Mr. J K Kate

Mr. J.K.Kate a life sketch

Mr Kate was born in a small town in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra on12th August 1914.He moved to Pune at an early age and then moved to Baroda where he passed his matriculation. He studied in the well known Baroda High School and started his teaching career in the same school. Right from an early age he was interested in literature and poetry and wrote many poems ,which were published and started’Sharadutsav ‘a poetry meet for poets  .He wrote a poem detailing the history of the Gaikwads on the birth of Sangram Singh Gaikwad the son of Pratap Singh Gaikwad H.H of Baroda State .and thus came in close contact with the royal family of Baroda.

He would take tuitions even when he was studying The Patwa coaching classes where he taught were a cause of jealousy among the other teachers as his class was always full!

After completing his masters in Pali and his B.T. he started his teaching career at Baroda High School.He was full of energy and enthusiasm and soon established a reputation of being an excellent teacher. In 1953 he joined The Daly College, Indore as a teacher. There too he started many new schemes including a House System for day scholars, which was much appreciated by the parents. He started a tuck shop for the school; this was also highly praised as everyone lived on campus, and would have to go a good five kilometers to get even a packet of biscuits! Thus his administrative skills got a fillip. By the time he left Daly College for Sanawar he was a House Master.

In1953 Mr. Kate joined The Lawerence School, Sanawar, as a bursar Apart from teaching he took over the administrative reins of the school. He introduced new ideas and brought about many changes in the school, whether it was replacing the western diet for an Indian one or hiring tailors to stitch

uniforms or going to Bhakra Nangal to ensure the school got electricity (it got electricity for a few hours each day).In a short  span of time he earned the respect of the teaching fraternity not only in Sanawar but in other public schools as well. In1958 he was selected by The British Council to study the public Schools in England.

In1959 he was selected as Headmaster, to start the first Sainik School in India in Nabha,as was envisaged by Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon,the then chief minister of Punjab. In1961 it became known as The Punjab Public School. With his vision and dogged determination he brought the school on par with other well established public schools in India.In1972 he was conferred the Padmashri for his contribution to education When I asked him how he felt when he met the President he replied, that what gave him greater happiness was to see that the three aides who escorted him to the President  were his ex students!

In the same year his old school, Daly College called him to take over as Headmaster and to reestablish its former glory .For Mr. Kate it was like going back to his roots and he brought about sweeping changes which helped the school establish some of its credentials.

In1978, the government of Haryana beckoned him to head their prestigious Sports Institute at Rai.He always loved the North and decided to join. Soon he joined the Motilal Nehru School of Sports Rai,as Director. Not one to take things easy he worked as hard as ever, in spite of his ill health.In1981 he retired and set up residence in Pune with his family.

This life sketch would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Mrs. Nirmala Kate who stood by him through thick and thin and by her presence helped his dreams come to reality. By her calm and helpful nature she lent grace and dignity to whichever post Mr. Kate held. And worked as hard for the benefit of the school.

As was his nature he kept in touch with his old schools and school boys. There was a steady stream of visitors it was then that he was in his element. As I sit typing on the laptop, I cannot but imagine how happy he would have been with one of these gadgets. The people of Nabha were close to his heart, his face would light up if they called or came and in the end it was they who took care of his heart with their care, magnanimity and love for him, for his boys and his teachers life had come full circle.

The end came on 5th August 1990.I’m sure if he could live his life again he would still love to go back to Nabha and serve the boys he loved and cared for so much.






In 1984 The British Council posted me from Caracas as Representative and Director in Portugal, and I decided to take my local leave on a visit to India and to see again JK Kate.

In 1968 I left Nabha to take another degree in Edinburgh.  I had wanted to stay on in India and there was a tempting possibity of Mayo where Headmaster Gibson was nearing retirement.  But universal advice was that the Indian Public Schools were under threat.  It was forecast by our senior officials in Delhi that the Schools would inevitably decline.  True, there were anti-foreign demonstrations in the capital and Moraji Desai had set his face against the Public Schools, but I could not go along with such views, coming from the Punjab Public School where a dynamic headmaster, J K Kate, was embarked on expansion in an institution producing young, confident and able students who could lead the development of the largest democracy in the world.

Thus, in my return to India in 1984 to visit JK Kate, I was curious to see how the Indian Public Schools had fared. In the Autumn of that year, I visited the Doon School on my way to Mussoorie, and of course that school was thriving and had greatly expanded.  Sadly I could not get back to Nabha, as Punjab was a troubled state after the invasion of the Golden Temple;  however, everywhere there was evidence that the Indian Public Schools, far from being in decline, had hugely prospered and were in great demand.  By 1984 great changes had already taken place in India, and the population of 500 million I had known in 1968 had now in 1984 grown to 800 million, and the role of the Public Schools in this  progress was self-evident, a role to which JK Kate had contributed so much.

In early 1964 I landed at Bombay in transit for Hyderabad where the Public School was an uneasy mixture of old Jagidar traditions and the transition from a British headmaster, Arnold Brown, of the Everest crowd.  Mukram Jah, the enlightened heir to the Nizam, was Chairman, but there was a melancholy air of decline which perhaps, influenced the impending withdrawal of British support for the Public Schools.  It was decided to transfer me.  My new posting to Nabha in 1965 was a revelation.  Our Delhi Office had described J K Kate as the most impressive headmaster in India, and the Punjab Public School was bustling with new projects and an enthusiastic student body who represented all the optimism that would take India forward.  What was extraordinary was the infallible direction that J K brought to the management of the school.  He assembled a talented Indian staff with a minority of British subsidised teachers, and welded them into a cheerful and happy family.  The school was housed in old imperial buildings but the whole atmosphere was one of modernity and new ideas.  Its Headmaster had innumerable high level contacts and was indefatigable in promoting his school.   The strong links with the Punjab State, the Sikh community, and the legal and civil and military institutions, gave the school a prominent and influential position in Punjab and nationally.  I visited other Public Schools with J K, among them Mayo and Sanawar which had been long established and successful schools, but the PPS was up with them in all the traditional Public School virtues, and surging ahead with the imaginative leadership of J K.

A new and recent pleasure has been receiving the newsletters from the immensely successful former student association, run by people like Dr Jashanjot Singh Bhangu.  The obvious enthusiasm and evidence of the huge success of the School, and the reminiscences of old Nabhaites brought back my own memories of  ’65 and ’68:  of Sam Cowell, who used to dine with us frequently to listen to Bach and our music collection,  and Miss Malkani and her young staff who lived below our flat in the Primary School and gave such devoted service to young Nabhaites.  The senior staff and housemasters were an outstanding and dedicated body of teachers.  As a former sixth form master in Britain, I admired the success of my senior students in the Cambridge Certificate, and on the cricket and football fields where they soundly beat me.  Reading through the correspondence from old Nabhaites, I was struck by how many of them now occupy prominent positions in India and abroad, and the obvious pride in their old school and its headmaster.

The Indo-Pakistani war was a bizarre interlude when I patrolled as warden with the VSO, Janet Anderman.  In 1964 I had travelled over by ship to Bombay with Indian and Pakistani graduates from Sandhurst and the memory of their camaraderie and esprit de corps made me a little sad at the hostilities that were developing during my time in Nabha.

Founders’ Days were always spectacular:  in one of them. the India CIC, General Chaudhri, arrived by helicopter and expressed indignation about his namesake’s book, Continent of Circe, until I gave him a copy at his departure.  An odd event was a production of Drinkwater’s Robin Hood play, which J K asked me to take over with John Rigby. although I secretly sympathised with the unfortunate students who had to take part.  Students of my time will remember the visit of Geoffrey Kendall’s Shakespeare players with the small company running on and off stage in a variety of costumes and parts.  We gave them dinner and saw how that extraordinary group was kept alive by the strange enthusiasm of the English medium schools for Shakespeare. As a counterbalance I have to confess to displaying British newspapers and comics in the school entrance hall – younger students lapped up Thunderbirds, but the most vociferous applause was for the Miss World report in the series of British films I got from the High Commission.

The Mallon family life was full of friendship and hospitality, largely due to the Kates.  My wife, Ann, developed skills in Indian cuisine, helped by Nirmala Kate and her friends, and I acquired a preference for Indian and vegetarian food.  Our third child, Margaret, had been born in Hyderabad, and our fourth, Mairi, in Delhi, while we were at Nabha.  The last involved me with J K in my new MG in a collision with a military convoy on the Grand Trunk Road.  Predictably, J K’s contacts provided me with a jeep and a complete rebuild of the front of the MG –   as a safeguard a Puja was carried out on the car on its return.  Mr Oberoi, Sam Cowell’s replacement, became a great friend and tried to revise my written Urdu, while my sons became fluent in Hindi, Punjabi and even Tamil (the last from the ayah).  But when we returned to Edinburgh they ran wild at school and their weakest subject was English!  We were greatly helped by the Horlick’s management in Nabha, although I declined their invitation to head  in convoy at dawn for Delhi during the Indo-Pakistani war.

It was a great delight to meet up again with J K and Nirmala, their family, and all their friends in Poona during my return in 1984.  I went on to Goa to visit the Portuguese archives and to meet their daughter, Jyoti Kate (Mrs Mahajan) and her family. It was a blow to learn in Lisbon later of J K’s death.  He had seemed so lively and well in Poona.

There are a host of memories which would need a book to recount.

I have had many fascinating and happy postings.  Africa was a culture shock. We went on to Madrid and later South America – a lovely and exasperating land, and most recently Lisbon.  There were visits to Singapore, Korea, Ceylon, South Africa, Rhodesia, Greece, Italy, Iran (under the Shah) and Baghdad before its troubles.  But the most memorable experience was my all too brief three years in Nabha.  It was a privilege to serve under J K Kate in the Punjab Public School, which remains as his enduring legacy.

by John Mallon (Ex English head and SeniorMaster)









Obsesed with innovation and efficiency, Mr Kate had the unconscious expectation that great educationalists and administrators always have – that he should be at the centre of any orbit. And he was. He was a visionary whose imagination was fired by grandiose projects, the more seemingly impossible, the better. When he arrived in Nabha in 1959 to establish the Punjab Public School he imposed his own granite discipline over its ‘crew’. Never the curmudgeon of myth, he had a droll, genial personality that made supreme intelligence and formidable self-control.

Few would dispute that he was seen as a demanding, no-nonsense headmaster who aroused a mixture of respect, awe and fear. His intellect and fervour made a strong impression on all of us. “What counts is what you deliver,” he said. He would say, “Yes”. He would say, “No”. But he never said, “Maybe”. He used to say that efficiencies in the educational world were infinite, a faith grounded in the belief that there are no bounds to human creativity. He did it through sheer force of personality, coupled with an unbridled passion for a keen attention to details many heads would often overlook.

He had the gift of presence. When he walked into the Staff Common Room, people straightened their ties and held their breath in anticipation and he dazzled them with effortless command. No one worked harder at his job to prepare more diligently for every challenge. His stellar career, inspiring personal history and reputation for integrity had endowed him with a unique moral stature. He sometimes revelled in a good laugh and took a warm, caring and – there is no other word – paternal interest in the lives of the students and all those worked with him.

When in early 1967 I was interviewed by him in Nabha for a teaching position at PPS what made me fall for him was his excitement and enthusiasm for his seven year old school. He talked with fire and grace and with apparently a profound knowledge of school education but was never didactic and did not at any stage monopolize the conversation. I feel incredibly privileged to have known him, and fortunate to have spent six years under him. Once I joined PPS I found
that he could be gentle, kind, humorous and sympathetic, all at the same moment.

He never gave orders, only occasional suggestions and frequent keen insights into school matters. He was an astonishing man – truly a dazzler, brilliant and, when you were able to catch him in a reminiscent mood, an interesting raconteur – filled with restless energy, initiative and passion. He could be our toughest critic, restlessly and relentlessly urging us to examine what we had done and how to do it better next time often leaning in to ask the tough, embarrassing – and central – question the rest of us had been dancing around. He could actually be quite demanding and he expected all of us to not only keep our lockers clean but also to dress well and be
supremely punctual and he was not concerned with being liked as much as he was concerned with being ethical and doing the right thing for everyone.

He was completely down to earth, otherwise, and closer to it than most. This seeming paradox dissolved in the face of admiration and affection all of us felt for him as a person. And, at the same time, somewhat reserve, appreciative of humour, unobtrusively purposeful, never bitter and always brave, matter-of-factly, loyal to his friends and deeply devoted to his family, he ennobled all his human relationships. At the regular meetings wih housemasters we could see that he was a consummate host with the grace and dignity of a statesman. He and Mrs Kate agonized over the smallest details that might affect the happiness and success of others, unaware that they were naturally one of the most delightful and accomplished presence in our lives and those of the thousands of their admirers.

Looking for recognition and appreciation was not one of his preoccupations. He treated his election to the chairmanship of the Indian Public Schools’ Conference and the award of Padma Shree with modesty and humility. He was like those wise men, a rare trait indeed, who remember the good deeds of others and forget their own. I think of him as essentially a man of goodwill, that is someone who wanted life to be worked according to the highest values and truest principles available to us: these were reflected and expressed in his professional life, public engagements and private family home.

He was a man of extraordinary fertility. All was grist to his mental mill. His bright, intelligent and persevering secretary, Pushapraj, would confirm that when he spoke he cut clean through the matter and never wasted words. Although there was a prominent sign, PLEASE BE BRIEF, on his table for the visitor/caller to see he listened with total concentration to what one had to say, a sympathetic grin flickering at the corner of his mouth People stood in awe of his sagacity. I know better than anyone else that he never lost his temper. What he did do, albeit rarely, was to  misplace it. He would not suffer fools gladly and he disapproved of inefficiency, tardiness and plain garden-variety stupidity. Most of us who learned the ropes of headmastering from Mr Kate have tried to imbibe from him the value of time, the pleasure of working, the obligation of duty, the courage of convictions, the virtue of patience, the power of kindness, the dignity of simplicity and the strength of character but how much of these, we do not know. Our gratitude to him is exceeded only by his generosity.

How should I describe Mr Jagannath K Kate – the ‘juggernaut’ amongst headmasters? “He was a tradition – no, more than a tradition. He was an event in the lives of hundreds and thousands of Nabhaite students, staff and parents.” A splendid Indian.

There is an old Irish saying that goes something like this: “Take a good long look, my son, for  once he’s gone, you’ll not soon see his like again.”  Will there be another headmaster like Mr Kate? I wonder.

(In chronological order, formerly Ravi Housemaster; Head of English
and Editor-PPS Chronicle; Headmaster, St Paul’s School, Darjeeling;
Principal, Th Daly College, Indore; Headmaster, The Lawrence School,
Lovedale, Ooty; and, Founder-Principal, The Indian School, Al Ghubra,
Muscat, Oman.)






Remembering J.K. … 

By Mela Singh (The first office Superintendent of PPS)

It is difficult to sum up my experiences with Mr. Kate in just a few words.  I shall, however, try to recollect just a few that have direct bearing on the life of a public school in general and our school in particular.  When I joined the school in early sixties as an Office Superintendent, I was rather over-confident that it would be a very easy job to handle office work of such a small school.  So far as the office work was concerned, there was no problem and I was often patted on the back by the then, Headmaster who was known for his expert handling and management of finances.

But this was not enough in a public school.  I was told by Mr. Kate on more than one occasion, that the office cannot live a life different from the life of the school.  Everything, every department of the school has to be public school like.  I remember one instance when he virtually pulled me up for not arranging to send some peon to the Post Office for a master who had to send a money-order.  He later explained to me that if the master had to run errands for small jobs like that and if he had to teach under tension and anxiety, what good work was he going to do in the class ? He emphasized that if we were doing one small job for the master or anybody else who was on duty, we were helping the school in so many ways.

During Mid-Term treks and tours, it was my duty to send a peon to the residences of all the masters and find out if any service was required.  During holidays and vacations we in the office had strict instructions to deliver the personal mail of staff-members at their respective residences, Mr. Kate told me that this served two purposes : one-a sound tradition of family life was established and two-no one could sacrifice school work on the pretext of a pressing domestic work.  To me the logic seemed convincing.

The office culture in a public school has to be quite different from the much abused “babuculture” of ordinary offices.  Mr. Kate was successful in achieving this right in the beginning.  We were involved in almost every aspect of school life. “You must come out of your files and ledgers and live a more varied life,” he would often say.  Though membership of the Staff-Club was optional for the office staff, everyone of us became a member and we never thought we were a different class.

Although we did not know most of the boys as closely as the housemasters and masters did, we had to deal with their parents on many occasions and this brought the office people also in the larger picture of the school family.

Now I can realize that strong foundation of human relationship goes a long way in the shaping of a school’s total personality.  When it was emphasized that human beings are more important than life-less files and ledgers and that clock-watching of eight hours is not better than honest work of a few hours, we felt proud of ourselves.  The sound foundation of work based on this philosophy has paid rich dividends ever since the school started.  Our accounts and management of budget have even been envied by well known schools like Doon, Sanawar, and Mayo.  In fact all this was the result of teamwork and a strict watch by the people on the top.  This practice has lived till now and worked well.  Before doing anything, Mr. Kate’s maxim was, ,ask yourself whether it is good for the school and whether we could do without it.  If it is good, go ahead.’

The most difficult thing for most of us including masters was to go on casual leave unless it was unavoidable.  I do not want to say that the rules were very strict.  In fact there was no need for one to go on leave for small domestic work because they were taken care of by the school.

Some people have a remarkable memory about old boys and Mr. Kate is one of them.  While sorting out the school mail, I was once unable to trace the house No. of one boy to whom the letter was addressed.  As usual I sought Mr. Kate’s help and I was surprised to find that he not only knew his House No. but also his parents, home, and habits.  He knew almost everything about all the old boys.  Another such person was the late Ms. Malkani whom we often referred to as the school directory.’

Often people talked about Mr. Kate’s miserliness with  regard to school expenditure.  He was miser about time too.  Once I was sent to Shimla to get the scholarship money released.  He chalked out my programme himself in such a way that I had to spend two nights in the train and do the work in one day.  In this way I was away from duty only for one day.  Mr. Gurdial Singh Dhillon, Speaker Lok Sabha once said, “Mr. Kate knows how to create interest in work whether it is teaching, office work or out door work.” After trekking expeditions, he used to call a staff meeting for stock-taking’ as he would call it.  He had a word of praise for those who kept the per-capita expenditure minimum and something else for those who exceeded the limit.

My first duty every morning was to, give him the upto-date financial position. ,”This,” he would say, “helps me in taking decisions that involve money.” The Accounts Section had strict instructions not to spend a single paisa more than the sanctioned limit.  Once the Board asked him to bring down expenditure including the salaries by ten per cent.  Without touching our salaries, he managed the accounts so skilfully that the Board in its next meeting called him a wizard of accounts.’

At the half yearly get-together, the entire teaching and office staff used to be the personal guests of the Headmaster and the Bursar.  Mr. Kate had established personal relationship with everyone and while he drew strength from this relationship, the staff in the bargain got a constant stream of inspiration from him.