I was a student of Madras Christian College High School when it was still located at Parry's Corner. I was in the very first batch of students of Mr. Kuruvila Jacob. He had just returned from London around 1931 and was appointed Headmaster of the School when I was still in my Fifth form. Mr. Jacob was then in his late 20's. I came to know him and his family fairly closely.
Later, when I became the Director of National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, Mr. Jacob also came to Hyderabad to head the Hyderabad Public School. My son, Sarath was his student at school. So, Mr. Jacob was the teacher of both father and son - very unique indeed. After he moved to Mumbai, he used to contact me every time he came to Delhi and in fact kept in touch with me till his last days. After his death, his wife kept contact with me through many letters and I know his children also.
Mr. Jacob belonged to Aymanam in Kottayam, the same place that Arundhati Roy has made famous in her book "The God of Small Things".
Mr. Kuruvila Jacob and I, were awarded and received the Padma Shri the same year in 1971. In an interview that followed thereafter, he was gracious enough to say that, he was extremely happy that he and his student were getting the award together.’’
I was a B.Ed. student in St. Xavier’s Teachers College, Palayamkottai, in 1956-57. B.Ed students had two examinations: theory and practical. Theory was administered by Madras University. The local college under the supervision of the University conducted practical examination. University sent a team of examiners to each B.Ed College to assess the students and the grading practice of the college. These examiners decided who should get first class in practical. The principal of the College had recommended me for first class. The examiners came to my practice-teaching class to observe and assess. Mr. Kuruvila Jacob was one of the three distinguished gentlemen appointed to this onerous task in 1956-57. I was given a class of Form V and was asked to teach a poem. The poem was about growing old.
After the preliminaries of a classroom, I asked the students to turn around and look at the last bench. There seated were the three examiners accompanied by Fr. Utaraidl, the principal. I asked the students to describe the four gentlemen. At first the students were reluctant. But I cajoled them to say a word or two about the persons sitting at the back. One boy said, “Grey hair”; another said, “bald”; a third said, “wrinkles”. I wrote those words on the blackboard. Thus, began my teaching about growing old. The examiners must have found the class interesting as they stayed for the full 45 minutes.
At the end of the lesson, the principal instructed me to be prepared to teach Social Studies in the afternoon. The examiners were again duly present.
The class was in Tamil and I taught some rudiments of economics. The gentlemen had to catch a train that afternoon and after a few minutes, excused themselves. I accompanied them to the door. Mr. Kuruvila Jacob stayed back for a few moments and whispered to me in Malayalam that my Tamil was a bit rusty. I agreed with him and thanked him. Then he left saying, “Congratulations!”. When the results of the B.Ed examinations appeared in newspapers, I had secured a first class. I wrote a personal letter to Mr. Kuruvila Jacob to thank him and inform him that I was appointed headmaster of St. Antony’s High School, Coonoor. His reply surprised me. He congratulated me and added that I was doing better than him as he was made the headmaster of Madras Christian College High School at the age of 27, whereas I was only 23 when I became headmaster.
A few months into the year, Mr. Sundaravadivelu, The Director of Public Instruction of Madras, convened a meeting of all heads of schools in the State to expound his schemes including, and especially, his fascination with the concept of basic education. I went to Madras for the conference. Kuruvila Jacob, head and shoulders above most persons, spotted me in the crowd and invited me to sit with him. He introduced me to several of his friends. He knew everyone who was anyone in education in Madras and everybody knew him. From that time on, we became friends.
The central Government appointed a commission of educationists to study the physical education prevailing in the country and recommend changes. Mr. Kuruvila Jacob was one of the members of that commission. I was asked to appear before the commission with my thoughts. Instead I suggested that the commission travel to the Nilgiris to meet some of the headmasters and see for themselves the enthusiasm and public support for games and sports in the remote hill station. They did come to Coonoor and Ooty. Greg Memorial Sports, which was the early name for the Interschool athletic meet was a great crowd pleaser in the district. When the commission members arrived, the finals of the interschool football tournament took place in their presence. The traditional rivalry between St. Antony’s High School, Coonoor, and Municipal High School, Ooty was famous. The game took place in the racecourse grounds in Ooty and thousands of people had gathered from both the towns to encourage their teams. St. Antony’s won by one single, solitary goal. The commission, in its recommendations, suggested such sports and tournaments at the state level. Mr. Kuruvila Jacob and I were in the committee to promote State wide meets.
In 1962 I took up the principalship of St. Gabriel’s High School, Kazipet, Andhra. Coincidentally K. Jacob had retired from MCCHS after serving there for 31 years and took over the stewardship of Hyderabad Public School. This elite institution had fallen on hard times and Kuruvila Jacob was asked to bring it back to its pristine glory. He had a free hand to do anything. I visited him in Hyderabad several times. One day I got a call from him. He asked for a personal favour. Apparently, Divakar, one of my teachers, had applied for a job in The Public School. Kuruvila Jacob needed new teachers and Divakar was an excellent physics teacher. Would I release him from the terms of his contract with St. Gabriel’s. I was hesitant. I had other teachers who could replace Divakar. So, our friendship trumped my reluctance. When the education department of Andhra and private schools in the State had disputes, I persuaded the private managements to seek the advice of Kuruvila Jacob.
After I came to Canada in 1967, I knew that Kurivila Jacob had done yeoman service in Hyderabad, brought back the prestige of The Public School. From there he went to Bombay where he had been given the task of running Cathedral School. I was sure he would do equally well in Bombay too.
It was a chance remembrance about Kuruvila Jacob that prompted me to google his name, and, lo and behold, I saw all about him in a website. After a distinguished career in education, he retired to be with his grandchildren in Vellore. Kuruvila Jacob died in 1991.
Mr. Kuruvila Jacob was a towering personality, literally and figuratively. He was affable, approachable, faithful in friendship and imaginative. He was an educator without an equal. I remain indebted to him for his personal friendship and example.
Memories chase you, you chase memories. They are part of life and unforgettable, joyful when you are alone, and you recall the memories and enjoy them.
I was the Headmaster at Jain Primary School, T Nagar then I joined as a Hindi Pandit MCC School, Madras, Headmaster Mr. Kuruvila Jacob persuaded me to join the school and I remain grateful to him for that. I had the distinction of serving three Headmasters in MCCHS-Mr Kuruvila Jacob,Mr. D .S .Mathias and Mr. E. D .Savarirayan. I had wonderful days in MCCHS teaching the pupils of the school. Even today I recall my association with the school and children and enjoy the memories.
There is a saying -the more you travel the more you learn. I used to be a part of every tour conducted by the school and learnt a lot and enriched my knowledge. I have travelled a lot from Kanyakumari to Himalayas.
Our Headmaster Mr. Kuruvila Jacob used to say in staff meetings that we are one family. He was kind and sympathetic and with humanitarian qualities with a helping tendency, always ready to help the needy. One day as he was walking in the corridor he found a Tamil teacher teaching in very feeble voice and on enquiry came to know that the teacher has not eaten food for two days. The provision shop owner stopped supplying him provisions. The Headmaster immediately made arrangements for the payment from his personal funds, the amount to be deducted from the salary by easy instalments.
Another incident-I had to go to General Hospital where Headmaster’s brother was a Doctor. He told his brother to take me in his car and arrange surgery and the cost would be met by the school. He sent me along with Venkataramana Rao to my home and advised my wife not to allow me to go out till I recover and said that I would get my leave salary.
He was generous and magnanimous. Once my wife was admitted in Gosha Hospital, Triplicane. He contacted the CMO of the Hospital and told to take special care. Such was his hospitality. He was really a brother to his teachers and father to the children of the school. Once a student became ill in hostel, he took him to his house and treated him like is son.
I have hardly seen him punishing students. He used to hide his cane in his bush shirt to scare his pupils, but hardly used it. He was lovable and dear to his students.
He was a world-renowned educationist. He had toured Europe and Russia. When he returned from Russia he addressed staff meeting and shared his experiences. He was guest of honour of Education Minister of Russia.
Once the Headmaster and I were walking together in corridor. One of the students remarked-"Two lamboos are walking". Headmaster overheard that and asked me to translate -I told him that they are remarking two long fellows, you know sir English poet Longfellow. The Headmaster laughed away the matter. That he did not take the joke seriously shows that Kuruvila Jacob loved children. He became Headmaster at a very young age. He was the architect of MCC School at Chetpet, Madras .
One can write volumes about Kuruvila Jacob and his contribution to education and his love for the children. He served as a member of Advisory Board to many leading schools in the city and outside. He was a model teacher by himself. I am sure all students cherish his memories lifelong.
I thank my students of the 1960 batch for this opportunity to share my wonderful memories of MCC School.
During the years that I was in school we had two principals. We had Mr. K. Kuruvila Jacob for most of the years and then Mr. M. C. Watsa for the last two years when I graduated. Both were remarkable men.
Mr. Kuruvila Jacob was a legend in his own lifetime. A man who taught me about leadership before I knew the word. Let me tell you three stories about his leadership style as I experienced it.
The school followed a system where students who passed with more than seventy percent were given a First Class certificate and those who passed with more than seventy-five percent were given a Distinction certificate. The certificated had the name of the student printed on them, formally awarded to the children in the morning Assembly. I liked school and studying and always used to get a Distinction card in every term. When I was in the 8th class (grade), I fell seriously ill with jaundice and then had a relapse so I couldn’t attend school the whole term (three months). My father obtained special permission for me to study at home and take the exam. I did that, but thanks to my illness and perhaps some lack of discipline in studying, I only managed to get a First Class that term.
Duly, in the Assembly, my name was called and I went up to take my certificate the Principal, Mr. Jacob. He gave me the card, smiled and shook my hand and said, ‘What Yawar, tired of getting Distinctions, is it?’ I mumbled something and fled, but ensured that I never got anything but a Distinction thereafter.
One day, I was sitting in class waiting for the morning recess bell to go off. My seat was by the window looking out over the courtyard across which were the toilets. To my amazement, I saw Mr. Jacob walking into the toilets with a bucket with cleaning brushes in it. A word about how Mr. Jacob looked and dressed is necessary to appreciate the reason for my surprise. Mr. Jacob was a tall and dark man who always wore white on white. He wore a white bush coat – patch pockets, half sleeves on white trousers and shining black shoes. His clothes were always sparkling white, starched and ironed to a knife-edge. You could cut yourself on the crease of his trousers and look at your face in his shoes. Here was this man in those clothes walking into our toilets with a bucket and toilet cleaners.
I dug my seat mate in his ribs and gestured but before his eyes popped out of his head, the bell rang and we all trooped out silently and stood before the toilets. What did we see? Our toilets, like I suppose the toilets in most boys’ schools, had their walls festooned with rather smelly poetry and prose, to put it politely. What we saw was Mr. Jacob, cleaning the walls of the toilets. He worked silently, ignoring us, spraying the cleaner on the walls and then brushing them clean and washing them down with water which he had carried in the bucket. When he finished a few minutes later, he picked up his bucket, finally looked up at us, smiled, and walked away. He didn’t say a word. Not one word. He just smiled at us and walked away, back to his office. We simply stood in silence and watched him disappear. I was in school for four years after that incident and can vouch for the fact that nobody ever wrote anything on the toilet wall again. Interestingly, the phenomenon of writing on the walls of the toilets was universal – all toilets had this graffiti. Mr. Jacob washed only one toilet. But suddenly all toilets were clean and no graffiti was ever written on them again. And remember, as I said, not one word spoken. I realise today that what he did was as much theatre as it was cleaning, maybe even more theatre than cleaning, but the impact was powerful and permanent. Leading by example always is.
The third story is again a personal one. There was a tradition when I was in school that once every term, we were invited to eat lunch in the Principal’s Residence. I suppose the idea was to civilize us because the normal scene in our dining room was quite lively with flying bread, chairs pulled back at the final moment of someone’s descent into them, and other such interesting activities. Of course our House Master and Mistress, Mr. and Mrs. Sardar, made us pay the price if they caught us, but that only made the entire matter more exciting. The lunch in the Principal’s Residence was another matter. Here misbehavior was a capital offence and so we would all be on our best behavior. The Principal’s Residence was a palatial house in spacious grounds built like a plantation bungalow with a wide veranda at the front, overlooking a lawn that ended at the orchard of fruit trees. On the far side was the vegetable garden while the drive curved round the house to the garages.
On the day in question, my class arrived for lunch but discovered that Mr. Jacob had not returned from office yet. Mrs. Jacob, with her experience of schoolboys, wisely told us to wait for him on the lawn. So we deposited ourselves all over the lawn, waiting and hungry. As I lay on the lawn on my back, contemplating the sky, I happened to roll over and noticed that the guava trees in the orchard were full of fruit. Green and half ripe guavas on almost every branch. The speed of light is slower than the speed of thought and the speed of thought is matched by the speed of action when it comes to a combination of desire and hunger and so before I knew it, I found myself in the upper reaches of the tree. Some of my friends gathered below the tree, waiting for their share of the bounty and everyone was focused on me and my expected exploits in de-fruiting the tree in record time.
Suddenly we heard the deep voice of Mr. Jacob, ‘Boys, come for lunch.’ I almost fell out of the tree in fright. My first thought was that I would be expelled and then killed very slowly by my father for having got myself expelled from one of the best schools in the country for stealing from the Principal’s garden. This was sacrilege, like stealing the idol from a temple. And on top of that to be caught red handed by the Principal himself was to add insult to injury. ‘First of all you are stupid enough to go and steal from the Principal’s garden and then you are even more stupid to get caught by the Principal himself.’ I could hear the statements as I died slowly. I silently cursed my friends for not warning me that Mr. Jacob was on the way home, but I guess everyone was so engrossed in the guavas that nobody noticed. Anyway, I dusted my uniform and we all walked slowly to the house. I tried to become very small and hide but that didn’t do me much good.
As we went up to the house, I saw a strange sight. I saw Mr. Jacob standing on the veranda with two baskets of ripe guavas at his feet. As all of us stood silently before him, he said, ‘Come boys, take some guavas.’ We looked at one another and then one of us started the movement and picked up a fruit. ‘Take another one. One is not enough,’ said Mr. Jacob. I thought I could still disappear but he said, ‘Yawar, take some guavas.’ It is a good thing that I am not white otherwise I would have glowed red like a traffic light. Then he said, “Isn’t that better than what you were picking in the tree, Yawar?” he asked me.
At that point I would have agreed to anything he said. I picked up two lovely ripe guavas and then he said, ‘Come let us have lunch.’ And that was that.
No punishment. Just one question that taught me a lifelong lesson: treat people with dignity when you could have humiliated them, and not only will they learn the lesson, but be grateful to you for life. Mr. Kuruvila Jacob is a man who I will always remember with respect, affection and pride. It was an honor to be taught by him. A real teacher. I was a very fortunate boy. Amazing man! A leader the like of which I haven’t seen. A leader who taught me how to lead without speaking a word. A leader from whom I hope I learnt something and whose memory I bless every time I think of him. Such were my teachers.