They arrived in droves — in luxury cars, on the Shatabdi or flying in on private jets. More than 1,500 Doscos, as Doon School graduates call themselves, have descended on Chandbagh Estate this weekend to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the institution. But once within the school’s red-brick stucco 70-acre campus, memories come flooding back. And the ‘old boys’ are back to being just boys.
Everything and anything can ignite their nostalgia. Author Vikram Seth of the class of 68 reminisced during an earlier founder’s day speech about walking past the “tennis courts with their bel trees …and the lichi trees which I remember having raided from the balcony of my dorm”. Seth arrived this weekend with brother Shantum, five years his junior at Doon by the Shatabdi.
The same morning, Max India group chairman Analjit Singh, who heads the school’s governing body, arrived on his eight-seater Hawker 800 with the business jet-set: Shell’s India chairman Vikram Mehta, McKinsey partner Vivek Pandit and Goldman Sachs MD Sanjeev Mehra and Nandan Nilekani.
Protocol may be important. Sitting in the founder’s day room, the patriarch of the Max India group, ‘Mannu’ to the class of 71, calls up the deputy headmaster to check whether a minister can take his son out for 45 minutes for tea with the Bhutanese King.
Next up was a meeting on security, beefed up in anticipation of the President’s arrival. “The Doon old boys’ network is one of the strongest in the world. The glue that binds them is community living. For five years, when you dine together, go on treks, have your first crushes, fight and make up, you make friends for life,” says Singh.
Of the 100-odd students who make it to the school every year, 35 per cent are brothers or sons of Doscos, says headmaster Peter McLaughlin.
Minister of state for commerce and industry Jyotiraditya Scindia, from the class of 88, says equal emphasis on studies and sport, and interacting with students from every corner of the country make Doon unique. “I wanted my son to get the same exposure,” he says about Aaryaman, now a class 9 student.
In the Dosco network, many old boys are known simply by their school number. Ask surface transport minister Kamal Nath, from the batch of 1964. “Apart from my nickname Roly, most of my mates know me as 366. After me, my son Nakul happened to get the same number,” says Nath, whose cars bear the same registration plate.
Cars had a special place in Nath’s school life. “My classmate Sanjay Gandhi and I often got under the bonnet of the school’s rundown jalopy and put it together. It was here that Sanjay developed a passion for automobiles that eventually led to Maruti’s birth.”
Their other avatars
Avantha Group CEO Gautam Thapar, from the class of 79, is busy admiring a special-edition basketball in the memorabilia section. “I was the school’s basketball captain and won the games blazer,” he recalls. “It taught me a life-lesson: “You are only good as your slowest team member.”
New York banker Sanjeev Mehra of the class of 75, managing director of Goldman Sachs’ merchant banking division, once led a five-student expedition to the 15,000-foot Black Peak in Uttarakhand. “We lost our way near a river. Suddenly I saw an enormous black head rise from the bushes. A bear was 15 metres away. We said our prayers, but fortunately it went away. We tried to light a fire, but were so scared we couldn’t put light to candle. To ensure that the bear didn’t turn back we broke into a chorus of The Bear Went Over the Mountain till daylight broke.”
Journalist Karan Thapar of the 1971 batch says, “Beyond debates and sports, my school memories are made up of getting away with pranks. Of course, at the socials, we got to meet the girls from Welham.”
Most Doscos keep a page or two aside for the Welham girls in their photo albums. Ask former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah. The bureaucrat was at his suave best during the Doon district sports meets. “We got to meet the girls here. Most of us developed our first crush on a Welham girl,” says Habibullah.
Senior Congress leader Karan Singh, the captain of the chess team, had only one issue with Doon: the food. “The four years I spent in school, 1942-1945, coincided with World War II. I loved the music lessons but hated the food. Anybody who can survive Doon food for four years can survive anything.”
This seemed to have changed by the 75th year. Says Dinesh Reddy, currently a class 12 student, “We look forward to lunch and dinner breaks… Still, we could do with some more socials with the girls,” he says.
Boys will forever remain, well, boys.