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    Volume 9 Issue 11| March 12, 2010|

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In Retrospect

St. Gregory's

Najmun Noor

Every alma mater stirs nostalgia. Revisiting the past is always fond with or without connotations of success in the material world. The gravitas impact of sound education and moral values is the measure of balance that any educational institution is able to instill. Any alumni's recollection of high school is time tested, replete with priceless experiences and reminiscences. Sentiments seem to carry over from a mystical stratosphere, customised in an odd mixture of innocence, learning and an eerie bondage that will just not go away.

But what was different at St Gregory's High School? Much is said about its history dating back the 19th century or success stories of its students in entrepreneurship, commerce, administration, journalism, athletics or government. Yet there's more to it than meets the eye. More than anything, it was the aspiration level of all students that St. Gregory's was able to raise. And it started with conveying to them that it is important to be dreamers before they become doers.

This was an institution that marveled on reputation and methodology. Core values were its mainstay. The imparting of knowledge was as crucial as the teachers' gathering and collating it and the means applied to do so always subject to scrutiny and review. Not that there was any regimen applied. By contrast, the adoption of non conventional methods was stunning.

It was small wonder, therefore, when the iconic Brother Hobart would barge into the English class with forty copies of a magazine, pass these down the aisle and in his husky voice that volleyed back and forth between the black board and the back wall of the classroom that not even a whisper dare interject, roared: “…turn to the opposite of page 37…” The overly inquisitive would spontaneously cut in: “….but Brother, that's just an advertisement…?” No sooner had the query ended, Br. Hobart would quip in,“…aha !…that's just it…the advert !… engrave the picture in your mind, of that ill shaven, tousled hair man in a dirty denim jacket, …and remember, that picture reflects the true meaning of the word…'rugged'…that I mentioned yesterday…now return the magazines.” And so began the English Class for that day.

And what “a day” that each day was. Before the class was over, the entire board was filled with words, phrases, names, or quotations depicting experiences, stories or adventures that kept every one of Br Hobart's students wide-eyed, jaw-dropped, rabbit-eared, and bench-edged on their seats. Attention deficiency was hardly an issue with teachers of St. Gregory's, least of all, Brother Hobart, Nalini Sarker Sir, Brother Herbert, Peter D'Costa Sir, Idriss Sir, Mrinal Kanti Dey Sir and a rock solid faculty of others, too. One could enter Brother Hobart's class stealthily, only to find students beguiled and spell bound, by his theatrical narrations potent enough to dismiss as second rate the fictional Captain Ahab's captivating witchlike, transfixing hold on his crew all agog to annihilate Moby Dick!

Then there was the towering personality in Nalini Sarker which day after day, mesmerized students with jibes that were actually educative aphorisms and not one bit derogatory. Without fail, students memorized these to their advantage for conceivable verbal bouts. Or, consider the exposure of students to a high degree of English Literature at a level as early as class eight. In being called upon to analyze classics of authors like Edgar Allan Poe through a review of its plot, theme, setting, climax or anticlimax, the student was expected to show off diction and dexterity in verbiage.

The system at St. Gregory's was designed to inspire. If it was not near perfection in academics, there were other areas for the Gregorian to excel. For the ad lib orator or eloquently endowed, the prestigious Gregorian Debating Team was an option, but not without fierce competition. There was even something in it for the feeble…, correction, amorous hearted! Many of them turned out to be witty, wily, albeit chivalrous, eloquent members of the debating team, that extra bit enthused at the prospect of verbal jousts with the Girls' schools.

Sports, games and athletic events were other avenues in which St. Gregory's was also top notch. The nation's basketball and cricket teams were predominantly former St. Gregory's students. Science Fairs, Shakespearean plays of the students were the buzz of the city and won national acclaim.

The resources were at everyone's beck and call. Carving out one's niche was the expectation, in a manner of speaking -- a foregone conclusion. The writing was on the wall for anyone to survey and surmise that in order to succeed, perspiration must match the inspiration.

That was what was different at St. Gregory's. The proverbial good student was never allowed the cakewalk. Yet there was none that felt shortchanged, either. Brilliant students could never rest easy on laurels. None was given safe passage, either, of hiding under the guise of being “dimly witted” to take refuge in defeatism or procrastination. The foreboding adage seemed to loom overhead inexorably: “…surrender if you will, but do so at your own peril…” Call it ominous, but make no mistake, it worked wonders for the psyche.

For every Gregorian, the school and its teaching staff were like the innovative English Teacher in the film “The Dead Poet's Society” played by Robin Williams. His improvised, yet effective and popular, teaching methods had incurred displeasure of the administration. As he departs, the loyal and respectful students address him as: “oh captain…my captain...” in tribute, resonating a salute like quote from a favorite poem that he had taught them.

Per chance or per impulse, the Gregorian harks to the beckoning of their school calling out to the spirits and memories of students of yesteryears. As much the poet or the story teller, their alma mater draws them close to say: “….come back, come back……a thousand times…...come back…..” And the Gregorian, either in acknowledgment or in musing, never fails to whisper back its response as if in ode or in gratitude: “…oh St. Gregory's…my St. Gregory's…”


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