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:

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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.

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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.

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