Are school days really the best days of one’s life? It would be sad if that were true. In my case it would mean that after leaving Doon at 16 my life has irreversibly deteriorated. On the other hand, we all look back on school through rose-tinted memories. And the older we get the more hallowed they become.
This is a question that was uppermost in my mind yesterday as Doon School celebrated its 75th anniversary. Last night, as the platinum jubilee reached its climax, thousands of Doscos would have answered with an emphatic yes.
The truth is that for none of us was school an unalloyed collection of happy joyous moments. There were also terrible times. Even if they helped us grow up they were still painful to live through. Yet when we look back we forget the hardship and suffering. We only recall the pranks, laughter and triumphs. If at all we remember the punishments and penalties, it’s with pride at having survived them.
So what is it about Doon School that makes adults in their 40s, 50s and 60s, as much as lads in their 20s, turn mushy?
To be fair, part of the answer must be the innocence and hope with which a teenager views himself and the world. He’s too young to know his limitations and still unaware of the obstacles that can thwart his ambitions. Dreams seem realisable, odds can be overcome and the world appears a fair place. In this sense, school days are truly idyllic.
What made Doon special was that each of us was treated like an individual. I never felt one of many. I was always aware of my identity, preferences and interests. I hated sport and got teased for it but no one forced me to play. I enjoyed debating and acting and was encouraged to participate. I wrote and read but that too was accepted.
Today, I would claim the story of the Doon School Scholar’s blazer proves my point. For decades, sportsmen were recognised with a coveted deep blue blazer. It made them special. There was nothing similar for the academically inclined. It took years of struggle for the School to admit the need for equivalent treatment.
In 1971 it did. On Founder’s Day that year, Col. Simeon, the Headmaster, awarded the first Scholar’s Blazer.
I was thrilled to win it but what followed proved more memorable. “What sort of blazer should it be?” the Headmaster asked. I was non-plussed. All I could think of was an imitation sports blazer. After all, that’s what I had been craving.
“Come on young man,” Col. Simeon admonished, “Yours will be the first. You can create a design the whole School will follow. Do you really want to be a copy cat?”
Even today, almost 40 years later, I can’t believe the HM allowed a teenager to design the Scholar’s blazer. I chose a conventional double-breasted style in black. And that’s how it’s been ever since.
The pride of Doon is that people like Col. Simeon are not unique. My housemaster, Gurdial Singh, my maths master, Sheel Vohra, my geography tutor, Charlie Kandhari, the head of history, ‘Zeeks’ Sinha, and many others, whose faces I can vividly remember and whose voices I will never forget, shaped my life. Not simply by telling me what to do but by encouraging me to do it my way. And when I got it wrong — as I often did — they explained that a mistake is not a crime. It’s better to try and fail than never try at all.
That’s the best lesson Doon taught me.
The views expressed by the author are personal