On 10th March 1937, Shahed and I arrived at St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling, along with other students who travelled with us from Calcutta. (Incidentally, these lines are being written on 10th March 2011). Initially failing to find our names on the notice board – there was no K.M. Sayeed or K. M. Shahed – we came across “K.M.S. Shahabuddin I” and realized that we will henceforth be known by our surnames.
Soon we learnt that Shahed had to go to the Junior school where his name appeared as “K.M.S. Shahabuddin II”. I then looked for and found my dormitory in Lyon Hall. My bed was near the door, covered with a red blanket as were all the 25 or so beds in the dormitory. It was very cold and I shivered under four blankets. While I was still awake the Rector, Mr. L.G. Goddard came on rounds and stood for a while next to my bed.
I was very raw not having had much practice of speaking in English, and cannot remember how I answered his questions. I kept thinking of Shahed, he was only nine years old, and wondered how he had got along. I was not going to see him until Sunday when boys from the junior school were allowed to come up to the senior school, after lunch, to meet their brothers. I cannot remember how I spent the first few days in the school, particularly, my feelings and reaction about attending the service at the school Chapel.
It was compulsory for the whole school, without exception, to attend Chapel twice a day, before breakfast and before dinner. If I remember correctly there were over 200 boys in the school of which about 35 to 40 were Hindus, and only a handful were Muslims. The rest were Christians, Jews and Armenians. I was the one and only Muslim in the Fourth Form class to which I had been admitted.
A month or so later, in April or May 1937, our cousin, Syed Fayyaz Alam, son of Syed Sahib-e-Alam (Kaloo Chacha) joined our school. Like Shahed, he too did his Senior Cambridge, and, did his Tripos at Cambridge University, England. He served Pakistan as Commercial Secretary in various Embassies around the world. He married Riffat (Riffi), daughter of Dr. Mahmood Hasan, and sister of Samee-ul-Hasan. Both husband and wife have passed away.
St. Paul’s was like a typically British public school, run on the pattern of Eton in England. There were four ‘Houses’ – Clive, Havelock, Hastings and Lawrence – with two Prefects in each house. Each ‘House’ had a place alloted to it in the large dining hall served by two bearers for each ‘House’.
The four ‘Houses’ competed against each other in Cricket, Hockey, Football, Boxing etc. I was in Havelock House. All games were compulsory and the names of those selected to play for a team were posted on the Notice Board, indicating the colour of shirt – red or white – they were to wear. Each House had its own distinctive colours. Whenever we went out we wore the school cap and carried an umbrella as it rained quite often in Darjeeling.
The Junior School boys wore an Eton collar, school tie, jacket, shorts and stockings. They also wore the school cap and carried an umbrella. Every Sunday the entire achool marched down to St. Andrew’s Church for the Sunday Service. They were lead by the school captain, L.H. Beard and two other prefects, followed by Junior school boys, then boys of Form One upwards with the Sixth Form seniors bringing up the rear.
After the service those who had relations, living in Darjeeling or on a visit, were given “Exeat leave” pass which had to be signed by the person visiting, and they had to return to the school by 5 p.m.. Rest of the boys marched back to the school. After lunch we were free to change into casual clothes play games or just relax. At tea on Sundays we had buns and later, went to the Chapel for the Sunday service. Twice a year when the Government of Bengal moved to Darjeeling, Chachajan (Uncle Nazimuddin) and family stayed in the house “Malden” which gave Shahed and me, and our cousin Faiyaz the opportunity to visit them on Sundays
From the big field we had a lovely view of the majestic snow-capped Kanchinchanga when it was not covered by clouds. We played games. Cricket from March till the beginning of May, then Football, and Hockey from September onwards. On Saturdays the school team played matches against other teams, one of which was St. Joseph School, run by Jesuit fathers from Ireland. They were our great rivals.
We used to call the boys of that school “Spadgies” (from spud), and we were known as “Paulites” and also “Chatawalas” because of the umbrellas that we carried. Some times schools from other parts of Darjeeling District visited us and we returned those visits. After evening Chapel we had dinner and then an hour’s study or home work in the massive “Prep hall” where each one of us had a desk allotted to do our work. It was the same desk that we used for examinations etc.
The “Prep hall” had a fairly large stage for school plays and other functions..One of the school teachers supervised us and was always ready to help us to deal with any problem that we came across. We then returned to our respective dormitories and went to bed as the lights went out at 9 p.m.
Most of the teachers were British, some Anglo-Indians and two Indians. Our Form master was Mr.Ouvri, from England, and others who taught us included Messrs. Henson, Clarke, Coombes, G.Elloy, M. Elloy and Bowen. Mr. Warren was the games master and also took Gymnastics classes. Mr. Dutta, from Calcutta, taught us Physics while Mr. Rudra, the Hindi Master, was from Saugar in Madhya Pradesh, then Central Provinces. Hindi, along with Latin, was the second subject.
I chose Urdu and Persian as did Anwar Afridi, from Kohat. He was much senior to me and a school prefect. It is difficult to imagine that the Rector made arrangements for the Principal of Islamia School, Moulvi Ahmad Hussain, to come twice a week to teach Urdu and Persian to just two students. Anwar Afridi and I were excused from playing games on those two days to do our lessons with the Maulvi Sahib.
This also gave me an opportunity to get to know Anwar Afridi, who, along with Amir Sultan Chinoy from Bombay were the other two Muslim students. I had another advantage. Being a Prefect, Anwar, who was known in the school as “tough”, had the privilege of going out of school if he had something to do. He very kindly asked me to join him early every morning for a run down the hills and climbing via the khud on the way back. This did me wonders in building up my stamina which became an asset for me in later years.
Anwar Afridi retired as Inspector General of Police (I.G.) Punjab, Lahore, and, for a brief period, was Pakistani Ambassador to Burma. He passed away a few years ago. Amir Chinoy married Anwar’s sister, Almas, and was a very successful industrialist in Pakistan. He too passed away. It is a matter of great coincidence, I might mention here, that Amir’s daughter, Farhana, Anwar’s daughter Annie and my daughter, Nazli, are married to three brothers from Peshawar – Yusuf Shah, Tariq Shah and Taimur Shah respectively.
In the Fourth Form class I had three good friends. Ranendra Kumar Palit (Rene), Ranjit Sen (Minnie) and Rajkumar Seth (Mitchie). All of them were very bright and brilliant students. They helped me with the subjects, specially English literature, which I found very difficult due to the very high standard compared to what I had been used to in Dhaka. We spent a lot of time together, and I learnt a lot from them, particularly Rene who became my best friend in school and we remained friends even though we had not met for many years. He passed away a few years ago.
Mitchie (uncle of the famous author Vikram Seth) has also passed away. However, his daughter Radha Saeawal, who lives in London, keeps in touch with me via the e-mail. Minnie (Dr. Ranjit Sen) lives in Delhi. We keep in touch by e-mail and, in November 2006, both my wife and I met him and his wife, Gool, in Delhi, while attending the Dufferin Rajendra Old Cadets Association (DROCA) global meet. I had taken the opportunity to e-mail to Minnie the chapter on St. Paul’s and he very kindly took time to add a few paragraphs, reproduced below, to put the record straight.
There were no Sikh boys in our time. The first two Sikh boys were admitted in 1949, the two brothers, Inder and ‘Ambi’ Singh, sons of Sardar Karnail Singh who retired as Chairman of the Indian Railways Board. Even for their admission, Mitchie and I had to convince Mr Goddard, the Rectoer, that the boys could wear navy-blue “Pugri” (turban) with the School badge pinnd at the crest instead of the regulation school cap. Also they would make arrangements for washing and drying their long hair, when visiting friends in town on Sundays. There may have been a few Buddhists from Burma and Bhutan.
On the dress, from 1936 onwards Mr Goddard implemented the type of clothes to be worn and the number of each item that the boys could bring to school. Any items more than those indicated were sent back to the parents at their cost. We had to wear the correct shade of grey three-piece single-breasted tweed suits and on Sundays and special school occasions, a navy blue three-piece single-breasted suit. These were available only from the officially approved tailors, Whiteway Laidlaw, a large departmental establishment in Calcutta/Darjeeling (and possibly in some other cities). In case these suits were not available from wherever the boys came, they would be ordered from the School.
On class days, the grey suit was worn with the waistcoat or with a half-sleeved maroon coloured wool sweater, also obtained from Whiteways. The shirts had to be white cotton or wool (for the cold weather) with detachable collars of the same material or detachable semi-stiff collar. The collars had to be changed when the neck of the collar got dirty. With the grey suit we wore our “house tie”, and when wearing the navy-blue suit, white shirt was with starched collar and “school tie”. No casual clothes or shirts of one’s choice were permitted. Perhaps when boys visited parents/relations in town then they could, at home, change into clothes other than prescribed, I don’t know. During the two short breaks from classes in the year, we could, instead of the grey coat and waistcoat, wear the navy blue school blazer with the school crest on the pocket and the maroon sweater.
Some years after I left school, I had asked Mr Goddard about the strict dress code, and he told me that in school all boys had to dress alike, and have the same amount of spending money, which was till 1939 six annas per week (sisteen annas made the then Rupee), up to Fourth Form, and increased to eight annas (1.2 of the then Rupee) for 5th and 6th Formers. These “Rules” were to avoid any complexes developing about the wealth of their parents. Any money brought from home or sent by the parents for extra spending had to be kept with the House Master who, at his discretion, gave the amounts to the boys. With our weekly “pocket money” we were able to buy chocolate bars, toffees, sweets, meat/vegetable patties/pies from the school “tuck shop”, whose proprietor was fondly known as “Blackie”. Of course the amount of pocket money per week was increased from time to time to keep up with the purchasing power.
Mr Goddard told me that these rules about dress and pocket money were made, as prior to 1936, two Indian brothers from a wealthy family came to school with a dozen silk shirts each and much too much money to spend with which they “showed off”.
Our daily routine started with “chota hazri” consisting of bread/butter, a banana and tea. Then PT and morning chapel was before breakfast. After evening chapel, the last meal of the day was called “supper” not dinner, as this was a light meal, then homework and bed. On Sundays after chapel service we had supper and then letter-writing to our parents etc before bed and lights out.
Many thanks, Minnie, for making corrections and putting the record right.
One day during lunch Mr. Warren, the games master, was seen going from table to table with a piece of paper and pen in his hand. He came to our table and addressing me said: “Shahabuddin, you have been selected for the School Athletic Team. Report for training at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning.” I was surprised but, quite naturally, felt very happy as it was a great honour to represent the school for a sporting event. I guessed that he must have been impressed observing me running during the P.T.
The following morning about 14 of us, me the junior most, met in the Dining Hall where we were served tea and biscuits and then went out to the big field to start our training. We were preparing for the Darjeeling District Sports (D.D.S.) which was to be held in October 1937. I was in the Under 14 group along with Hill (an American) and Sherman both of whom were better than me.
However, I qualified for the finals in both 100 yards and 220 yards and, on 3rd October, the day of the finals, I came fourth. In addition to Hill and Sherman, Charlie Dunn, of St. Josephs beat me. The seniors in the Open and under 16 groups also did well. Our school team came first wining the Dewar Challenge Shield. A framed group photograph of the Athletic team with the Challenge Shield hangs on the wall right in front of me. Later that month, at the School’s Annual Athletic Sports, the result of Under 14 group 100 yds, 220 yards and 440 yards read: Hill, Sherman, Shahabuddin. However, the result of High Jump was: Hill, Shahabuddin, Sherman. I thus won the runner-up cup for High Jump.
Darjeeling used to be crowded with visitors from the plains during September and October as that was the “Holiday Season”, and very interesting events used to take place. As in every year our school staged a play at the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club. In October 1937 it was Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” which, incidentally was also the text book in the Fourth Form. We also had ‘Durga Puja’ holidays in October.
I do not remember how many days. Since Chachajan and family used to be in Darjeeling then, Shahed, Faiyaz and I got “Exeat leave” every day. I normally spent my afternoons with Rene who used to join me at Malden and we roamed about and had tea and cakes either at Plivas or Swiss Confectionaries. One day, Sobhan Bhai, who was then married to our first cousin Hushmatara (Nanni Baji, mother of Rahman and Farooq Sobhan) was talking to me and showed a lot of interest in how I was getting along at school, and asked me what would I want to do after finshing schooling. I said I would like to join the Navy. He seemed to have taken me seriously, kept this in his mind and conveyed it to my father the next time they met.
Towards the end of the term, in November, the school was divided into six football teams for Micky Mug Cup Football tournament, named after the Rector’s son. The names of those teams I have forgotten,except the team for which I played, ‘Yorkshire Yokels’ and ‘Busty Bunglows’ – the winners and runners-up were treated to a fabulous tea party.
With the year coming to an end our thoughts were about going home and we kept singing the “Going home day” song, and some enterprising students would set about preparing a large placard almost six feet by three feet which would be attached to the front of the steam engine of the special train taking us to Calcutta on 25th November.