REMINISCENCES OF A SCINDIAN PARENT



(by Ashit K. Sarkar)

Soon after my 1969 posting to Monghyr (now Munger) in Bihar, the sudden arrival of a telegram from The Scindia School created a major flutter in the household! It advised us that our nine year old only son, Vivek should be in Gwalior in about a months time for his admission, when we were anticipating "that day" to be in a somewhat distant future......

I was on a transferable job, and therefore we had decided that our son should best go to a good Boarding School, where uninterrupted progress after the early education at different locations and Schools would be possible for him. We had heard a lot about The Scindia School, where many of my friends, or their children, had their education, and we were happy with the product! We had therefore, decided on this School and applied, and Vivek had easily qualified for the admission. Nevertheless, when the actual time came to join, it suddenly created various apprehensions, doubts and impediments in our minds! However, after overcoming them, we decided to use this opportunity to also have a memorable family holiday by driving down from Bihar to Madhya Pradesh and back, in our Ambassador car (the predecessor to my yellow Volkswagen Love Beetle!)- not knowing when and if we may be able to do so again.

The trip went off smoothly and was very enjoyable - Vivek was given the task of the map reader and to be my navigator - with all the route maps and Automobile Association pamphlets being entrusted to him. He performed his responsibilities with enthusiasm and excitement, and we reached our various destinations on schedule without losing our way! Accompanying the three of us was our cook, who was the general handyman and assistant during this trip, and was ever ready with the Icebox, serving cold drinks and tasty snacks as and when needed - which was every so often - during our long drive in the month of June. We took the first break journey at the Tillaya Dam, enjoying the picturesque surroundings and Bihar Electricity Departments Inspection Bungalow facilities, followed with a day at Benaras, and a few days at Lucknow and Agra visiting relatives and friends and sightseeing, before finally getting to our Hotel at Gwalior at noon, in time for the "next day" - when we would have to leave Vivek behind to his new residential student life.

The drive up to the Fort through the Urwai Gate was itself exciting, despite the impending sense of void and loss to follow. The meeting with Mr. S P Sahi, the then Principal, was exceptionally warm and comfortable, since during our conversation, we discovered many common friends - some as his very early students. We felt very reassured at the School environment and with the staff and teachers whom we met, both at the Main and the Junior School, where Vivek was to be admitted. He was in very confident and bright spirits, and collected the various comics that he was carrying in the car, which gave him instant acceptability and popularity amongst his co-students!

The Matron, Mrs. Mukherjee's questionnaire and advice were very reassuring, but it was with apprehensions that we left him behind in the School and returned to the Hotel at the end of the day. The parents were invited to join the students for a School lunch the next day, and were advised against contacting them thereafter, to enable the new entrants to settle down in their future boarding life without any further distraction. When we arrived, we had quite a difficulty in recognizing and locating our own son amongst all the boys similarly dressed in white kurta & pajama! He seemed to be quite well adjusted and liking his new found student life and the first night at the boarding - all our early preparatory work towards his future boarding school life had well prepared him for developing such an attitude. After the homely simple community school lunch, along with all other parents of the new boys, we had to say our final good bye and leave with heavy hearts.

Our return journey from Gwalior without our navigator cum guide's spirited help being available was sombre, and we were missing him and his enthusiasm already. We had a two day stop over at Jaipur, and enjoyed sightseeing the Pink City and it's nearabout historic spots. During the drive to Delhi from there, we excitedly followed the historic Appolo 11 mission on our car radio, when for the first time humans stepped onto and walked on the moon! The excitement was so great that we pulled up at the roadside in the middle of nowhere, and listened to Neil Armstrong's message about "the giant step for mankind" to the earthlings - on July 21st, 1969 (in India)! The United States Information Services had already got ready with an exhibition of the Apollo Mission at Delhi - with spacecraft models etc., which we visited, before recommencing on our long lonely journey back to Monghyr - with breaks at Allahabad and Arrah en route. My father and my aunt accompanied me from Delhi to Monghyr on this part of the long journey.

During Vivek's following seven years in the School, we were delighted with his development from a youngster to a mature individual. With the encouragement from the School in furthering his talents, leadership qualities and interests, besides his excellent academic performance, Vivek graduated from Junior to Middle, and finally to Jayaji House in the Senior School. His academic results were excellent, but additionally, he found many other areas of interest - participating and acting in the House & School plays became his special forte! We were especially thankful and happy with the encouragement and inputs provided to him towards appreciating national heritage, culture and values, besides creating an adventurous spirit, and the opportunity to learn horse riding and to participate in various sports, and towards the all round general development - which also covered dramatics and being the student editor of the School Review, amongst others.

I visited him at the School twice during his student days, and also enjoyed the hospitality of the Guest House, and the bonds with the Scindia School extended from the student to the parent! My last visit for the Annual day during Vivek's final year, when he was the School Captain and star of the Senior School play, was so proudly memorable... No wonder, he had, and continues to have, such a high regard and attachment for his School, where his initial foundation had been built, despite his many later distinctions at IIT Kanpur, University of Wisconsin at Madison, USA and finally at the Stanford University, from where he was awarded a Ph D in Computer Science. He is now with the IBM Corporation, and is also a Visiting Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from September 1996 on eighteen month long sabbatical.

In later years, during my short visits on work to Gwalior, I have twice been to the School drawn by nostalgia and past pleasant memories. I have walked around alone through familiar areas, possibly like many others, ex-students, retired staff or past parents like me, attracted by our own sentimental reasons, through the fort ramparts, the asthachal, the residential School Houses, staff quarters, swimming pool and the many sports fields, seeing the then students actively progressing and getting on with their lives, bringing forth never to be forgotten strong emotional flashbacks of the past reminiscences!

(Note - inserted in 2008):
Vivek was awarded the Distinguished Scientist of the Year Award in 2006 by ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) for significant accomplishments or having made a significant impact on the computing field. Soon after, Vivek was invited by Rice University, Houston - one of the top Universities in the US, to the prestigious ED Butcher Chair for Computer Science, which he accepted in July 2007, after twenty years with IBM. to see details provided by the Rice University - in the HPCwire article)

ACM has since recognized him as a 2008 ACM Fellow with their highest award. The Citation stated: "For contributions to technologies for parallel computing".

Click here for Vivek's Homepage

Click here for The Scindia School Webpage

or, for the 'Jayaji House' Homepage



P.S. - Go ahead & read on:

Vivek's write-up in the School Review after attending the Silver Jubilee Class Reunion in 2002, for which he, and a host of others proudly came to the School with enthusiasm (and memories!) from all over the globe...

Discovering the Meaning of Life in a Silver Jubilee Reunion

"This is it!" I thought, with my hands held behind my back. "This is the meaning of life." A gentle winter sun shone down on the main field of Scindia School. The air was filled with a familiar tune played by a marching band, "Saare Jahan Se Acha Hindustan Hamara". It was the 26th of January, 2002 --- twenty-six years since the Batch of 1976 had last paraded on these grounds. My mind was flooded with memories. Scenes from Scindia School have appeared so often in my dreams since leaving, that I had to glance behind to reassure myself that today's events were real. Indeed, there were my batchmates standing in files of three, the old drill growing familiar once again.

"School, Dahine Se Tej Chal," boomed the voice of the Senior School Prefect. As his words echoed, I recalled my own voice ricocheting from the school buildings when calling out the same commands. The band was now playing "Que Sera, Sera" to a marching beat. How appropriate! That was the very question on our lips when we graduated from school: "What will I be?" The future was indeed ours to see, and in our own way each of us has returned with the answer to the quest that we embarked on a quarter of a century ago.

It was a brilliant idea to include an Old Boys Squad from the Silver Jubilee batch in the Republic Day parade. The experience was wonderful and unforgettable. Judging by the response from the spectators, this idea promises to become a new annual tradition. So, here's fair warning for the Batch of 1977 --- you had better start practicing now for Republic Day, 2003, because you have a hard act to follow!

After the parade and speeches, our feet took us unerringly to the Senior School Astachal. The distance that we crossed and school buildings that we passed appeared smaller to us as adults than they did when we were younger. However, the sense of tranquility that we experienced when sitting on the Astachal steps was undiminished with the passing of years. The memorable morning continued with an outdoor breakfast at the Principal's home. The bloom of winter flowers in the garden was surpassed only by the warmth of Mr. & Mrs. Tewari's hospitality. Old memories flooded our minds as we took our first bite of the delicate kachodis that are unique to the school. I recalled our past complaints (even hunger strikes!) about the Mess food when we were at Scindia, and how our opinions about school food turned to great appreciation in retrospect when we ate our first meal in a college hostel.

The award ceremony in the Open Air Theatre was a thrill! We cheered for our respective houses and marveled at the wider range of sports for which colours are now awarded. (Note to Jayaji House students: I hope you realize that your house is supposed to be the permanent home of the Efficiency Shield, and that you better plan to reclaim it from Jyotiba house next year!) Mr. Tewari very kindly invited Ajay Bhonsle to hand out the sports awards --- Ajay had achieved the distinction of receiving a sports blazer in our final year at school. I was also delighted to be given the privilege of addressing the boys at the end of the ceremony.

A perfect Scindia day followed thereafter with cricket, lunch, hockey, nihari, and free time in between events for visiting some of our favourite haunts. In cricket, I believe that the old boys proved their mettle in batsmanship and bowling, but showed their age in fielding. Sanjay Baqaya deserves a special mention for his delightful commentary on the PA system, which kept us in smiles and laughter throughout the match. This is a side of Sanjay that we had never seen before.

Later in the afternoon, when we considered the prospect of running up and down the length of the hockey field, we concluded that the distance between the two goals was the one thing that actually appeared larger to us as adults than when we were children! However, it was a unique privilege for the old boys to have Mr. Khan play on their side. Mr. Khan's playing still demonstrated the finesse and dribbling skills that was exemplified in the grand old days of hockey before the advent of power play. Many thanks also to the school team's goalkeeper for staying back after the game to indulge the old boys and their families with practice penalty shots.

The scene that presented itself when we departed from the Fort was truly sublime. A line of horses on a cross-country riding lesson turned into an impromptu honour guard for our bus. As the bus descended past Urwai Gate, the winter sun hovered over the Fort walls in fond farewell. We joked with each other about our tired muscles and aching joints, but also basked in the afterglow of a camaraderie that has remained unchanged throughout the years. While the time that we spent on the Fort was undoubtedly the highlight of our reunion weekend, the get-togethers in city hotels on Friday and Saturday evenings were also uniquely rewarding. Friday evening was the first time that many of us had met since leaving school over twenty-five years ago. Though we all exhibited changes in appearance with the passage of time --- we all look more dashing and handsome now than before, of course(!) --- the child and teenager in each of us was instantly recognizable. It was a special treat to be joined in this celebration by our old teachers: Mr. Garg, Dr. Ingle, Mr. Kapoor, Mr. Khan, Mr. Khar, Mr. A.R. Sharma, Mr. R.S. Sharma, and Mr. Tiwari. Any inhibitions that may have been present since our last meeting were shed the instant we hit the dance floor. The scene of old boys, their wives, children, old teachers, and new teachers all dancing together was a true celebration of the bond that we share.

All in all, 20 out of 79 members of the Batch of 1976 attended the reunion weekend. This event was a result of extensive planning and untiring efforts on the part of many people, including the Principal, staff and students of Scindia School, Sanjay Baqaya and Saumitro Sen from the Batch of 1976, and Piyush Bhargava and members of the Gwalior SOBA. Thanks to everyone who attended and contributed to this momentous event.

Let me not forget to address the "meaning of life" epiphany mentioned at the start of this article. In my opinion, the reunion exemplified three tenets of fulfillment in life --- embracing the rites of passage with dignity and joy, finding personal wealth in close relationships with fellow humans, and contributing to the renewal and vitality of future generations. Like past generations, members of the Batch of 1976 have journeyed through various stages of life since leaving school: college, jobs, marriage, and the big 40th birthday. The spirit that we demonstrated at our silver jubilee reunion confirmed that we can approach each stage of life with enthusiasm rather than fear. We are also lucky to share a common bond that is stronger and deeper than friendships built in adult life. This is a bond to be cherished --- no matter what our individual circumstance may be, we can be sure that our batchmates will remain our true friends. And finally, when we visit school and share our life's experiences with current batches of students, we are giving them the benefit of the lessons we've learned. As with our children, we can hope to guide them in avoiding some of the mistakes we made and leading a life that's even more promising and fulfilling than ours.

In conclusion, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Principal and the entire school for hosting our reunion, and to the members of our batch who attended this memorable event: Sanjay Baqaya, Ajay Bhonsle, Anil Gaur (Anil Sharma), Rajeev Gulati, Siddhartha Harendra, Rajendra Hooda, Rajan Jain, Vijay Jaini, Shrikant Ladia, Sudhir Mehra, Praveen Patel, Harsh Pateria, Mayur Reshamwala, Pradeep Sabharwal, Vineet Saraf, Saumitro Sen, Vikash Seth, Anand Sharma, and Arun Singhania (Arun Kant Agarwal). However, we sorely missed the presence of our other batchmates who were unable to attend. This is an advance notice to all that the Batch of 1976 plans to make a second grand showing at our Golden Jubilee reunion 25 years from now! So, be prepared and stay tuned!

Vivek Sarkar
(ex-Jayaji) School Captain, 1975 - 1976