sunil being called out in the school assembly., for winning prizes in interschool competitions. You have provided good insight into Aravind's profile.You should have mentioned the Paathala and centenary grounds!!It is indeed nostalgic. Good to know that all of you are doing good. Keep writing!!

  • HP Rao, Kadri Mangalore

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    Reading the article i felt i was walking in St Aloysius Campus of 80's

  • Vinod, Mangalore

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    My Younger Brother Venus was in your same class at St. Aloysius and I was studying along with Arvind Adiga's elder brother Anand Adiga class. Wishing all of you the very best.

  • Sushanth, Mangalore/australia

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    Thanks a lot for bringing back old memories. The writing is plain and simple and easy reading.

  • Roy Noronha, Mangalore

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    Sunil, your words brought back a lot of memories and indeed well written. I definitely felt proud to hear about Arvind's triumph. We certainly learnt a lot from our teachers and in some ways remember their words and the patience with which they taught. God Bless all of them ! and best wishes to you guys.

  • Dr Urban D'Souza, Udyavar/Malaysia

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    Congratulations Dear Dr Sunil Furtado. It is a wonderful write up on your treasure of memory of school days. You have cited your true school days relationship and an healthy competition. Your appreciation and true love for your teacher is noteworthy. All three competitors have excelled in your field of profession.

    Indeed it is the pride of south canara to be in the world news on the achievement of Man Booker Prize by our Aravind. I have my old memories of seeing then teenage Aravind at Fr Mullers. I appreciate Dr Sunils simplicity as I too was associated with him at KMC mangalore as his 1st MBBS teacher, teaching Physiology.

    I do appreciate to read about Aravind especially knowing his simple approach to life. We need many more Aravinds, Dr Sunil and Ajith as role models to our younger generation. Dr. Sunil keep it up and convey my regards to your Dad Dr Furtado and brother Dr Avil. God bless

  • Anil, Bangalore / Lagos, Nigeria

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    Sunil......looks like you are back in Bangalore. Thought you were pursuing higher studies / training in USA. Seems you have a proclivity to writing......maybe another Booker winner in the making !!

  • Chetan, Mangalore/Chicago

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    This is a good ode to a friend and batchmate. I felt nostalgic on reading about ST Aloysius school and Mangalroe. I,m also of the same Manglorean era!! Keep it up.

  • Sanjith Naik, Mangalore/Bangalore

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    Thats very well written Sunil. It brought back little memories from our Aloysius days. I had totally forgotten about Ajith losing his papers in the tenth.You three were the real brains of the class, and then there was Prashanth S the other topper.

    Kudos to Aravind and the brilliant White Tiger.I had the opportunity to bump into him for less than a minute when he was visiting Mangalore sometime in 2006. He had written an article on Mangalore in Time magazine soon after his visit. In fact, I had put up a link to the same on my website until very recently. Hope to have a class reunion with Adiga present sometime.

  • R.Pai, Mangalore/USA

    Tue, Oct 21 2008

    Excellent article. Beyond Adiga, Booker and the state level ranks, what this piece highlights is the...essence of guru-shishya culture, bondage, relationship. My salute to "Fernandes sir" and other thousands of genuine, inspiring, honest teachers like him. India owes a lot to you!!

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Title: Bangalore: Aravind Adiga, Leo Fernandes, and Growing Up in St Aloysius

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