June 5, 2005
Denis Lopes stoops over a green plastic bag. Fingering the remembrances of his schooldays, he slowly extracts a photograph. Sixty-four years have drained the colour out of the paper, but memory restores visibility and Lopes points to two figures. This, he says, was St Patrick’s High School’s winning cricket team in the Ruby Shield in 1941. I was the opening bowler. That is L.K. Advani — he was the scorer.
In the distance, in a courtyard turned out in the school’s green and yellow colours, Simun Pereira, retired archbishop of Karachi, and James D’Souza are shaking their heads at each other uncompromisingly. They cannot agree on their returning schoolmate’s details. He finished his matric in 1942, says one. No, 1943, says the other. It is a question that will soon be settled.
Old students and teachers gathered today for a reception for their visiting alumnus. He brought them more glimpses of days past. ‘‘I remember there used to be very little rain in Karachi, four or five inches a year. When there was even a drizzle, it would occasion a holiday. But I would still bicycle to school, only to see the blackboard: ‘Today, because of rain, the school will remain closed.’ It would give me immense satisfaction,’’ Advani said.
In St Patrick’s Cathedral, Karachi’s current archbishop Everest Pinto and the principal, Reverend Father Joe Paul, welcomed Advani to a nostalgic reception. ‘‘It looks like a dreamworld to me,’’ began Paul. ‘‘I can hardly believe it. The visit speaks of his sincerity, honesty, truthfulness and humility.’’
Saying he was overwhelmed at the welcome, Advani said the kind of attachment formed to one’s school cannot be developed at college or any other institution. He recalled that when he first met President Pervez Musharraf, another alumnus, the first subject they discussed was the school. Almost 20 minutes of the total 45 minutes were devoted to St Patrick’s.
Musharraf had recounted his experiences with Father Todd, who would cane him for indiscipline. Pointing to Todd, a young teacher giggled about Musharraf’s visit to the school recently, when the general presented a cane to his old teacher.
When Musharraf went to Delhi for a cricket match, he took with him a photo album of Advani’s school days, including a copy of the register entry of his enrollment — May 12, 1936.
Incidentally, two of the people Advani met in Islamabad this week are also alumni of St Patrick’s — PM Shaukat Aziz and Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri.
As Advani summoned names of old associates, exclamations of ‘‘Oh yes’’ echoed softly among the seated. Father Modestine was the principal, Patrick Mendes made it to the Olympic hockey team of undivided India, O.B. Nazareth taught science, J.L. D’Souza, science. And, Advani looked around, while the main building has been rebuilt, the primary section is still housed in the same structure.
He told the teachers: ‘‘As an Indian Nobel laureate has said, the most important thing for a country’s economic progress is how much attention it pays to education and health.’’ St Patrick’s, coincidentally, has finally obtained reform. In a controversial move, Zulfikar Bhutto’s government had nationalised many educational institutions, including the college once attached to St Patrick’s. On May 11, this year, it was denationalised.
After November 1978, this was Advani’s first visit to his school. Salina Orr, who has been teaching English, was around to welcome him then too. ‘‘Actually he belongs to Karachi,’’ she told colleagues. Having ushered him in with a spirited performance of the school anthem (‘‘With glorious flag aloft we march, to knowledge and to truth’’), the school band saw him off with ‘‘He’s a jolly good fellow’’ and ‘‘Que sera sera’’.
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