Unintended consequences

]I was due to meet my family at Miami airport earlier this evening; we had these wondrous plans that involved me driving from Sundance to Salt Lake City, flying from there to Denver and on to Miami, reaching there just in time to collect my wife and children as they flew in from London.Â

I made sure there were no mice involved, but that didn’t stop the ganging of my plans agley (and keeping the aftness average high). And so it was that I found myself with a few hours to kill. Once I’d finished checking my mac mail, my facebook, my twitter; once I’d finished reading my feeds and checked the blog comment/spam queue; once I’d freshened up from the day’s travel….. I went fossil surfing.

Fossil surfing is the term I use to describe the time I spend looking for things on the web that are themselves older than the web. Like the time I found a description of mealtimes at my grandfather’s house in the mid 1940s a few weeks ago.

This time around I found another gem:



Some of my key childhood influences

The photograph above is of a number of Jesuit priests that formed the St Xavier’s community in the 1960s and 1970s. I spent fifteen years with them while at school and college, years I remember with intense pleasure.

The debt is to many, but for me there was a giant amongst them: Father Camille Bouche (fifth from left, second row from the front). I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.Â

Looking back more than three decades later, catalysed by the photograph, I realised just how much the whole community affected me:

Fr Goreux, who was rumoured to be a very early pupil of Einstein’s, and who kindled some of my early interest in mathematics; Fr Bonhome, who interviewed me in 1965; Fr Cordeiro, who was headmaster for a while; Mr Joris, who made sure the B.Com morning classes worked like clockwork (and who belied his size and age when he came after school students creating a ruckus near his classes at 7am); Fr Desbrulais, who epitomised kindness and fatherly advice to all and sundry; Fr Verstraeten, who could be seen reading at all hours, part priest, part academic; Fr Leeming, who towered over us when we needed towering over; and Fr Huart, who shepherded me through college; Fr Vetticad, whom I shall say nothing about other than to record that he was headmaster for a time; and Fr Mairlot, of course, with his wry humour.

Sadly, the photo does not have Fr Sassel, who was a key influence on me between 1966 and 1969.




Fr Bouche (first from left, above) was my Prefect of Discipline from 1970 to 1975, critical years that fashioned the person who later became me; I was 12 when I met him and 18 when I left his care. Besides the discipling role, he also took our “moral science” classes in senior school, classes that influenced me greatly. I can remember them with surprising clarity even today.

Here’s an example of Fr Bouche’s amazing humanity and wisdom. In 1971, when I was in Patrick Vianna’s class, one of my classmates brought in a hundred rupee note to pay his school fees. Now this was a class of 12 and 13 year olds, most of us had rarely seen a 100 rupee note much less touched one. So the note became a major object of attention, passed on from hand to hand, scrutinised from every angle, metamorphosed into airplane and tennis ball, you get my drift.

Sometime in the afternoon, it all went horribly wrong. The note went missing. The boy who’d brought it in was obviously distraught (I remember very clearly who he was, but his name is not germane to the story. I last met him in Calcutta less than a decade ago, he’s still there!).

I think the teacher at the time was our class teacher, Mr Vianna. He did the only thing he could; he sealed the classroom (7A on the ground floor) with all of us in it, and called for Fr Bouche.

When he came in, you could see the sadness in his eyes. He looked at all of us, and then proceeded to give us some very simple instructions. Each of us was to walk to the window nearest the front of the class (which looked on to what we called the Hostel field in those days); when reaching the window, each of us was to put his hand in his pocket, come out with a clenched fist, extend that fist out the window, drop the fist below the line of visibility, and bring the fist back unclenched.

We did it, one by one.Â

When we had finished, he poked his head through the window, and the 100 rupee note was on the grass outside.

Years later I came to know who took that money; the boy confessed to me shortly after we finished our Senior Cambridge.

His name is irrelevant. What is relevant is the soft-touch discipline, the humaneness and humanity of Camille Bouche.

My thanks to John De Ridder for providing me with the excuse to be nostalgic about my school. I’ve linked to his site, that’s where I found these amazing photographs.



64 thoughts on “Unintended consequences”

  1. Cedric Newbond
    I was in St Xaviers college from primary school till class 7 which would have been 1967. Went on to Don Bosco (park Circus) and left Calcutta late 1969 to live in Melbourne Australia. Would love to have contact with anyone who went to school with me. They were the best days. [email protected]

  2. Hi JP ( and all others)
    Can’t help but write to thank you for bringing back all sorts of fond memories! I only went to big school–1973 class 6A to 1977 class 10E (Delhi board). Stumbled upon your blog. What fun! Would be good to hear from you and others.
    Pankaj Agarwal

  3. very interesting, been a while for sure but so many of these names are so familiar and Christopher Hupping and Vaz and Claudius and … thanks for putting up this page

  4. OMG. Just came across this site and (like the Carpenters?!) seems like yesterday. Still remember Chris Hupping singing ‘proud mary’ I think it was, in the auditorium. Faculty names above familiar. Noticed ‘Cyrus Vesuvala’ below. Any relation to Xerxes Vesuvala?
    More after digesting all of this.

    Shobhit Shukla 1969 to 1973 (last ISC batch before +2 started. Remember being in 7c 1969, 8d 1970

  5. Had left a comment yesterday, but since it seems to have got lost in cyberspace – thanks JP for this site and posts, both on SXC and Calcutta of yore. See names from a past long gone. Was in Xaviers 1969 – 1973. Last batch of 11 before the plus2 started. Remember being in 7c and 8d. Mr Vianna, RIP, in class 8, Mr Leslie Davey BA BT MIET ‘teaching’ out of Backhouse and Holdsworth, Mr Subramanium expounding at great length on the wonder, the sheer wonder boys, that Linz and Donowitz both came from villages of the same names, throwing a frog smuggled from previous bio dissection class at the table in the next class of the scholarly Mr Dasgupta expounding on light waves. I remember Chris Hupping belting out Proud Mary in the auditorium. Father Remedios speaking in bery ‘gentle’ terms of what young growing boys should do and not do. Many others, but most of all, Father Bouche. Among the stories re him, remember him chiding (?) me sorrowfully and explaining why I should not have had the swastikas that I had inked on my satchel- going on to relate his story. Did get a caning once at least if I remember, but also remember getting a ‘merit card’ for, of all the subjects, moral science in 7 or 8. Probably my only scholastic acheivement. Remember going to the modi shop on the road behind the hostel gate and the park a bit further for the smokes! Thanks for triggering these memories and also the mention of my long standing companion of then Mr William Brown. God bless RC for giving the world WB
    Shobhit Shukla

  6. Spell bery in above is very.
    Spent 1975 to probably 79 on the other side bunking, with Father Joris, bless him for his enthusiasm, indefatigable energy, in hot pursuit.
    The ‘dimer devil’ – boiled egg encased in a humongous potato chop deep fried – in the canteen was, early morning, to die for and just what the doctor did not order
    Shobhit Shukla

  7. I would be immensely grateful if anyone can help me trace Mr. Godrej Engineer, who was my class-teacher in JCB, stage director (‘The importance of Being Earnest’) in PSCB, and extempore speech coach in those years and in SCB too. I last heard he was in Pune, but that was years back. Maybe Parsee alumni could help locate him through religious channels? He was such a sweet man, and a perfect gentleman of a teacher!

  8. Shobit,
    Yes DEFINITELY remember Chris Hupping doing Proud Mary… in a shiny RED satin shirt if I recall correctly. He was a STAR! And Lester Hartnett at about the same time doing quieter folk songs with guitar in tow.

    I am Xerxes’ younger brother…. I passed out Class 11…. SCA…. ( ISC group) in 1974 .

    I think WE were the last batch before the 10+2 started.

    Good to see so many folk here with memories of those good old days at SXC.

  9. Cyrus, I was in ISC ’75 so there was definitely one more batch. It is possible that we had two batches leave then, the traditional 11 as well as the 10+2. But for sure there was a batch of non 10+2 after yours.

  10. Cyrus and all other who posted on this blog – Thank you for the flood of fond memories. Loved the photo you posted.

    ~ Pradip Tandon

  11. For some reason (or other), Peter Jennings and Bryan Pinto stick out in my mind. Last I heard, Peter had moved to Australia, and Bryan, overseas, as well. Does any body have their pictures (then and now)? Pls send to my email address, [email protected]. Thx.!

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