The Inimitable Senior Master, Mr. Samuel Charles Cowell

Mr Samuel Charles Cowell (English Teacher, Senior Master)


Mr. SC Cowell , an Anglo-Indian, was one of the veterans who joined the School along with Mr. MN Tankha in March,1960, just after Mr.JK Kate was handed over the reins of building The Sainik School, Nabha. In fact, he had been with Mr. Kate in The  Lawrence School,  Sanawar and had retired and was doing a stint at BCS ,Simla. At Mr. Kate’s bidding,  Mr. Cowell came out of retirement to lend a helping hand to his colleague and friend at Nabha.

Despite being elderly, his was always an imposing personality due to his penchant for discipline and order. He put all his experience to good use and played a monumental role in laying strong foundations of the school.

After the departure of Dr Surjit Singh, the first Senior Master of the school on deputation from Punjab government, Mr. Cowell  shouldered the responsibility of Senior Master too for the interim period before Mr. Vodden took over the office. After Mr. Vodden left for England, Mr. Cowell once again occupied the chair of Senior Master and continued to hold the post till his retirement in December, 1966.

The boys (mainly of  Punjab) affectionately referred to him as “baba” in Punjabi and in private with respect for his age and his authority. He is still fondly remembered by Old Nabhaites of that period for his varied moods, fondness for the eternal Punjabi sweet “pinnies” and maintaining a diary that he called “VOLTAS”, an acronym for “Volume of Liars, Thieves and Scoundrels”. All students lived in perennial fear of having their name entered in the VOLTAS since it meant “no movies, no pocket-money, extra PT, but  eating those dishes that they least liked”.

On 8th December 1966, a farewell party was organized to bid farewell to Mr. S C Cowell on his retirement.

The following excerpts are taken from different chronicles in the early 1960s. 

March, 1960 The year ‘The Punjab Public School’ started as ‘The Sainik School’, Nabha started 

When Mr Kate came to Nabha to take charge, all he found were two large, vacant, and untidy buildings. He borrowed a chair from the Sub Divisional Officer and started his office in the porch of the Guest House. Though Mr Cowell had promised to join PPS early, the credit for officially reporting first on duty goes to Mr Mukut Narain Tankha who had started his career as a Geography teacher at Modern School, New Delhi. Though the exact dates are unknown, both Mr Cowell and Mr Tankha joined PPS in the month of March, 1960. It was the trio of Mr Kate, Mr Cowell and Mr Tankha that prepared the blueprint for functioning of the school.

Since furniture was not available at the time they joined, the legend has it that they would sit on the marble staircase in the Guest House and chalk out the details.

Sainik School, Nabha, being a residential public school in character, an important decision had to be taken regarding ‘Houses’. Both Mr Kate and Mr Cowell had come from Lawrence School, Sanawar, and it was quite natural that Sanawar was the source of inspiration for this crucial decision. Sanawar has four houses – Himalaya, Vindhya, Nilagiri and Siwalik representing prominent north Indian mountain ranges. For Sainik School Nabha, Mr Kate hit upon the idea of four main rivers of Punjab i.e., Beas, Jumna, Ravi and Sutlej.

HOUSE                 COLOUR

BEAS                    Blue

JUMNA                Yellow

RAVI                     Red

SUTLEJ                Green

To identify boys from different houses, it was proposed that the boys shall use under-turban of their respective house colour. However, since this method did not work for non-sikh boys, an additional house colour stripe was added to the school tie to address the problem later. Though it is noteworthy here that presently students wear a uniform school tie irrespective of their house.

Mr Cowell, being an academician, planned the curriculum and timetable.

To start a new school with no staff, no infrastructure, and no students demanded vision, intelligence, and the co-operation of a dedicated team. Mr. Kate began to build one with Mr Samuel Charles Cowell, an English teacher, who had recently retired from Sanawar. On Mr Kate’s request to join him at Nabha and help him in kickstarting the new venture, Mr Cowell came out of his retirement to lend a helping hand to his former colleague. Mr Cowell had the reputation of being a strict disciplinarian at Sanawar and he brought every bit of it to Nabha. Interviews were also conducted for the post of Senior Master, teachers, administrative staff, matrons, nursing sister and other ancillary staff.

The group that gave the School a great start. Ms GB Malkani , head Junior School, Mr M Vodden, the English head from British Council, Mr SC Cowell (English and later Senior Master right hand of Mr Kate), Mr GS Punia the bursar, Dr Surhit Singh Bedi (Senior Master) , Mr JK Kate and Mr MN Tankha (geography) with Guest Defence Minister of India YB Chavan.


First Official Day of The Punjab Public School (14th April,1960)

Gen Kalwant Singh, Chairman of the school committee addressed the school on behalf of the His excellency the Governor of Punjab, Mr. NV Gadgil , who could not make it.

The boys put up a variety entertainment programme for the guests in the evening. Considering the fact that students had arrived just four days before, they managed to stage a praiseworthy performance. Mr Kate had asked Miss Pannu to help the boys in preparing a Bhangra performance. The convent educated Miss Pannu found herself wanting on account of never even having seen a live Bhangra performance before, but Parminder Nagra (S-1) inspired other boys to come up with a scintillating display and Mahesh Kumar spiced up the performance with his creative vocal interludes (bolis) such as:

Bari barsi khatan gaya si khat ke layande tare

Ajj sade ghar aye, gernel kernel sare

The other memorable item of the evening was an English play “A Fable of Baghdad”. Under the able direction of Mr S C Cowell, the participants comprising Deepak Kapoor (J-2), Provin Jaidka (B-5), Pradip Dhir (B-10), Pritpal Singh(R-1), Jagjit Bedi(J-3) and Surinder Gupta (J-1) came out with flying colours and a self-assured performance.

Below is a description of the evening entertainment as recorded in the Chronicle issue of June 1960.

Mr Cowell is seated last to right in the second row nest to the attendant. Back of the Dias Picture from the Inauguration function of the School.



On 7th December, 1966 after Home Day Lunch, a formal farewell was given to Mr SC Cowell. As it appeared in the chronicle issue of 1967.


An old picture of Mr SC Cowell.

 A write up by an ex-student on retirement of Mr SC Cowell from the School in the same issue of The Chronicle :

It’s a fresh description of Mr SC Cowell by someone who observed him closely and was impressed by him (written just after retirement).

Mr Cowell with dynamic popular history Teacher Mr YP Bharadwaj,


What others have said about Mr. Samuel Charles Cowell (SCC),  B.A., T.T.C.

Wedded to The PPS

The grand old man had an unlimited stamina to work. He knew all that was required in a good public school. He laid sound foundation of various systems and practices. Most of us had no knowledge of public-school work. Only Mr. Joginder Singh was a public-school product and Mr. Tankha was an ex-teacher of Modern School, New Delhi. We all observed Mr. Cowell and learned from him. He was a continuous source of inspiration. A dedicated teacher, wedded to PPS (He was a chronic bachelor). Nothing would escape his keen eyes. He made quick decisions and filled every gap. He was a strict disciplinarian and had a heart made of gold. He believed in ‘firm kindness’.

Playing Holi with staff and students. Time to have Fun!

Changing medium of instruction (from Punjabi\Hindi to English) was a herculean job. Mr. Cowell accepted the challenge and went on raising the standard of English of Senior School boys. He, and Mr. Joginder Singh, would not go to sleep without completing the days correcting of exercise books. Rare examples.

Mr. Cowell directed English plays in the early years. On 14th, April ,1960 he staged “Fable of Baghdad” with new raw boys within seven days of their arrival into the school which was well received. On the day of Inauguration of the School by President on 11th April, 1961 he again directed the English play. The highlight of the stage performances on that day were the plays. Hindi play, “kutte ki maut” was directed by Mrs. Kate and English play “The invisible Duke” was very well directed by Mr. Sc Cowell.

Mr. Cowell was very much fond of tea and Indian sweets. He used to drink 60-70 cups of tea every day. He would polish of ten ladoos or half a kilo burfi in five minutes. In spite of being an Englishman, he enjoyed Indian food. He was a father figure for us.

–Mr OP Bhatnagar (Ex-Hindi Teacher, 1960-70)

Mr OP Bhatnagar sketching at a picnic on Rohti canal Rest House.


Remembering Samuel Charles Cowell

Along with J.K. Kate, S. C. Cowell was present at it’s creation and gave our school shape and structure in the crucial early years. While Kate dealt with the board of governors, political patrons and parents to make the school a viable educational experiment that thrives to this day, Cowell was responsible for its day-to-day functioning.  Our daily routine from the rouser to lights out was chalked out by him and the senior masters that followed him did not need to change it much.  In the final instance it was this routine – the life we led in our houses, in our classes and in the playing fields – that made us, for better or worse, into public school boys. This was a fortunate division of labor between these two remarkable men.  Kate had the strategic vision and Cowell the tactician freed him from the day-to-day headaches of running the school so that he could focus on the long run.

I know very little about Cowell’s life and Jashanjot Bhangu has asked me to rely on my memory for this piece of writing. Memory we all know can be treacherous, specially, after a lapse of over forty years but still it has some advantages over history and I hope I will be forgiven for any transgressions. The first impression in this palimpsest is of an avuncular figure limping along at a surprisingly brisk pace dressed in a half sleeve bush shirt on a chilly January morning towards the dining hall for morning tea while we shivered in our long sleeve sweaters. There is a faint frown on his face for he is worried about the day ahead of herding his recalcitrant charges from one activity to another. If we were late or were not lined up properly we had to face his wrath and his famous left upper cut.

I doubt if there is anyone in my generation who did not face his upper cut at least once. Most of us were deserving candidates and perhaps some innocents were punished unjustly. Cowell  at times had a short fuse but he was not a petty tyrant though I am sure he would have agreed with Machiavelli’s advice(‘oderint dum metuant’ Accius) to the Prince that, “it is better to be feared than loved’. He never hit anyone for being academically deficient and mostly exploded when we showed what he considered bad form or ungallant behavior like being rude to women teachers. Over time he mellowed down and the infamous visits to the physics lab for caning were phased out. He did not seem much bothered when corporal punishment was banned during Michael Vodden’s tenure as Senior Master. Some lesser teachers used to threaten us that they will teach us a lesson when the ‘white skinned foreigner’ is no longer around. Not he for he had a natural authority which was not grounded in cruelty. I heard him mutter once that Vodden’s experiment was not going to work and he was right. For soon after Vodden left our teachers regressed and I recall one of them hitting some poor sod and taunting him to call for his white skinned savior.

Keeping an strict eye on the NCC performance of Cadets

During Vodden’s tenure corporal punishment was replaced by detentions when we had to copy pages from dictionaries or have our Diwali home weekend taken away which most of us found more onerous than other forms of punishment. My next memory is of one of those weekends when we saw a gentler side of his personality. He made sure we the detainees had good dinners and let us have our fireworks as well. I can’t remember who was responsible for getting an adequate supply but it is likely that he paid for them from his own pocket.

I was often called to his office after some offence or the other. I recall once getting caught reading when we were supposed to be doing something else. I tried to hide my book under the mattress which was a mistake for besides what I was reading he also found a copy of Kama Sutra. He told me that he had no objections to the book but it was meant for married couples or the ones about to get married. Once he found out that I was a ‘reading type’ he asked me what I had read recently besides age-inappropriate books like Kama Sutra. I mentioned Hemingway. He approved but did not think I was justified in calling one of his books a modern classic and I learnt from him what an oxymoron was. He, unlike John Mallon or Michael Vodden who were great teachers in their own way, laid a lot of emphasis on building our vocabulary. At the same time, he insisted that his initials stood for good prose: simple clear and concise. As I write this I feel him hovering over my shoulder. I wonder, have I been too pedantic? Perhaps I should delete the Latin fragment from Accius. I do not know what Cowell read for his own pleasure but I heard his eyes got wet on occasion when he read Noyes’s poem “The Highwayman.”

Overall Cowell was a private person and kept his emotions to himself. I recall his admonition to a student to refrain from ‘vulgar gesticulation’ while explaining something to him. There were occasional flashes of dry wit and humour which have been documented by some of his former students in the ONA ezine. His last day at Nabha was also the last day for my class. I do not recall any special function to say farewell to a man who molded our characters. There was his usual matter of fact talk. He did not need to give us any parting advice for his job was done.

Rest in peace Sam under ‘the jeweled sky’ and I hope you understand my calling you by your first name.

(I am a loyal student at heart and my affiliation is with what Mr. Cowell called “the anti-social gang” of the class of 1966).

Jaspal (R-89,1966 ISC)

Jaspal Chatha (center , R-89,1966) in conversation with Dr Jashanjot (S-52) (right ) while Late Col HS Bajwa (S-25), (left) is looking on. Both Chatha and Bjawa were members of the anti-social gang in school. So called b y Mr Cowell. Jaspal retired a s professor of Economics from Lehmann College , NY, USA.

Did PPS Proud!

Mr Sam Cowell ‘was a legendary teacher who I first encountered in 1953 when I joined The Lawrence School, Sanawar as a young student. I then, found myself as his colleague in The Punjab Public School, Nabha, where I started my teaching career in January 1963! However, he continued to be my teacher and I could not address him any differently. All conversations continued to be interspersed with, “Yes or no sir!”

Mr Samuel Charles Cowell, an English teacher and housemaster, soon after he retired from Sanawar, was requested by Mr Kate, an erstwhile teacher and the phenomenal Bursar at Sanawar, to join him in the Herculean task of starting a brand-new school from scratch at Nabha and help him set the ground rules and standards. Mr Cowell complied and willingly gave a helping hand to his former colleague Mr. Kate. Mr Cowell had rightly earned the reputation of being a strict disciplinarian at Sanawar and he was given the task of choosing an exemplary faculty and staff for PPS and to share ideas in several aspects, for the smooth running of the school. These he did with alacrity and success.

My earliest memories of Mr. Cowell are of his bright yellow house, near the BD in Sanawar, where he lived with his mother who must have retired from her job at the school. He was a portly figure, to my young mind, bespectacled with thick greying hair, a double chin and a stern expression until it broke into a smile. His black cocker spaniel, Wendy, if I recall her name correctly, was an inseparable part of him, and padded along by her master’s side for a lot of the day!

Mr Cowell, in his blazer and flannel trousers, was a ubiquitous presence and taught in addition to helping to maintain a high standard of discipline and courtesy. He was punctilious about our singing the National Anthem in exactly 52 seconds which he clocked in with a stop watch! We practiced once a week every Assembly before singing it each Friday morning and felt very pleased when he would look up over the top of his spectacles and say, with an expressionless face, “Fifty-two seconds!” before breaking into a smile of pleasure!

Mr. Cowell had a great sense of humour, but one needed two prerequisites to understand it. One was, a good command over English and the second was, enjoying sarcasm without taking it amiss. His jokes were said tongue in cheek and you could see the twinkle in his eye as he thought of a clever way of getting a message across humorously! He didn’t wish to intimidate his students and had a very kind heart. He kept in touch with generations of his pupils and was often invited by their families in the vacations. I clearly remember his coming home to tea on one of his visits to Kashmir. The words “Hmm.., I love your baking, Mrs Kak,” ring clearly in my ears and I can see dear Mr Cowell’s smiling face as he reached out for another of my mother’s delicious ginger biscuits!

Mr Cowell belonged to a dedicated and punctilious generation of teachers who devoted their lives to producing well rounded students. Those who were lucky enough to pass through his hands certainly gained a good understanding of English from Shakespeare to essay writing and, equally importantly, were held to a high standard of etiquette. He did The PPS proud!

LILA KAK BHAN (Ex-Teacher ,Junior School)

A picture of teaching pillars of the 1960s who made the reputation of school. Miss Lila Kak  later Bhan is on extreme right among ladies in the first row standing . Mr SC Cowell is seated on right of the Headmaster , Mr JK Kate in the center.

Mr S.C. Cowell- An Immortal Soul

  • I had studied in KG Ajmer a boarding school for about two years prior to joining Sainik School Nabha in May 1960 in class VIII. My background gave me an added advantage over my colleagues.
  • We were the senior most class and were given additional responsibility. Infact, because of my schooling and ability to communicate in English, I somehow became translator to my friends, who achieved laurels for themselves and the alma mater in days to come. To be frank with you some of our Stalwarts use to cry as initially neither could communicate nor at time understood what Mr. Cowell also fondly called Baba Ji had said to them.
  • Cowell insisted that everyone in school will only communicate in English irrespective of the location. Due to total dedication of Mr. Cowell, slowly over a period, the barriers were broken and all my classmates excelled in the English Language.
  • I, because of my background disciplined conduct and ability to communicate at that time in broken English became his favourite.
  • Now, I will share with you feeling and observations about Mr. Cowell.
  • He was a man of taste. Whatever he possessed was of high order. He never compromised on quality, He was immaculately dressed and never compromised in our dress code. In fact, he inculcated in us the pride a person should take in his attire.
  • He was a man of integrity and Principles, who never  hesitated to point out omission in direct or discreet manner depending on the situation. He taught us how to draw that thin line in our off and on parade conduct. When in class or during the school activity, he was a strict person. However, off parade he was always in smiling disposition as  also would share jokes with us.
  • He also taught us and me in particular that officially functioning of any man should never affect the personal life.
  • You all would be surprised to note that although I was his favourite student, but when it came to English as a subject, I never got passing marks i.e. 40. It would be less than 40 marks. Now this act of his initially, did upset me. However , in the long run it made me realise that personal relationship should not be a factor when it came to assessment, passing of judgement on to known person. We have to remain impartial and your personal relationship should not interfere in functioning of official duty.
  • Cowell had a very sharp eye and ear. He was a godly person. During the assembly he would identify tone deaf or student totally out of tune standing at the Assembly Dias itself. Thereafter he wobbled from row to row, thumped the chest of the students who were out of tune and signalled them to keep shut.
  • He had created such an aura of fear that when he walked through corridor the students would signal the arrival of Baba Ji and all activates would come to stand still and there would be pin drop silence.
  • Volume of liars thieves and scoundrel is a well-known document of Mr. Cowell. A list of all defaulters over the weekend would be prepared and also the punishment would be given depending upon  the offence committed.
  • He was indeed a lonely man seeking for true and healthy relationship. He often visited me in Nabha, But that never helped me in securing passing marks in English.
  • His aim was to inculcate total self disciplined life in all of us. He totally trusted each one of us. However, during April 1964 we the students of the most senior class betrayed him by bunking at night to see a movie at Nabha Theatre.  May be it would have gone unnoticed, had we not encountered Mr Tandon who was sitting in the last row. Although Mr. Tandon had said that he would not share this incident with anyone but we, specially me, felt guilty conscious.
  • Next day morning I along with few of my classmate went over to Mr. Cowell office. He without hearing us told us to go back to the class room. It was an indication that our visit to Cinema Hall is no more a secret.
  • Thereafter, Mr. Cowell came to our class room and said, “you all have betrayed the faith I had in you. I have been your class teacher for last 4 years and this is what you all give me in return.” He started weeping and we all joined him. It was indeed an emotional scene. It was followed by pep talk by Mr. Kate and genuine tears flowed to one and all.
  • This incident made most of us to take a resolve never to betray the faith entrusted by anyone. It did make me a strong man.
  • Like I said earlier he was always seeking company and was true friend. I enjoyed having pastry and coffee at Wangers in Delhi, during the school days and his company in Jammu where I was posted in Seventies. To me he was totally a family man and a fatherly figure.  I will always remain grateful to him for inculcating traits which have paid me handsomely during my service and even in my retired life.  May God bless his soul.

-Major General Sureshwar Tiwari (J-34,1964). (Mr SC Cowell was House master of Jumna and had great affinity for Sureshwar.)

Escorting Minister Yash of Punjab in 1963 during guard of Honour.

Strict Disciplinarian!

Regarding Mr Cowell I remember him as a strict disciplinarian, who believed in the rule of the stick. Any rule breaking was followed by caning. He would ask each student to bend forwards, and give five canes. He had a diary named VOLTAS (which was abbreviation for Volume of Liars Thieves and Scoundrels). That names of all the trouble mongers were noted in that. Some of the frequent entries were my classmates Hardev Bajwa (S-25), Manjit Saraon (J-94,1966), Jaspal Chatha (R-89)and Mulkjit Singh (S-54) all of 1966 batch.

Entrants in Voltas were not allowed to see the Saturday movie and had to perform frog jumps with two bricks in hand during that period. I remember during floods in July 1960 we were shifted to Junior School. Mr Cowell would walk into each of the dormitories shouting ’Out of the bed’ and everybody would jump out of the bed to avoid the caning. His voice could be heard from quite a distance.

I remember while preparing for President’s visit in 1961, he was preparing the team for singing The School Song’. He made all of us stand in a line and listened to voice of each of us and thumped the chest of those students who did not sing well to move out of the line.

He was very particular about physical training and running for students. He was always around everywhere and students would try to avoid his path. He would have his meals with students and initiated the prayers before and after meals. He would always have barbecue chicken leg and boiled vegetables for himself. It was his training and scolding which moulded us into responsible citizens.

Parampal Coonar (S-22,1966)

A picture of pioneer School staff of early 1960s (1963?)

Mr Cowell and his VOLTAS dairy.

Every movie night after super in the dining hall he would stand and all students with scared eyes and thumping hearts would listen to the names he would read and state that these students will go to the assembly hall as they had 3 violations, as punishment they would miss the movie and sit silently in the assembly hall.

I for one did serve one such detention.

Harikirtan Singh (S-24,1967 H SC)

Harikirtan Singh (S-24,1967- Hr.Sc.) on extreme left with Hr. Sec .class friends of 1967 March

Strict and Compassionate

Mr Cowell joined the school at the time, when it opened. He had been in the education field all his life and shifted many schools before he joined us. His last School was BCS, Simla before that he served for a long time in The Lawrence School, Sanawar.

He was from the old guard who were strict disciplinarians and yet compassionate in outlook. For obvious reasons he taught English which was preserve of few. The style of teaching was comprehensive, in that he took language as a whole and worked on every aspect of it from reading, speaking, grammar and pronunciation. His students can recount till today the difference between words starting with ‘V’ and ‘W’, on how the first is pronounced with biting the lower lip, while the latter starts with making a tunnel with both lips.

Even in off hours if someone made a mistake, his name would go down in his VOLTAS diary, which was referred to as a ‘Volume of Liars, Thieves and Scoundrels’. It was an established norm that once your name was recorded in the diary, you were to report automatically in the physics lab at 6 pm, which usually meant cuts across the open palm with a scale. He had his own system of deciding the number of hits based on the severity of each offence. This punishment was gradually phased out by him.

A very compassionate man, he adopted Balbir Yadav (J-14), who was an orphan, and looked after him like his son. In fact, he gave away everything he had to his students, and after retirement, he did not have any thing in his credit. He stayed for short periods with his students, till he died. I was fortunate that he counted me in as one who would respect and accommodate him. He was staying with an RVC officer, Colonel Ahlawat, at Hempur, who had been his student. From there, he came to me in Bareilly, in 1975. Stayed for a few days only and then moved on. That was how he lived the last of his days.

A legend, who would never be forgotten, by any student, who met him.

Lt Gen BPS Mander (J-38, 1964)

Lt. Gen BPS Mander, (Retd.)

Listened to and Respected

As far as I think Mr. S C Cowell was the right-hand man of The Headmaster Mr. J K Kate in setting up the foundations of The PPS in the 60’s.

He was a strict disciplinarian and ingrained good and clean habits amongst the boarders. He taught English as a subject in School. He was the housemaster of Jumna for some time before becoming the Senior Master.

Although he walked with a limp to go about his daily routines around the school, he used to personally stand by and cheer up the players along the field.

In the formative years of the school, there were only 120 boys to start with, 30 in each of the four houses. He personally checked that each boys’ hair was cut so short that one could not grip the same with fingers. As a Senior Master, he maintained a black diary titled VOLTAS which expanded to “Volume Of Liars Thieves & Scoundrels”. Depending upon their degree of indiscipline, the guilty ones were made to do different chores like standing guard outside his office for a limited time. Worst punishment given was missing the Saturday movie in the Junior School.

He was listened to and respected by rest of the school staff during his time. He groomed and encouraged the students to improve upon the English language skills.

After leaving ‘The PPS’, he was one of the founders of The Guru Nanak Fifth Centenary School in Mussoorie.

During summer vacations of the school, he used to stay with some of his favourite Sanawarians and later on with The PPS students. He used to drink a lot of tea kept in a thermos flask nearby in his office. In the evenings he used to relax in his quarters on the first floor. At the same time, he would call one of his favourite students for a tête-à-tête.

Vijay Plaha (J-51,1965)

Mr SC Cowell with ISC class of 1965. Vijay Plaha is sitting on the extreme left.

Passionate ! 

Mr SC Cowell dedicated his entire life in grooming students of two leading Public Schools that is Lawrence School Sanawar and PPS Nabha. He remained a bachelor throughout his life because of his passion of shaping students as outstanding leaders in various fields and also churning out responsible citizens. Inculcating disciplined habits in young minds was a top priority for him.

Mr JK Kate our founding headmaster brought him from Sanawar knowing well that he would be a great asset in the teething years of a new residential school.  I remember when my father enquired about my performance in the school, he did not comment on my academics but remarked that he often found my shoe laces open. He could observe minutely and easily point out the right faults of the students. Mr Cowell was slightly short tempered and would not hesitate awarding severe corporal punishment to the guilty.

I was always on his radar due to my frequent mischiefs. Once his office as a Senior Master was ransacked and ink split all over. I was the chief suspect and was badly thrashed by him. However, later I went to his office and frankly told him this particular offence had not been committed by me. He thereafter, realised his mistake and warmly hugged me.  Mr Cowell was strict to the core but at the same time also full of compassion.

He would call spade a spade with no hesitation, his famous words to our group that “you Sandhu , Bajwa , Saraon, Chatha and Mann are the worst offenders in the school” still ring in my ears. Mr Cowell would often repeat these words as the most mischievous lot was our group of 1966 batch. Lastly the famous after dinner caning of the guilty in the Physics Lab was an indication of disciplining the students, even if it was the hard way.

Col Mulakjeet Singh (S-54,1966)

Mulakjeet Singh (S-54,) is seated second from right in this picture of 1966 ISC Class.

A later picture during army service as Lt..Col.

Mr Cowell despite age and physical size and handicap took active part in every activity. Here is at the finishing line of the athletic track writing observations in mid row.


Mr. Samuel Charles Cowell (Simple, Clear and Concise)

Amongst the first members of the PPS senior staff, I encountered on entering the Senior School on a cold day in January,1963 was Mr Samuel Charles Cowell, a British/Anglo-Indian educationist who taught in Indian Public Schools. He was following  a family tradition – his mother had retired from the Lawrence School , Sanawar as a Matron and his brother had reportedly given instruction at Bishop Cotton School (BCS), Shimla. Mr Cowell, too, came to PPS after teaching both at Sanawar and BCS.

To the unaccustomed eye of us young students ,he seemed larger than life with a ponderous belly atop which his trousers remained miraculously perched. He had a matching large  florid face with a pronounced double chin. He had thick grey hair and wore very thick glasses which shielded a most piercing and observant set of eyes. He walked with a slight limp all over the campus , often with surprisingly alarming speed. He was generally preceded by his pet Spaniel Wendy, literally announcing his arrival and a warning for the mischievous.

He came to PPS to assist his friend, Mr J K Kate ,a former Sanawar Bursar to kick start the new School (then The Sainik School, Nabha) in the aristocratic environs of the Secretariat and the Royal Guest House of the Maharaja of Nabha, where Mr Kate had been appointed as the first Headmaster. He did a marvellous job of it. In no time he had turned the boys, many of whom came from the rural areas and small towns of Punjab into a disciplined lot and toeing the general line drawn by him – conversation only in English , smart turn-out at all times, punctuality and high levels of personal hygiene . None dared to fall out of line. He assiduously pursued the old school dictum of ‘Spare the rod…’Any infringement of his ‘rules’ was followed immediately by commensurate quantum of approbation by caning, cuts of a scale on the hand,  the trusted and tried “whacks” of a very strong hand !!, missing the Saturday movie, extra P.T. or having to eat a meal that you did not like.  But we were in agreement that his punishments were quite proportionate to the crime committed.

It was not long before he introduced us ,with a twinkle in his eye, to his infamous and quite dreaded  VOLTAS notebook. The acronym (I’m sure much to the chagrin of the TATAs) was expanded by Mr Cowell as the  “ Volume Of Liars, Thieves and Slackers (sometimes converted to Scoundrels)”.The most dreaded punishment for us movie buffs was to be kept away from the Saturday movie.

It is no exaggeration that the boys  avoided crossing his path ,not knowing for what invisible misdemeanour they may be hauled up by him ! In spite of his thick prescription glasses, he could identify any child from a hundred feet away. One loud shout from him would make them freeze or , in rare cases, run for their lives. It was at times like these that Wendy came to the rescue of many by suddenly appearing in their sight, they knew that her master would not be far behind ! In addition, he was called ‘baba’ by the boys among themselves. The whisper went around when he was approaching “baba aa reha hai” (baba is coming). Or “don’t go that side baba is standing there”. The boys were in real awe of him.

He was very particular about turn out of boys. Nails cut, hair short, handkerchief in pocket. Neat dress, all buttons intact (visible and invisible in the trousers), shoes well-polished and shining. It’s is no wonder, that if you meet a student of that vintage, he will be well turned out.

He was very strict but he did not hate the wrongdoers. Mr Cowell was most fair in assessing a delinquent’s misdemeanour and meting out proportionate punishment. The episode over, he would forget about it till it was repeated. He bore no ill will toward anyone. He was even kind to students. He was single minded in making gentlemen out of the children. His students will vouch for how his methods though sometimes harsh, helped them become better persons in life.

He was an excellent teacher and taught my class, English Literature. One cannot forget the way he taught Shakespeare . He would explain each word, each sentence in great depth ,linking them clearly  to the language of their origin ,whether it be Latin or Greek or Roman, and the context in which  their usage was required. It was no wonder that progress was usually so slow that in one period he might just cover one para or even one stanza. It was dinned so deep in our memories that I still recall much of Julius Caesar by heart.

Like a good teacher, Mr Cowell was very industrious. He would often give us homework, take our exercise books home and bring them back after making corrections in red ink. Many a time , my impression that I had done well was quickly dispelled when my exercise book was returned with red markings all over! Sometimes I dreaded opening my exercise book after corrections. He corrected all notebooks same day and handed them back to students next day. He was very diligent in his work. Being Senior Master, he enforced this on other teachers too. It helped a great deal in raising the standard of School. He never got angry if a student did not understand, he instead, went to great lengths to explain himself better. Though, I was not very good at English Literature, I managed to get respectable grades in it, in my ISC exams, thanks to his teaching. I still remember his advice on writing prose with the comment, ”My initials stand for Simple, Clear and Concise (SCC)”.

He would play the piano with ease during the Morning Assembly and taught us the morning prayer songs, and the School Song with patient expertise. He even made us sing the School Song as it had been put to tune by principal Terry of Thapar Polytechnic (written by Mr Michael Vodden of course).   I still remember him trying to get us to sing in tune by repeating ‘laaaa…..’ in different notes. He had an ear of a musician and could pick up a boy in a group who was not in synch. He also had a vast collection of western classical music and played many of his records before actual Assembly. Thanks to him, I must have heard most of Beethoven’s symphonies in School.

Mr Cowell was above all famous for his wit and humour. I have shared this even with his students from Sanawar. He had the talent to deliver a punchline with tongue in cheek, while his face was expression less. He often held the audience in splits when he was on stage. Even while teaching he would slip in a comment that made everyone laugh. It made the subject interesting. To understand his humour, one had to understand the English language and how he played subtle with words and the sarcasm in his sentence. Once while reading Antony’s speech, he went, “Friends, Romans and countrymen lend me your ears” (with stress) followed quietly by “for I have lost mine”. The class burst into laughter.

Another time during the staging of the witches’ scene from the play Macbeth by Kendalls’ Shakespearana company in school, the children were confused by the three witches talking among themselves.  Mr. Cowell came on stage during the break, congratulated the actors , looked at the audience and with poker face asked seriously “Which witch was which?” There was a roar of laughter. He was at his best while conducting debates etc. where his comments were full of subtle humour.

Another incident which I clearly recall involved the late Col Hardev Bajwa  (S- 25) ,a bright and spirited all-rounder. He was a consistent topper in his class, but was equally a compulsive breaker of rules. He was in the august company of like-minded boys like Jaspal Chattha( R 89),Manjit Saraon (J 94),Charanjeev Aulakh (R 108) and Mulkjit Singh ( S 54), all of A section of the 1966 ISC batch. They were bright but figured perpetually in VOLTAS and were often dubbed by Mr Cowell as the ‘Anti-Social Gang’. One day, Mr Cowell cornered Hardev in the foyer and said to him “ Hardev, with your genius, you could become the Prime Minister of India, but I think with your habits, you will end up in jail!”. Both are no more, and possibly sharing their earthly encounters in the Heavens above…..

I remember Mr SC Cowell (Ex-Senior Master) on ce saying, “You are fooling the public by saying you are from a Public School.”  It was a comment on behaviour of some students, as Public schools groom gentlemen and not rowdies.

What he did for the School was a sincere effort to keep all students in line. He was a completely different persona outside of School and on holidays. I am told that the best was when someone spent holidays or free time with him .He was a happy and jovial man full of affection and compassion. He even played hide and seek with small children. He was very generous and gave away all his possessions to others. The Kates were the fortunate recipients of his mother’s English crockery as a personal gift.

After his long and eventful stint in PPS, he moved to Dehradun and taught in Col Brown’s School. As with all great humans ,he didn’t really pass on, he just withered away. Despite the seemingly rough treatment meted out to them, his old students loved him because he made real men out of them. It is ,thus , no surprise that his last years were spent living with an Old Nabhaite or Old Sanawarian , as he had no family of his own at that stage .He was welcomed warmly  in their home. That his students still speak of him with respect speaks volumes about his immortality as a teacher and a mentor!

Dr Jashanjot Singh Bhangu (S-52,1967)

Dr Jashanjot (S-52) at an ONA Meeting  

Memories of a great Senior Master

 Mr. Cowell was Senior Master and earlier Jumna House Master, when I joined. He taught us English for a limited period, giving way to Mr. Joginder Singh. Thereafter, Mr. Vodden and Mr. Sibal. My memory of him is limited to

(a) his whopping slaps

(b) his Spaniel, I think named Wendy, which preceded him everywhere and thus gave us a warning about his imminent arrival! and

(c) VOLTAS !

Gurinder Dhanoa (S-9,1964)

Picture is self explanatory. Gen Rodrigues Governor of Punjab is the Chief guest.

Teaching in and out of the Class.

Probably one of the first teachers to join the school was Mr. Cowell. He was the second senior master and we were terrified of him when we came to Senior School. He was a strict disciplinarian. Quite a few Jumna House boys would vouch for that.

He always wore rubber soled shoes so we couldn’t hear him when he came on his rounds. On one April Fool’s Day the boys in my class decided to play a prank on him. We were in class 9. We placed a tumbler of water on top of a lot of books and placed it over the front door, and waited anxiously for him. During prep we kept stealing glances at the door hoping he would walk in. Walk in he did, but through the back door! We were learning Mark Antony’s speech after that for a long time.

In the class room he was completely different and an excellent teacher. He was very diligent and thorough and we learnt good English from him He taught us inside the class room as well as outside. I can never forget how he corrected our notebooks in red ink. No mistake was overlooked however small.

He had a unique way of teaching. I remember one afternoon the first bell for prep had already rung and I was in the school library. According to the rules, you had to be in your seat by the second bell. I ran from the school library, dashed down the wooden stairs, cut across the visitor’s room, and almost banged into Mr. Cowell. “What were you doing just now? What did you do just now?” He asked me again.
There goes, I thought to myself. I’m going to get punished now.
“It begins with d” He said.
‘Diversion’ I 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.

Jyoti Kate (R-52,1967) daughter of Mr JK Kate

Jyoti Kate d/o Mr JK Kate. Picture of a Hindi kavi sammelan enacted on stage. She is acting as a female poet.

Everlasting Memory

There is also the everlasting memory of Mr Samuel Cowell (Baba) who taught us Shakespeare – Macbeth. Both Yogesh Chadha (R-69) and me either read novels during his long monologues or dozed. He was most frustrated that even though he caught me nodding off several times, I was always able to answer his questions. He then decided that I was able to “… sleep with my eyes open…” . The result was extra PT on the slightest excuse – frog jumping outside the Auditorium.

I did Meet Mr Cowell once in Delhi outside 10 Janpath several years later. He was with some Nabhaite who was dropping him somewhere on his scooter.

Vikram Kuriyan (J-120,1968)

Vikram Kuriyan is in the back row prominently seen to the right of two boys with turban. Jumna house with Athletics trophy (1968)

Playing with fire
I remember when we were in class 8 (1964) doing our Prep (I think that’s what we called homework time then), Two boys from our class (I remember the names but shall not mention, they may take offense) got a match box and started burning the paper in the rubbish bin, resulting in a small bonfire in the class and we all got excited. The boys in our class were not stupid. They told Jyoti (R-52, 1967) and me to keep a watch at the door pretending to sharpen our pencil as Mr. Cowell was on duty and he used to wear shoes with rubber soles, which were very silent.

Suddenly, I saw Mr. Cowell turning around the corner and heading towards our class. Oh God!  How scared we were. Guess what the boys did? They put the rubbish bin along with the bonfire into one of their wooden desks. You should have seen our speed. By the time he entered our class we were all seated on our seats with pin drop silence in the class. Luckily for us he looked around and left our class. When I think about this incident, I still wonder what would have happened if he had stayed a little longer and  the wooden desk  had caught fire!!!!!

 Basanti Sathu (Mathu) (R-73, 1967 ISC batch)


Basanti (R-73,1967) is econd from right


Sound Foundation

The thing that strikes one the most about one’s stay in the School was the outstanding level of dedication of the staff. Each left an indelible mark on one’s young and impressionable mind. Heading the list would always be Mr. Sam Cowell, who I probably feel contributed the most to our generation of students by laying a very sound foundation based on principles, ethos, traditions and honour code.

Admiral Jaggi Bedi (J-2, 1963)

Admiral JS Bedi (J-3, 1964)

 Ear for music

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 -68’:  of Sam Cowell, who used to dine with us frequently to listen to Bach and our music collection,

From a letter by  the Scot Mr John Mallon (Ex-English Teacher from British Council 1965-68)

Late Mr John Mallon , British Council Teacher (1965-1968) Head of English.


Memorable Punishment!

BUT THE PUNISHMENT THAT TAKES THE CAKE: Was being pulled up by the Senior Master and my House master then (Jumna) Mr. S.C. Cowell! It was the second term then (August) and Swimming Pool Time! Do not know / (cannot recollect for what – there were so, oh so many occasions for that!) for what specific fault.  He finally asked me if I went to the Swimming Pool as a Life Guard.  The answer being in the affirmative,  he asked me to do my duty as a life guard! BUT….  Not to enter the pool unless it was a LIFE AND DEATH situation!!! NO SWIMMING FOR ME!!!  ALL THAT WATER EVERYWHERE  n NOT A DROP TO SWIM IN!!!

Late Rajiv Joshi (J-102, 1967) , (Another naughty boy, From his article “Types of punishments”)

Rajiv Joshi (J-102, 1967) sitting in front with hat in farewell fancy dress party of 1967.

Preparing for the school Inauguration ,1961

One morning the H.M. came to take me to the Senior School for morning assembly.  I was asked to select assembly songs, which I did and compiled them for the school Prayer Book.  It had English, Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Punjabi hymns.  I was supposed to compose the tunes and this was done with the help of Mr SC Cowell, Head of English Department.

KC Tandon (Ex-Music teacher)

Mr Johri,second from left with Mr Sibal, Mr Tandon ,Mr Bharadwaj,and David Goldberg teachers in 1960s


Responsible for Discipline and English

I learnt English from Mr Samuel Charles Cowell and Mr John Mallon. Mr Cowell was the Senior Master in school those days. He was a very strict disciplinarian with a strong will and was a nightmare for the errant school boy. He was quick to dispense “frog marching around the quadrangle” if he found you out of order. He was the pillar that the school discipline was built on. The boys referred to him as “babba” and some as “buddha babba” as he had a shock of grey hair which he kept closely cropped, a little in the style of the school haircut that was prescribed for all the non-Sikhs. It was not unusual for a prefect to warn a boy that getting out of line to remember as to what might happen when “babba” found out – “tu vakhein, Babbey nu pata chale gaya tey tu vahkhein.”

To continue with English, Mr. Cowell emphasised building a strong and powerful vocabulary. He said that a word was in your vocabulary only if you could pronounce it, spell it, knew the meaning and could use it in a sentence. He used to walk in to class each day and ask us what new words we had picked up from our reading since the last class.  He would list them on the black board and take us through the steps of pronunciation, spelling, the meaning and building sentences. He would then make us write down the words in small pocket-sized notebooks that had been issued to us from the school stationery. We had divided the pages alphabetically and noted the words on the appropriate pages. The normal class began only after this ritual. Often Mr. Cowell picked up words from the morning assembly from what Mr. Kate had said or one of the prayers. If Mr. Kate was away or busy then it was Mr. Cowell who held the assembly.  I get the impression from the web site that the school still lays a lot emphasis on building a good vocabulary. I thought the present generation might like to know the genesis of the practice and the debt we all owe to Mr. Cowell. He was very instrumental in my ability with the language.

Ashok Balwani (R 90,1966).


Each teacher gave individual attention to each student. Mr JK Kate, Mr Joginder Singh, Mr SC Cowell, Mrs Lyall, Dr Surjeet Singh Bedi, Mr GS Punia, Mr MN Tankha, Mr PN Mathu, Mr OP Sharma, OP Bhatnagar, Mr KC Tandon, Mrs K Tandon, Mr M Vodden, Mr Mial, Mr Chatterjee, Mr Johri. They were more like lifelong friends, philosophers and guides. I really don’t remember what we were taught in classes but I distinctly remember what we were taught outside the class.

Mr Cowell: walk in twos, in step and no talking.

VOLTAS Diary: Volume of Liars, Thieves and Scoundrels (luckily, I never got a mention in it!).

Capt A S Sidhu (S-11, 1960-1965)


 For our good!

There are times that the Harry Potter movies remind me of PPS .We had our own Magic. We had strict teachers like Mr. Cowell. Mr. Cowell was too strict, although sometimes for our good.

From an email  by  Dr Vineet Mehta (J72-1967 )   October 2008


Imprinted in our genes!

The sense of discipline inculcated by Mr. Cowell has got imprinted in our genes to the extent that even now I wake up at 5 am and sleep at about 9 pm!!

Dr. Satish Jain (R-107,1970)


Fond Reminisces

He was a sticker for discipline and it is because of him that PPS gradually grew in its reputation and status and today is rated as one of the best schools, not only in the country but in the world. He was also a very kind man. I was fortunate to have a very good relationship with him. I loved getting him soft calf leather shoes especially designed and made in our factory in Calcutta. When I was doing my pre medicals at Hans Raj College, in Delhi, he especially called me to a sumptuous tea at one of his favourite restaurants in Connaught place,(I forget the name) It was a very emotional evening and I till date very fondly reminisce that evening. God bless his soul. RIP Sir, till we meet again.

Narinder Kohli (Head boy, 1966) on Mr. SC Cowell

Narinder Kohli(B-79,1966) is to right of Mr John Mallon.

Get married in the holidays!

I met Mr Cowell in 1963 when I joined PPS. Though initially I did not interact with him much as he was very busy in his day to night routine of teaching, looking after the welfare of students, preparing for the next day’s lessons for the students, etc. Sometimes he would ask me to type a few pages of his lesson plans. He would write in his own hand the most legible text. I wish I could have saved some of his writings. Slowly we got to know each other and became good friends. Since his living arrangements were right next to my office it was normal to have a little chat over a cup of tea and cookies. His fondness for all things sweet were a talk of the school campus. If he were invited for tea at a teacher’s house the tea must accompany plenty of sweets. In spite of being diabetic he managed his life very well.

A disciplinarian as well as a dedicated teacher one could not fool Mr Cowell. He was one of the early risers and made sure the students were up bright and early. His daily routine before the start of the classes was to make sure that the students were dressed well, shoes polished, and their nails cut.

Mr Cowell was liked and respected by the staff and students alike. His subtle sense of humor was something to write home about. I vividly remember when he was an MC during a staff play and his monologue, prologue, and epilogue were so hilarious that it cracked us up days on end.

Being a great teacher, administrator, it was hard for the school to see him retire when he attained the retirement age. Mr Kate approached the Board to grant Mr Cowell an extension for an extra year. At the Board meeting the Governor asked Mr Kate only one question: if Mr Cowell was indispensable and Mr replied with an affirmative “Yes”. Exception was made and Mr Cowell stayed on for an extra year.

Mr Cowell was a firm believer that the teachers must dedicate themselves for the cause of students. He will frown upon if a teacher would ask for a day off to attend a wedding or other  events. He even insisted that if a teacher wanted to get married he should marry during the holidays.

I had a chance to visit him in Dehradun. What a great host he was. He took me out to a very fancy restaurant for dinner. No surprise here, all the waiters knew him very well as he frequented that place. When I met him over tea, he treated me to some delicious ginger cookies. I took a great fancy to these cookies and each month he would send me a small batch and I in return would send him Horlicks which he missed tremendously.

Pushap Raj (PA to Mr. JK Kate the Headmaster, who saw Mr. Cowell from close, officially and personally) .

Gen JN Chaudhary being introduced to staff by Mr.JK Kate Mr Pushapraj is looking on second from right. _________________________________________________________________________________________________

A Measure of immortality

(An article by Dr. Harishpal Singh Dhillon, PH.D, Headmaster, The YPS ,Mohali on the immortal sense of Humour of Late SC Cowell ,Ex Senior Master .PPS which appeared in The Tribune as a middle) 

What is the measure of immortality? I do not mean the Teresas. The Tendulkars, the Bahugunas, the Hussains. The Subhalakshmis, the Oshos, the Bachhans and the Vikram Seths of this world- their immortality is immeasurable. I mean the ordinary people, like me, the school teachers, the railway clerks and writers of the middles, who lead ordinary humdrum lives, with no special talents, no special calling, no special passion. People whose sole achievement is making both ends meet, giving their families a comfortable life, bringing up their children as decent human beings and saving enough for their retirement to be spared the indignity of seeking financial help. Is there a measure of immortality to our lives or do we fade quickly away as soon as our funeral ceremonies are over? This question had haunted and troubled me with increasing frequency in recent years. Then I found my answer four days ago.

There were three of us at Lunch. Norman, who had studied at Sanawar in the thirties, I, who had been at Sanawar in the fifties and Jashanjot, who had studied at PPS, the sixties. The conversation veered around to the recent change of Principal at PPS. Jashanjot bemoaned the decline of discipline.

“How I wish Mr. Cowell was back, it would all be sorted out in no time”. Both Norman and I remembered Sammy Cowell too. He had been a teacher and then Senior Master in Sanawar  before moving on to PPS. From his awesome reputation as a disciplinarian, we moved to his sense of humour.

Norman remembered  a 1936 report which read “Norman works in fits and starts. Unfortunately, at the time of the exams he failed to have either a fit or a start”

I remembered an August mark—reading in 1954.I was never good at anything in school but did, sometimes when Mr. Cowell pushed too hard, achieve a good academic result. He opened the register for Upper IV A. “First Harishpal Singh Dhillon “. He paused and looked out of the window for a long moment at the steady downpour outside, then turned back to look at the children and added in a soft ,but clear voice that carried to the back of the hall ”Hence the rain”.

Jashanjot remembered an incident from 1966.The Kendalls , with their Shakespearean troupe, would visit all the major schools of India and stage plays ,mostly Shakespeare. By the sixties they limited themselves to playing an assortment of scenes ,rather than full length plays. After one such performance at PPS, which had featured , amongst others, the witches scene from “Macbeth”, Mr. Cowell  came onstage congratulated the actors on a fine performance and turning to the student audience asked “which witch was which?”

Almost 25years after his death, three individuals had come together purely by accident, and shared memories of him which spanned 40years.It was a fair measure of immortality. I had found my answer and was content.