The Fifth Annual Function of the Kuruvilla Jacob Iniative for Promoting Excellence in School Education at the Museum Theatre. Egmore, Chennai. August 3, 2008
Honorable members on the dias and distinguished invitees
At the outset, let me thank the core committee of The Kuruvila Jacob Initiative for Promoting Excellence in School Education for having me on board and to have bestowed on me the honor of having me speak here today to this august gathering.
Padma Sri K. Kuruvila Jacob was my principal at Cathedral & John Connon School Bombay from 1969 until 1978. I joined the school in 1966 in Standard 1 and passed out in 1980 after having completed my 12th. Std.
He was to me, apart from being my Principal my philosopher and guide.
The impressions on my life by the late Mr. Kuruvila Jacob have been several. I would like to share some of these with all of you today.
I was by no means a good academic student in my early school years. Boxing and Rugby were my forte.
I was dubbed as a teacher’s nightmare. Life to me at that stage was all fun and games with a little bit of compulsory study thrown in.
In fact, when the invitations for this function were set out one of my favorite teachers Mrs. Cherian who had taken great pains to ensure that I studied French got in touch with me through the core committee and inquired if I was the same student. I called her and we had a good long chat. It was a great feeling to have connected with her again after all these years.
Very often was I marched off or summoned to The Principal’s office for deeds and misdeeds. A visit of that nature in those days went around the school like wild fire. Mind you in those years there was no mass communication such as e-mail or anything near it.
On each of the visits began a special relationship developed between a student who could do only wrong and his Principal who had a mission to correct the situation.
His words – Not you again / I knew that you had to be at the bottom of this/ Next time and you will be expelled – at times still echo in my head.
Our school had the infamous pink card system – if you got 3 of them then you were automatically expelled. In my long years I was privileged to have got 9 and survived. If I had any other Principal other than Mr. Kuruvila Jacob my story would have been different and I would definitely not be standing here in front of you today.
On each occasion of these visits he first heard what I had to say, in my defence, then gave his views and then asked me what I thought about his views and the course of action directed by him. He was flawless in analyzing the authenticity of the perceived problem and working towards a swift solution.
I can say with confidence that what he did in these difficult cases and more important the manner in which he executed it, has taught me what no Management Programme or any other course has until date.
In the year 1977 after we had finished our never ending cross country run I was helping myself to my 3rd cup of tea and having my 12th biscuit or so, when I was approached by Mr. Kuruvila Jacob who said that the well known old English public school The West Buckland School, Devon, England was offering a scholarship and that I should consider it.
I was shocked and thought he was being sarcastic, as he was also known for a good sense of humor I thought he was joking but there was a serious tone in his voice. I was no doubt confused.
Within a week he announced at the school assembly that the school had done well when the best academically inclined students were sent on scholarships and the students sent had done the school proud. He paused a while and then went onto announce that it was time that the school be acknowledged for its strengths in other areas namely Boxing and Rugby for which no other student was better suited other than me.
The news was greeted with some sighs and sceptism.
Later he called me into his chambers and said I have taken this decision against all odds and a lot of opposition so please don’t fail me.
The faith he put in me made me determined to live up to his expectations and raise my own expectations accordingly.
To cut a long story short I did not disappoint him at all. In fact, I did better than that.
When I thanked him profusely on my return he thanked me and said those golden words – I knew you wouldn’t let me down.
Mr. Kuruvilla Jacob was a man who was a visionary, he made Home Science and Cooking compulsory for both boys and girls in the 11th, and 12th, standard. We all thought of it as a major joke those days. He made sure that all of us took it very seriously. Normally old students announce with pride and like a “Badge of Honor” that they are Gold Medalists of Science / Maths / Humanities/Accounts etc. I say with great pride that I got the prize for The Best Home Science Student which still ensures that I can make myself more than a decent square meal for myself at least, as you can see.
Great pains were taken by Mr. Kuruvilla Jacob and his able team – to name a few – Miss. Hallegua who spared no effort in ensuring that our English was better than The English, Mrs. Bhesania who ensured that Accountancy was drilled into our heavy heads, Mrs. Nargolwalla who made sure that Hindi became second nature to us, Dr. Wagh the “Tough as Nails” NCC and Marathi Master who would have us sit and walk ram rod straight and have discipline written all over us as well as speak Marathi as a local would, Mr. Lobo the tough ex Naval Officer who made sure Physics sailed through our heads despite several choppy days.
The objective of our teachers was to instill in us a deep sense of values and the irrelevance of material things.
Honesty and integrity had to be a virtue of ones character.
It was emphasized to us that one had to be a good loser and at times victory in defeat was better than a hollow victory.
We were told that it was important to look up when the chips were down and to always remember the old saying – Only when the going gets tough only the tough get going.
Mr. Kuruvila Jacob had an eye for detail and a zero tolerance level for certain “unforgiveables” as he put it. Shoes had to be polished and were checked not only in front but from the rear as well.
Despite all this, there was always something humane down to earth about him. One example of this quality was when the local municipality confiscated the wares of the local “channawalla” the street hawker who sold channa / peanuts and the much favored raw mango slices diced with salt, chili powder and a squeeze of lime, he wasted no time in having a meeting with a few of us and had the channawalla reinstated within the school premises where he could sell his wares in more hygienic conditions thus benefiting all of us.
Cathedral, being a co educational institution Mr. Kuruvila Jacob ensured that both boys and girls got along “socially” The 70’s if you remember was the age of rock and roll and of course discos.
School socials were organized where western music was played and dancing between boys and girls were encouraged BUT the boys had to request the girls with – May I have the pleasure of this dance with you ? and a thank you after the dance was over, if the offer was accepted. It was here that the boys grew into Gentlemen and the Girls into Young Ladies.
We were also instilled with loyalty true to our school song which says School First, House Next, Self Last.
Ones school years are the most impressionable at least for me.
When one has been fortunate enough to have had a Principal such as Mr. Kurvila Jacob one cannot ask for more…. It is now our time to deliver…….
Thank you ladies and gentlemen.