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. As far as I can make out I was a decade behind you at SXC. I found both John Ridder’s and your site while googleing (Can you imagine Tommy Vianna’s reaction to that word) Camille Bouche. Thanks both of you for the picture. Don’t know if you know, but it’s the schools 150th year next year. We have a reunion on the 13th of December and we’d love to see you there or at the 150th celebrations from mid January.

  2. Dont forget Fr. Hous who started a love of science fiction which I still have. He was responsible for the St. Xavier’s observatory.

  3. Fellow Xaverians,
    Do you know that we suddenly lost Tommy Vianna last Thursday ( Nov.20); he was only 67 years old! An era has ended for generations of Xaverians! Today (Monday,Nov.24) was his Requiem Mass followed by the funeral.

    He could yeasily have been around for at least a decade more…

  4. Tommy Vianna was an incredible teacher, someone who really lit up our lives as students. We have a lot to thank him for, not just at school and in class, but beyond school as well. On the sports field. As part of the quiz team. Everywhere. Mr Vianna was always there, larger than life. He will be missed. My condolences to his family; his brother, Patrick, was my form teacher in 1971.

  5. So sorry to hear about Mr.tommy Vianna.My condolences to Pat & the fly in Cal.S HOW ARE YOU RANGA……Do you remember me?How is Jayshree & Gyan?

  6. Hope my message of condolence gets yhru to Pat Vianna & fly.Ranga how the hell are you?Saw your blog last time and read devis comment about my Sydney gig.I do an Elvis $ Tom jones show

  7. Hi my fellow Xavierians.
    It was with great sadness that I heard about Mr. Vianna’s passing on yesterday.
    I was one of his students and later on became more closely associated with him ( he insisted I stop calling him “Sir” and to call him by his name – Tommy) through Glen Nelson who was a close friend of my elder brother, Alfred.

    I shall be visiting Cal late December and hope to catch up with those will be there Mid Jan- 09 at the 150th celebs.

  8. Chris, of course I remember you. Your singing, your hockey, your shot put. Do you remember the Larry Taya incident? Jayashree and Gyan are fine, I will pass them your regards.

    James, the student’s initials were RK.

  9. I have wonderful memories of SXC, although i was a subpar student. I especially remember Fr. Bouche (wise and humble), a Mr. Redden (a sour puss) and Tommy Vianna (a terrifying martinet). Vianna insisted that everyone in class write only in a cursive hand so that the pen never lifted the paper until the entire word was written out – a discipline that made us crazy, for we couldn’t see the point. (Now I know: the discipline is the point.) He was a taskmaster, of course. But I once wrote a 15-sentence essay and correctly used the word “befits.” I think it was the only time he ever singled me out for praise. He made sure we wrote even maths equations scrupulously (no unecessary words, letters, numbers) and neatly. I’m afraid my scrupulousness has long gone to the dogs. But I haven’t forgotten – I never will. BTW, I was at SXC from 1972 (class 2) through to class 10, after which I went to St. James School for classes 11 and 12. Please email me if my name rings a bell.. [email protected]

  10. Gautam, the names you choose intrigue me. I think I have written posts about all three of them. BTW I think my year was the first to have Mr Redden, Class 8D 1972; he was our classteacher and our English teacher. I can’t remember him at school before 1972. We called him Lalmurgi in those days. Sorry I can’t remember you, you would still have been in Small School when I left.

  11. Lal Murgi! What a humbug he was. In my 1st term Cl. 8 he gave me shitty marks in English and the next terms fantastic marks – apparently his teaching had improved my English! Pah!
    Mr Vianna on the other hand.. – Julis Caesar was real fun – never had expected that it would be so great to study Julie baby. I remember Mr. Vianna’s acid sneer. I don’t think there is a man standing today, from that day in the class, who ever needed to be corrected again on the right pronunciation of “corps”.
    His Yezdi bike with silencers off – always late in the morning. Fr. Debruslais the kindly soul helped me (He pretty much did my after school detention homework in Maths – imposed courtesy Fr. Wavreil) Fr. Sassel – my dad had dubbed him the Pied Piper of Xavier’s with his tail of small school kids during lunch break. I still very vividly remember him jumping up and down to demonstrate how astronauts walked on the moon. He had just returned from Switzerland and had seen an Apollo mission on TV there. Great Man! He used to look so vexed and troubled as I became a pretty regular visitor to his office for well earned C grades on Monday mornings. In that respect, Fr. Bouche’s grim selection of a cane which swished most satisfactorily was truly menacing. Haha.
    Anyone knows about Mr. Rosario (class teacher Gr 8) who apparently spent his spare time in College Street searching for books, content to wear the same colors every day of his life? Unforgettable D’Abrew and of course Mr. Samajpati – He gave up on me as far as Sanskrit was concerned. He made me and Diwan (any one remember him) stand at a half bend and finally alarmed, ended up excusing me after I continued to refuse to apologize and very visibly getting to the point of no return in that posture. And Mr. Subramaniam – one great chemistry teacher, who in spite of me managed to get some chemistry into my head.
    Any one out there Vajpayee, Sadhwani, Ramdas Pai, Vivek Bhargava, Rajiv Raj ?
    Sabyasachi Sen, Shoumen Mazumdar – did he eventually become an Ob Gyn?
    This is Tushar aka, TK, Tiki, and Tulsidas for my exemplary Sanskrit of course.

  12. Going through these notes brings back wonderful memories! I was at both the “small” and “big” schools and “college”, finishing in 1975 with a B. Comm. degree. I remember Frs Mairlot, Bouche, Hous and Sassel – all wonderful people. I now live in Brisbane, Australia.

    Recently caught up via email with an ex SXC fellow student Rafiq Dossani (now at Stanford) after coming across a book on India written by him.

  13. Nice to hear from you Michael, sounds like you were a few years ahead of me. I finished school the year you finished college. Does that make you the Eugene Jennings Michael Andrews batch or somewhere around then? Or was it a little later, Richard Jennings and Lester Hartnett and people like that?

  14. Hello JP: Good to hear from you. Yes, I was in the same class as Richard Jennings.

  15. Thank you, JP. Your blog was a great discovery.

    I am a Xavierian from way back — a good decade ahead of all of you; I graduated from SXC in 1962/3, having studied right from Class 3 (Small School) to Class 11. In fact, Patrick Vianna was in my class along with many other luminaries! including Ajit Lall (Premjit L’s brother), Munnu Chand and Pradeep Kakkar (of PEOPLE). Tommy Vianna had just joined as a teacher a year or so before I left school. Sorry to read he passed away so early.

    I live in the Chicago area and was (alluding to JP’s phrase!) “fossil surfing” for Fr Bouche, who had been the Prefect since (I believe) 1958. I was blown away when I saw the picture of the Fathers (many of whom I recognized from my days); and read about Fr B with great pleasure. I would like to add two more stories:

    . He taught us Moral Scince at the HS level; but the class was anything but dull… He completed the entire course half-way through the term, and so long as we behaved, thereafter he read us Tin-Rin’s adventures in class. This was a wonderful world which we did not know about; and what made it fascinating was that he would translate from the French original (English editions came a few years later) accent and all, into English!

    . From what I recall, he fought with the French Resistance during WWII and in fact, had been hit by a (German) bullet in the calf — I do not know how true was the former (my elder brother also in the same school, told me that bit) but the bullet scar-mark I can vouch for –he had shown a bunch of us students.

    Most of all I remember his very humane and friendly approach to his job — also true of many other staffers and teachers, so that we looked forward to being in school.

    In December ’08 while on a visit to Kolkata, unknowingly I found myself at the Short Street entrance — couldn’t recognize the place! and found preparations underway for the 150th anniversary. Could not attend as I had to be in Bby by New Year. But I do recall the 100th — which was a grand celebration.

  16. Thanks folks for bringing back such wonderful memories of SXC…I was in 7A and 8B (1977 and 1978) and have wonderful memories of Fr. Bouche, Fr. Hous, Fr. Debrulais. Like Pratap’s said Fr. Bouche used to read out stories. In our case it was stories on Blackshirt. He was our class teached in 7A and at the last day of class told us the story of World War 2 and how a soldier sitting next to him was killed – He then of course showed us his bullet wound on his ankle…What a man !! I still remember walking on the playground trying to avoid the eagles that were always after your lunch and I felt a sharp pain on my rearend, I turned and saw Fr. Bouche who was smiling brioadly and had just casually hit me with his brand new cane !!! He told me he was testing the thing :). The other strong memory is of Father Debrulais who smelled like chocolate !
    Thanks so much for the photo – it was joy to go back so many years. Incidentally, I was in class with Sunil Rao, Andrew Jennings, Peter Vaz, Brenden Claudius, Shankar Sinha. If anyone knows them please let me know.

  17. Hi JP, are u the same guy who used to hang out with my younger bros Mark and Andrew ? I remember Michael Choudhury very well, we spent many years together in the same sections. Michael was the class swot, always coming first in every subject, but very boring. Sorry Mike but its true. His brother Francis whom I met later was more of a character.
    I was taught by most of the priests shown in the pic posted and btw the story about the bullet holes in Fr Bouche’s leg, there were more than one, is true because I’ve seen them.
    I’m in touch with quite a few Xaverians here in London as well as back in Calcutta. Rodney James, Mike Ford, Mike Carapiet etc here in London and Tubby Modi,Kishore and Pravin Mansata, Siddarth Dhudhoria, T.P.Ray etc in Cal to mention a few.
    Yes, it was nice comin across yr site and hope we can continue to keep in touch.

  18. Yup, I’m that JP. I was closest to Brian, I was so sorry to hear about his passing away last year. Paul was just a few years ahead of me, you and Eugene were quite a bit senior. Still remember all of you very fondly. I was at the school last month, Neil O’Brien ran a special quiz as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations, in the old school hall. Felt so different, airconditioning, plastic chairs, nobody upstairs.

    Nice to hear from you. Where are you?

  19. Hi Lester
    You most certainly brought back old memories…as if they were only yesterday.
    You will remember me too, we ran bang into each other on a Calcutta street decades ago, though years after we left Xavier’s ( and when we leave the portals so dear ……Nihil Ultra )
    Take Care !
    Ganapati Krishnan

  20. Hey JP – you may not remember me, it’s been a while. But I chanced upon your blog while “fossil-surfing” for Fr. Vetticad – don’t know why the recent noise about the priesthood may have triggered that name, enough said. While your blog is intended as a forum for the heady work you do, I’ve got completely sucked in by the nostalgia section and am shamelessly rambling on. Apologies in advance, but it’s not my fault. Richard Jennings is to blame. I saw his name up there and a host of memories came flooding back that I just had to share.
    This was sometime in the late 70s when Richard offered to coach the school’s football A team. As we all know, school never had a coach for anything – Mr Brown blew the whistle and everyone ran after the ball; that was the extent of any training. If you wanted that sissy coaching stuff you should’ve gone to LaMarts or something. At good old SXC if you wanted to learn a few tricks you got it from watching a senior class play at 3:30 or you were out of luck. But if you were already senior, there were not a lot of options. So we were privileged to have Richard be our coach. One time we set up a friendly against CC&FC on their full sized field at Gariahat Road. It was a corner kick; Richard was playing for us and was going to take the shot. As he went to take the corner he told me to stand at the far post. I had no idea what he was trying to get at so I hovered somewhere in the middle of the penalty box. As he was about to take the shot he screamed at me “get in the ****ing back post, ya bastard!” I ran in there and waited, the shot floated and curved its way into the back post. I jumped up to head the ball, but needn’t have, it was going right into the back of the net, unstoppable. Richard was bending it way before Beckham. Not sure who won that friendly, we probably did. We had both Mark and Brian on the team. They had Ves Paes, he was good but we had coach Becks, we were unstoppable.

  21. Bhaya, Of course I remember you, it hasn’t been that long. Give or take 35 years :-). Coaching. That was an interesting subject those days. By the way Mr Brown is still around, some of my classmates see him regularly. And while I remember Vece Paes playing hockey, I just cannot imagine him playing soccer. And do you realise you were playing at the club where the original collection for the Calcutta Cup was taken and melted down to form the cup for the England-Scotland annual rugby match?

  22. Who knew I was playing on haloed ground? I guess you did! Good to connect with you JP. If you head to New York shoot me an email, be good to catch up. And if by chance you drag yourself up here on June 26th, there’s a ticket to see Furthur – Bob Weir, Phil Lesh et al, with your name on it. Cheers!

  23. Prity pathak, I’m that Nirbhay chandra. I was so sorry to hear about his passing away last year. Paul was just a few years ahead of me, you and Eugene were quite a bit senior. Still remember all of you very fondly. I was at the school last month, Neil O’Brien ran a special quiz as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations, in the old school hall. Felt so different, airconditioning, plastic chairs,and i am very happy nobody upstairs. Pls call only for one +91 9674081539

    Nice to hear from you. Where are you?
    Your Nirbhay

  24. it’s great to see all these names. someone just sent me this link, JP, and i am glad to see names such as yours, chris huppings, richard jennings, michael choudhury, etc. michael, you were my class teacher in 6E and i was just talking to someone about you the other day and wondering where you were. would love to catch up. also reconnected with les d’gama and guil vaz, who were my teachers in 8B. richard, sorry to hear about brian’s passing. andrew was my classmate. so was nigel gomeze, and through bruce, we knew the names of most of the seniors such as yourself. my brother walter vaz was also about 10 years my senior and would have probably been some of your contemporaries. JP i recall you being the quizmaster at quite a few of the DI quizzes and i also used to hang out with jaysehree and gyan as i played with anjum kaytal, subir, lew, nandan, dilip, etc. and later with shiva.

    best regards,
    chris vaz

  25. Nice to hear from you Chris. Strange how this single post still seems to attract people. The weirdnesses of the web;

  26. indeed. i only found out about your link through an email that was sent to me by one of my former classmates. tommy vianna was my class teacher in 9/10 and he truly was an unbelievable guy! we learned about spoonerisms, malapropisms and the like from him, if you do have michael choudhury’s email address kindly send him mineand let him know i am trying to connect — he may not necessarily see these posts. would appreciate that. thanks, JP.

  27. JP,

    I was “fossil hunting” for similar-aged fossils as myself and found this blog of yours. A treasure! I now feel like Indiana Jones!

    So many of the names here are familiar–the fathers of course (bouche and Houart especially), and the bunch of old boys who came to this blog. In a way seeing their names here reminds me of the names that were carved on our desks by students (who were either bored or had a penchant for posterity). They too, I am certain, wanted later students to think about them and their adventures at Xavier’s, each unique and yet common in an indelible way.

    Thanks again for the memories.

  28. JP
    Thanks for reigniting some of my very fond memories of all of you. I remember racing you and Abu Shafquat in the sports field. Then we did team up with Brian jennings, Noel fernandes in the old boys relay. Those were some very special times. So sorry to hear about Brian Jennings passing away. I knew him quite well. Do you know how he died? Also about Tommy Vianna, he was a very special person, and if it was not for him and Patrick, i would still be visiting Fr Bouche’s office every Monday. Good to have found your Blog. I have been in perth Western Australia for some 26 years.

    Chris D’Cruze.

  29. Yes it was JP, I have some very fond and wonderful memories of school and all my friends. ie Chris Godfrey, Suresh Raphel, Victor Walter, Chris Pinto, Koshy Verghese, all the Jennings family, the Dalhousie Institute and the hartnett sisters, Nafisa Ali to name a few. They were good times. Coming to Aus was momentus, but also sad for having to leave some of these freindships. Good to see you have done well in the UK. If i am down your way sometime i will say hi.

  30. JP – Nice meeting up in San Diego this past week. I realised I might have been in St. Xavier’s at the same time as you were, though you were a couple of years senior to me. I was there in 1973 and 1974 – 5th and 6th grade – one year in “small” school and one in “big” school (not in the early 80’s as I had miscalculated when we were chatting.)
    I noticed some folks making mention of Mr. Redden … if I recall correctly, Mr. Redden had 2 brothers who were also in school as students – Emile and Terence. If my memory serves me right, Emile was in my class (4th grade) and so was Terence (5th grade).

  31. Hi. Reading this makes me feel quite old, as I did my Senior Cambridge at SXC in 1957. Tommy Vianna and Michael Ford were classmates, as was Premjit Lal. Fr. Mairlot was a great influence on me and we remained in touch until he died. He visited when I lived in London and even came here to Los Angeles, where I have been since 1984. Many fond memories of the school and of my close friends at that time: Suneet Chopra, Yezdi Dastoor and Alex Archard. Anyone in touch with them? Any news of the whereabouts of the Freeman brothers — Antony, Brian and Colin? If you are in touch, please give them my best wishes.

  32. “Fossil surfing” – yeah, that’s a good one! Exactly what I was doing when stumbling upon this blog.’We’ll keep that one in’ – as the Dutch say. Nice blog btw!

  33. I am trying to make contact with some of my school mates who were at school in 1968 and 1969. I completed ISC in Science (Senior Cambridge).

    I represented the school at athletics (inter-school) and soccer. Also played a lot of hockey at school.

    My name is Ray Claudius. Currently live in Australia and have worked in the chemical profession. Fr Bouche was the Head of the School during my time.

  34. Hi Ray, I will get hold of some of the people in your batch and point them towards you. “Claudius” and hockey are synonymous, aren’t they?

  35. Don’t know whether you guys have heard but Gyan passed away today, November 7. May his soul R.I.P. Gyan was an amazing guy and an even more amazing musician. He will be sorely missed. RIP Gyan.

  36. @JP, after I posted this I remembered that you and Jayashree are cousins, and then I saw your amazing tribute to Gyan. My condolences to you as well as you have lost not only a relative but a close friend.

  37. JP thanks. A lot of them have moved to different countries. I will be visiting Kolkata (Calcutta) between 6 to 9 March 2013 with my son after a 42 year absence. I live in Western Australia now with my family and would love to visit St Xavier’s College and show my son around. I have lovely memories of that time.

  38. I will be visiting Kolkata from 5-8 March 2013.

    I will be visiting SXC when I am there and hope that I am able to meet some old friends who were in my class in 1969!! I left for Australia in March 1970.

    Anyone who may remember me, please send me an email.

    Ray Claudius

  39. I am A. Rama Chari who also passed out from Fr Mairlot’s class of 1957. I remember Christopher Coleman who I remember played excellent classical piano. I used to play the harmonica. My email Id is [email protected]. Now live in Chennai (new name for Madras). My elder son Narasimha Chari lives in Palo Alto, CA . His email Id.
    [email protected]. Am eager to get in touch with Christopher. Partho Ghose lives in Calcutta. I am in touch with him. Christopher pl get in touch with me. Thanks

  40. hi jp it is chbris hupping again after all these years.wentg to cal recvently in dec fr the anglo reunion.performed fr a number of shows.was lokin out fr u.was great to be back caught uo with jeff and russell roach and greg manel to name e few also fundo was there.gordoe and george rosario was so nostalgic.wat yu been upto?/so sorry to hear bout gyan was shocked and saddened.pl give my belated condolences to jayshree.she will always have a special place in my heart.a lovely gurl and fab singer..

  41. Really felt so nice to go through the entire page & come across comments of many who revere SXC, the way I do. Am from the 1982 ICSE batch ( 10 d) — taught by Fr Debruslais. Am based in Chennai. Whenever work takes me to Cal, I do peep into SXC. The place has not changed, just the people have. All new faces. Am not sure how many of you remember VA Abraham ( used to be class teacher of 7d , I guess) — poor man passed away a month ago after a prolonged illness. Surprise of surprises — last month I got a call from Subramaniam ( Chem) — he has moved to Chennai , is with his son — has not changed one wee bit. Was a pleasure to speak to him.

  42. How delightful to have come across this page.

    Some of the names are so familiar: Chris Hupping, you were probably a year senior to me in school, JP probably a couple of years junior to me. I recall all of those wonderful teachers: great to know Mr. Subramaniam is still doing well. He was irreverently called Subramaniac back then as I recall: completely eccentric but a wonderful guy. There was also Godrej Engineer, Mr Rosario, Tony D’abrew, Fr Remedios.

    And I owe a debt of gratitude for my (now somewhat limited) Bengali skills to Fr. Bouche who taught us Elementary Bengali in Class 6, and to Mr Choudhury who taught it to us in the senior classes. And Leslie Davey… how I envied him his starters pistol at sports day every year… a beautiful luger like air pistol as I recall…

    I remember participating in the elocution competitions every year… and taking part on the yearly School plays: I recall playing the female lead in a couple of plays…. it WAS an all boys school and those were the days before our voices had cracked, LOL!

    Some of the friendships from 40 years ago, (I left SXC in 74 and went off to do my Architecture in Delhi) still survive. Vinod Chopra, the Katyal brothers,, Jahangir Ardeshir, Boman Parakh and a few others are still in touch.

    Thanks for the memories, guys

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