My Memories of Nabha
I still remember very clearly, the first time I came to Nabha. It was towards the end of 1960. We reached sometime in the evening and as we entered Junior School I saw lots of boys about my age (wearing coloured under turbans) playing outside. We got down from the tonga and Mrs Tandon, then Miss Pannu, received us.
I fell in love with Nabha right from the first day. We were fascinated by the big building, the grand majestic marble staircase the massive rooms the beautiful fireplaces the open terraces and verandas. Coming from a hill-station this was a whole new world to discover and explore. And explore we did! We had never stayed in a two storey building or in a palace for that matter! As the days went by we explored the school as it was also our home (for the next twelve years!). The more we explored it the more it grew on us.
My brother, Vilas, and I used to wander around. We made friends with Mrs. Tandon who lived right below us, and I loved going downstairs and seeing the place and playing there. She had a little sit-out where we would sit and chat. She was the House Mistress of Jumna House. The dormitory was right next door to her room. She was very friendly and very sweet. She was my also first teacher in Nabha and taught me English.
I joined the school in1961 in class 5. The school started from class 5 onwards. Junior school had two classes – Class 5 and 6. There are some things which stick in your memory. I remember Mr. Tankha asking me which house I wanted to be in and which was my favourite colour. I was in Vindhya House in Sanawar that’s how I came to be in Ravi House and Mr. Tankha was my House Master. He was very happy I was in Ravi House. Later, when Basanti joined the school she also told Mr. Tankha she wanted to be in Ravi House. He always mentioned with pride the only two girls in school were in his House. It made us feel very happy. I loved being in Ravi House and we had a fierce loyalty towards our House. I loved going to the playing fields and watching the inter-house matches and cheering our House. Of course, that was also the time when we could wander around the place and eat shatoots as there were many mulberry trees there. I remember one such time I had climbed a tree and had my legs dangling when Mr. Tankha came and stood under the tree I could hear and see him complaining to another teacher how the boys were all over the place and not watching the match. I just held my breath and hoped I wouldn’t get caught!
Mr. Tanka was also one of the first teachers to join the school. He was very gentle and always encouraged us to take part in school activities. I loved dramatics and he would make me take part in the House plays.
By the time I came to Nabha the school had already started. My father came to Nabha at the end of 1959 / beginning of 1960 to set up the school.
Most of my classmates who passed out with me in1967 joined the school the school in 1962. There were some who joined the school with me in 1961. We were a very small class then and Mrs. Tandon used to teach us English and Art. Mr. Bharadwaj and Mr. Tankha used to come from Senior School to teach us History and Geography. On April fool’s Day we switched timetables and had great fun telling them it wasn’t Geography period/History period. They were very sporting and played with us and came down to our level. I think teachers were freer then than they are now. I could see how much we loved our teachers and they us by the way everyone hugged them when we met them in March 2008, for our class 0f 1967 get together.
1962 was the year Miss Malkani joined the school. No amount of praise for Miss Malkani will be enough. All those who have been under her tutelage will agree. She was a legend. I remember seeing her for the first time when she came to our house for breakfast. After that, she almost always came at that time as she knew that was the best time to get my father’s attention before he went to Senior School. We were on our best manners when she came. For as long as I can remember when my brother didn’t get up in the mornings we would say, ‘Vilas, Miss Malkani’s come.” Like for many of the students, she was responsible for so much of my upbringing in my formative years. Later, when I was a teacher in a school, I would often hear myself repeating her words to my students, “Sit straight, left hand on the book.” She was responsible for teaching me so many things. Whether it was like showing respect to the servants or throwing trash in the bin. Once we had gone to the Nabha cinema Hall to watch a movie. There was no place to throw the peanut shells, she told me to keep it in my coat pocket till I could throw it in the dust bin. Even now I never throw anything on the road and I still squirm when I see empty plastic wrappers on the road. I remember the first year the school went to Roti, about 2kms from PPS, for a school picnic she made me learn a poem called Rebecca and recite it before the whole school. After that I was made to recite poems on various occasions especially when the lights failed during a progmamme or movie. Before the school started showing movies on the lawns of the Junior School for the whole school, they used to be screened first in the Senior school and next day in the Junior school. Miss Malkani would make me tell the story of the movie to the Junior School boys before the movie! During one summer vacation, I think it was 1963, they had a workshop for teachers from various schools and needed students to practice on. Miss Malkani felt I was good enough candidate for them, and there I was! I, of course, enjoyed all the attention. When I went to college, and later started teaching, I thanked Miss Malkani for having given me this unique opportunity! When someone asked me how I felt so comfortable addressing people. I would reply, I have been doing this since I was eight years old!
My Father, the Headmaster
In PPS I played various roles. One which often fell upon me was to show guests around the school. My father loved meeting people and often invited people to visit the school Having guests for lunch unannounced was a regular feature and my mother was quite prepared for it It became my untold duty to show the guests around. I loved playing that role to the hilt I knew almost all the features of the school! How many playing fields we had, how many chickens we had in our poultry farm, who started it., the exact dimensions of the pool, who inaugurated what, how many boys had passed out in which division etc. I loved entertaining the guests. Often, I would regale the junior school lady teachers with my poems and my acting. I knew practically everyone in the school and could converse with anyone, I think I picked up that trait from my father. For him everyone was welcome to stay and visit the school and he was so proud to show everyone around the school more like a proud father. He always had the welfare of the school at the back of his mind and always wanted who ever who came to the school to contribute to the school in some way. Sometimes evening prep was shortened so somebody could give a talk. Later Wednesday evenings were reserved for such activities. He treated each guest with courtesy and respect whether it was a parent official guest or someone else. No time was a wrong time for anyone to drop in. I realize now that one thing he didn’t do was crib about anyone or anything. I don’t think I ever heard him complain about anything. If there was something wrong with the system, he would just get up and do something about it. He hated delays and unlawful behavior. Whenever he went out of Nabha and if the railway crossing gate was closed for more than the stipulated time, he made sure the station master would get a written complaint. If he didn’t like the way someone handled the situation, he was quite frank about it. He was quite good and persevering at convincing people to his point of view. In today’s HR parlance he would be a people’s person.
He had very strong values He hated cheating and dishonesty. I think that was one offence he couldn’t tolerate. Whenever there was some issue regarding behaviour or he felt some boy was developing undesirable traits he would call him home, give him a good breakfast and then have a long chat with him. He took a keen interest in each and every boy and in his upbringing and welfare. He always wanted the best for the boys and would go to any lengths to get it. The same attitude he had with the teachers and administrative staff.
He had a fantastic memory for names and faces .If he saw an old boy or parent at Delhi railway station or anywhere else ,he would recognize him in an instant and go up to him and talk to him as if he had met him only yesterday. He knew details about the family and inquired about them too. These things gave him great joy and pleasure. He took great pride in their achievements. Whenever an old boy achieved something he would tell everyone about it – more like a mother talking with pride about her son!
My father was quite a disciplinarian at home too. We were told right from an early age that we had to do our own work. The fact that we sneakily kept our shoes (to be polished) along with my father’s is another story. He was very particular about me not taking a lift with anyone to go to school. If my bicycle was punctured or broken and I was late for school, so be it. I would be punished. He never gave me a lift (till I reached class 11). I, of course, had my own resources. I would take a lift with Mr. Mallon who would drive to school at breakneck speed and make it in two minutes flat and be in time for school assembly. Then there was Mr. Tandon, who would go to Senior School to take the morning assembly and would always oblige. And, if there was no one else around, there was always Balbir Singh!
Coming home from school was quite another matter. I always walked home. I liked walking back, that was the time I was by myself and with the vivid imagination that I had I would make a rhyme about someone or be dreaming about some Enid Blyton adventure or kicking every stone and crushing every dry leaf. all the way home, we had no traffic problems then the only traffic I encountered were the buffaloes going to the Horlicks Canal, very often because of them I had to get off my bike and walk home. When I started riding my bike I only knew how to get off and not on. And I was probably the only soul walking in the road in the afternoon. I loved to see the school building when it came in view. Its majesty always held me in awe, the green lawns the tall pillars the beautiful façade. It all filled me with pride.
My father also insisted that the House Master and his family eat their meals in the school. According to him the House Master was closest to the schoolboy and if his family was taken care of, he could devote more time to the boys in his House.
There were days when I had to go back to Senior School immediately after lunch. I remember asking my father once why I couldn’t eat my lunch in school like Basanti. (I only ate lunch at school when we had class tests on Saturdays). He told me lunch was free only for the children of the academic staff, the Headmaster was the administrative head. I don’t think I asked him again.
He had a lot of freedom to implement his ideas. A lot of Public-School principals would come and visit the school.
My holidays were another matter we had three months of summer vacation and a month in winter. Later on, extra classes for the students started, I think they started in 1963 or 1964. And most of the teachers were only too willing to teach me too! I loved wandering around in the Senior School and peering thought the windowpanes watching the boys in class. Often, I would tease them by telling them some teacher was calling them or they were wanted by so and so. I almost always ended up at Mr. Kakkar’s place to do Maths! Most of our holidays were spent in school I don’t think I felt bad when I saw the boys going home because this was home. I did miss having hardly anyone to play with. But we found ways to amuse ourselves as we made friends with the teachers who stayed back. Miss Malkani was always there and a great sport. She used to give us books and we went for long walks but, the best part was visiting her place and getting nice things to eat! Very often we went to Mr Punia’s place and played with their children Raghuvinder and Mina who were the same age as us. We loved staying there we could play to our heart’s content and Aunty pampered us silly. We wouldn’t go home till someone came to fetch us! We loved Mr. Punia as he was very jovial and had a hearty laugh. I loved the way he read Robin Hood and Treasure Island to us in class7, when he taught us English.
In the early days Mr. S.C. Cowell was another constant companion. He spent many of his holidays in Nabha. He used to play hide and seek with us. In fact, I only came to know he was such a terrific teacher after he started teaching us Julius Ceasar in class 9. We often went for long walks with him and explored the Nabha countryside, (the forest area beyond the playing fields). On one such long walk we got lost and we found our way to the Nabha Central Jail, we also stumbled upon the the Maharaja of Nabha’s vintage car collection. He had a huge garage with many of the most beautiful cars I had ever seen. With my vivid imagination and my head filled with Enid Blyton and other adventure stories all this was high adventure. From then on, we visited the garage off and on. Almost always the garage doors would be locked and we would try to peep through the holes to have a look. We always took an adult along. Janet Anderman or Lila Kak often accompanied us on our walks. (I think I read too many Secret Seven). When the President of India inaugurated the school in 1961 the Maharaja of Nabha lent my father one of his Rolls Royce for the President’s visit.
Talking about Mr. Cowell, I think he was one of the most amazing teachers I had. When we saw his name on our timetable in class 9 we were terrified. We shuddered with fear because quite a few Jumna House boys knew how strict he was! Class was another matter and he made Shaskespeare and Julius Ceasar come alive. He was a wonderful teacher. He had a unique way of teaching. According to the rules, you had to be in your seat by the second bell. I remember one afternoon the first bell for prep had already rung and I was in the school library. I was in the school library and dashed down the wooden stairs and cut across the visitor’s room and almost banged into Mr Cowell.
He said, “What were you doing just now?” As I couldn’t say anything, he asked me again, “Tell me what you did just now?”
There goes, I thought to myself. I’m going to get punished now.
“It begins with ‘D’,” he said.
He said, “Another word beginning with “D’?”
He let me go only when he elicited ‘detour’ from me. Can I ever forget!
I still use his methods when I teach.
What made Nabha so special – our teachers
Very often I’d ask myself and other Nabhaites whom I’d meet off and on what was that about Nabha that made it so special. One thing I know for sure was our teachers. One thing I can say with certainty – we were extremely fortunate to get such good and dedicated teachers and we had full faith in them. For that I am eternally thankful and grateful.
If our concepts in Physics, Chemistry and Biology were so clear it was only because of their efforts. Now when I look back I can imagine how much effort they must have put in. I remember Mr. Katyal taking me to the Biology Lab and and making me do my experiments all over again .and making sure I understood everything. If I got even one numerical wrong Mr Kakar would make sure I had solved at least ten more! No time was too late to go to him if you had a doubt.
Mr. Bhave made sure we knew our Chemistry backwards. I even read the whole of Holderness and Lambert! He never left anything to chance and Basanti and I would me mouthing our Chemistry equations all the way from Senior School to Junior School. Even if you forgot an arrow in one equation you had to write all of them all over again. I guess that’s why we knew our subjects so well.
My favourite place in the school was the school library. I just used to wait for the tests to get over on Saturday afternoon and I would run to the library to grab my favourite book .and there was competition, there was Basanti who wanted the same book almost always and then then there was Vineet who ran even faster and and would get mad as to why we girls wanted to read Biggles. Mr Jagdish Singh our school librarian knew we would make a dash to the library and he would keep the books ready on the table. Sometimes the accession number had not been put and he would tell us to wait. He was extremely helpful and would always keep books ready for us. We must have pestered him a lot but he was always very patient I got hooked onto books and reading. I spent the break after my ISC exams devouring the library!
Mr. John Mallon had a wonderful collection of classics at home. I would always manage to get one and then hide somewhere so I could read undisturbed. Often he would get books from the British Council in Delhi for me. He taught me English from class 9 till 11 ,with his teaching my love for the subject grew.
One of the VSOs and Peace Corps teachers, I think it was Rob Clarke and Dick Pine had a huge collection of comics. They were all piled in the Junior School Jumna House Common Room. I spent hours reading Batman and Superman there. I also remember the enclyopedias Dick Pine got in the Junior School. They were one most my most treasured moments. When I visited the school in 2003, I checked if they were still there and they were!
Founder’s Day was another event in the school I looked forward to. It was always on the second Saturday in March. There was a flurry of activity everywhere. I liked the buildup to Founder’s. My father always decided the chief guest well in advance. The chief guest was generally a high profile personality. I remember one year, Air Vice Marshall Arjan Singh was the chief guest. He was to come in a helicopter which, was to land on our school play grounds. As there was a trial landing a few days before, I managed to persuade my father to let us see it.!
Once the School play was decided, practice would start right in earnest. I always wanted to take part in the school play but, it didn’t always happen, and I would try to persuade Mr. Sibal to take me. Mr. Sibal was one of our favourite teachers. I remember one year there was an all-boys play and I so desperately wanted to be in it I told him I would even be a stationary wax work! I would ultimately find something to do which would make me feel important.
Mr. Tandon would start the orchestra practice. Yes, I was in the orchestra, and that made me feel important. We could hear the band practice which would start early in the morning. I don’t remember the year in which the band started in school, I think it must have been 1964 or 1965. But I remember hearing them practice every morning. The Junior School boys would practice with their sticks on the low boundary wall. The Band Master Sir was very enthusiastic, and he put in a lot of hard work. Soon the band was the pride of PPS. Our school band used to go for the Republic Day parade to Delhi.
Before the Pavate Hall was built the main function of Founder’s was held on the main lawns of the Senior School. There would be a dress rehearsal for the whole school two days before the main day.
My father would take great pains over his Founder’s Day speech; it was a very important part of the function the whole year’s report would be read out. Based partly on this report, he would get projects sanctioned for the expansion of the school whether it was the boarding houses at Shyam Bagh or the school dining hall.
Another person who was extremely busy was Pushpraj. He was typing out the speech, sending out invitations, handling all correspondence etc. Often if there was lot of work, he would bring his typewriter to our home and set up his little office where we wouldn’t disturb him. I remember he was always smiling and never seemed to get hassled with any load of work. He knew exactly what my father wanted and was very efficient. He was the one person who was busy even after Founder’s functions were over. He would be busy typing out the minutes of the board meeting to get it signed before the board members left Nabha.
I remember seeing all the teachers in their black gowns waiting to be introduced to the chief guest. Every minute of the chief guest’s visit was accounted for, whether it was a visit to the library or the PT display or the art and craft exhibition. I would be most excited as I wanted to get as many autographs from the chief guest as possible.
The art and craft exhibition were another highlight of Founder’s which I enjoyed. Mr. O.P. Bhatnagar and Mr. Ghan and the boys put in hours of work to put up a fantastic display.
I remember one year, Mr. Bhatnagar told me he would put up my painting for the school exhibition. I still remember I drew and painted a fruit seller. I struggled with the drawing and the water colours.It had to come right if it had to be displayed, but Sir never lost his patience and finally it was complete I was so proud to see it with my name on it and I would run to the art room to check if it was still there.
The run-up to Founders was a time of hectic activity. The dress rehearsals, the band practice, the gymnastics, the PT display and the various activities, the lawns and gardens looked lovely with the flowers at that time of the year. My mother also used to be very busy getting all the rooms ready for the guests.
I remember seeing Balbir Singh, the junior school chowkidar helping with everything. I can’t imagine the place without him. He seemed to know everything about everything. There was nothing he couldn’t fix whether it was my bike or a lost ball or some colour pencil you wanted. Balbir Singh always had a solution! I think during Founder’s he rarely went home because we saw him most of the time.
Being a residential school, our school holidays like Holi, Dusshera were celebrated in a unique way. I remember in1962 the whole school walked to a place called ‘Roti’ along the Sutlej Canal. We spent the day at the government rest house there and all the boys had fun jumping in the canal and playing around. All the cooks had come too and we had lunch there under the big banyan tree. After that ‘trips to Roti became a regular feature. Often we had treasure hunts along the route which was great fun. (I think they were organized House wise). We went to Roti twice a year, the second occasion was on Dusshera day, we would come back in the evening and light the big Ravan which Mr Ghan and the boys would make outside the carpentry shop. The whole school would gather on the playing field in the evening. My father insisted that everyone participate in the school functions including teacher’s wives and their children. If someone was absent, he would make it a point to find out and inquire if all was OK. If he wasn’t satisfied, he would go to the teacher’s home and see for himself. I remember very often if we were coming back at night from Senior School, he would stop outside the Staff Colony and tell me so and so is not well. Whether it was the teacher or his family he was always concerned.
School was an interesting time. After the new dining hall was built, we saw a lot of documentaries in the dining hall on Saturdays. We got a lot of good documentaries from the British Council and other sources.
We also had many VSOs and volunteers from the Peace Corps who were actively involved in the school. They left their mark on us in many ways. David Goldberg took over the Swimming Pool and taught me how to swim. Dick Pine was probably the first teacher from the Peace Corps. They opened a whole new world to us with their ideas and enthusiasm. I remember he talked to us when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in1963. W saw the movie PT 109 about him too. We were exposed to books by American authors. He helped with the poultry farm when it started, and it was hugely successful.
We always had 1-2 VSOs in the school. As they were much younger, they were a big hit with the boys and the younger staff. I remember cycling to Roti with Janet Anderman and going for long walks with her. Anita Williams was another VSO who joined the school in 1966. We put up Arms and The Man by Bernard Shaw in1968. It was good experience going to school with her on the bike. Those were the ‘fun’ days. For me all these young teachers including Lila Kak were more like companions than teachers.
The swimming pool came up in1965. It was the pride of the school and a huge success. During the summer holidays it was open to the residents of Nabha, the Horlicks staff and the army. The Horlicks factory and the army took a keen interest in the school. During all matches the Horlikcs van would come and give chilled Horlicks to the teams. Later the boys got pasturised milk during the morning break.
After the school library the swimming pool was my favourite place. We would spend hours in the pool during the summer holidays. The other staff members children would also join us and we would have a whale of a time. Of course, we were not allowed without a lifeguard and we would rope in Rob Clarke, a VSO or Lowell Edwards and David Goldberg, from the Peace Corps. In no time, we became expert swimmers. Mr. Goldberg taught us a technique called drown proofing. Where you stay in the water by treading water. Soon it became a craze and we would spend hours in the pool. The chlorine would make our eyes red. We would stay in the pool till we were shooed out.
The school and Nabha has so many memories it’s difficult to write about them. I spent most of my waking hours with Basanti and we would share our world with each other. We shared the same desk for years, played games together, read the same books, studied together and got punished together too. I loved going to her house her parents pampered me a lot especially her mother. She would make something special for me, Mr. Mathu helped me with Maths, he was like a father to me very kind and considerate. Just imagine meeting your school friend after 30 years. I just did and it seemed as if we were in school together talking and laughing at the same time and waiting for some teacher to come and tell us we talked too much!
Yes, it’s lovely meeting school friends again. I made the trip to Delhi and met some of them after so many years. The years just seem to dissolve – you are the same eight-year-old who had come to school with no ego, no pride, no name or status attached. It’s just you and you are willing to reach out to them and play and shout and run around with them and enjoy school and share your joys and sorrows with them because they accept you for what you are and vice versa. And then this bonding lasts a lifetime. We pick up the threads from where we left …
We have a tryst with destiny wherein we can all meet again after so many years and relive school memories and make life more meaningful.
(Contributed by Jyoti Kate(R-52,1967) daughter of the Founder Headmaster of The Punjab Public School).
The picture below shows Jyoti Kate (R-52) on the left with with Basanti Mathu (R-73)daughter of Teacher Late Mr PN Mathu both were from 1967 ISC Batch.