The new school session of 2004 began for all of us with new books, new classes and most importantly, a new principal. Prefects Varun Gupta and Gauri Anand approached the new principal for a face-to-face interview. He very kindly consented to spare some of his valuable time for us in spite of a very hectic schedule. We are indeed grateful to him for being so open and generous in answering all our questions.
Where did you do your schooling? Were you ever a boarder? How do residential schools, like ours, compare to day schools that you know?
I did my schooling in a school at Ludhiana called Sacred Heart Convent School, which was run by Irish sisters. It is a day school. When I was there it was a co-educational school. We were about 1500 student in that school.
When I was studying for my teaching license (B.Ed), I was at Govt. College of Education, a residential college, which is one of the oldest residential colleges in the country. It started as the Basic College in Lahore before coming to Chandigarh. Therefore, its roots go back to the pre-independent era. I was a boarder there and I was also the President of the College and also the Head Boy of the hostel. So, these were some of the reasons why I enjoyed my stay there. Based on my experiences I feel that day school teachers have a very short period of time to interact with a student and I think, therefore, there is not enough time for a teacher to make that significant impact in the life of the taught. So, that is the major difference when we compare a day school to a residential school. And that implies even to Sherwood College. Here the teachers are your mentors. We have more time and space where we can make that significant impact in your lives. In a residential school, we shape your lives in a better way than in day schools. I agree, in day schools children are in a better position to be coached in academics. They can be very good scholars, but the character and the overall personality development, which a boarding school can provide is far better and I think more lasting.
Did you always want to be a teacher and who inspired you to take up this vocation?
No. (Laughs). I never really wanted to be teacher, initially, because I found the teaching career or profession to be very bland. As a youngster, I did not find teaching to be a very "flashy" career option. So, I didn't want to be a teacher. But, as I grew up in college and university I recalled that the best times I had spent in my life were my school days. With this came the desire to get back those moments again - the routine and the discipline and living in a community with each other where you felt you were an essential part. So, that was the motivating factor that made me decide that I should take up teaching as a career. And so I made the choice. And I am very proud of the choice I made and I am very happy that I entered this profession. Not a single day has gone by when I have regretted becoming a teacher. This profession has taken me all over the country and outside the country and has given me a lot of respect, because as teachers, we get respect from students like you, from your parents, and from the society at large. In fact I feel that I would strongly recommend this profession to my two children -my daughter and my son. But then the option is finally theirs.
Yes, I do remember the respect I had for the teachers who taught me. There were a few of them, who really were role models for me - and they were strict teachers as well. We did not use the word 'cool' to describe an individual in our time. These teachers were not what you today would term as "cool teachers". They were strict teachers, the kind who would not oblige students by bending the rules. But, they were considerate to the students. I could surely say that for me they were inspiring people.
What subjects did you offer at University?
I had Sociology as well as Public Administration. And I majored in English.
What were your favourite subjects at school? Are there any subjects that you hated as a child?
I definitely liked art and painting because that was fun time for us and we splashed colour all over the place. I definitely loved English. English was the lesson where we could express ourselves while picking up language skills. I didn't like Maths until Grade 7, but then I came in contact with a wonderful teacher and he taught me how to think logically, to reason and analyse things for myself, and then Maths became one of my strengths and I was very good in Maths after that.
I hated Hindi because I could not get those matras right and the concept of half an alphabet coming in between letters in a word. It was very difficult for me to comprehend this. Hindi is a wonderful language, I admit, but it definitely was difficult for me and that was the reason why I sort of receded from that subject. I didn't like History much because I found it too demanding to remember dates and events. Geography was also a subject I didn't like.
Could you please share with us any memorable experience you had as a schoolboy, along with an experience that was not so pleasant?
I had many memorable experiences during my schooldays. Let me tell you that when anything went wrong in my class, the teacher first suspected me! (Laughs heartily). So a lot of "memorable" moments were there.
We had an election system to choose our head boy and the school captains. The systems was that we had to file in our nominations, stating that we were entrusted with so and so post, and then submit these nominations to the sister - the sister was our principal, she was a nun so we would call her "sister". Then there would be a committee that would sit and review these nominations in order to find out whether the person nominated should or should not be given that particular responsibility. I was elected to be a student leader - in our school we had "SPL" which stood for "School Pupil Leader". We were a co-ed school, and I remember another boy and myself along with two other girls contesting for this senior post. Finally, I was chosen to be ASPL - which was Assistant School Pupil Leader. Later on I found, interestingly, that more girls than boys had voted for me! (Laughs) So that was one of the pleasant experiences in school that is close to my heart.
Regarding experiences not so pleasant - I remember an occasion when we were lined up for our March Past display - house wise - and the entire school was there. There was a particular boy who was misbehaving right in front of me, but because I was tall the PTI's attention fell on me instead. He thought that it was I who had been misbehaving. I was called out in font of the entire school and promptly given three or four whacks. I felt it was most unfair and humiliating - but then the following day the teacher realized his mistake and was most apologetic about it. However, this little incident is what inspired me not to believe in the practice of corporal punishment. So from that day onwards, I most certainly don't believe in anybody hitting anybody.
Do you have a role model or a hero that you greatly admire? Could you please tell us something about this person?
(Pauses to think). Well you see, as I am a Christian I definitely follow Jesus Christ as my role model. It is written in the Bible - "be imitators of God" - and we should strive to imitate Him, even though being an imitator of God is difficult - sometimes quite impossible. But I try as best as I can and in my own way I try to be an imitator of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What are your hobbies?
I love to cook - I love to bake and I love to go on long motorbike rides. I use to go out with my wife but these days another girl who has come into my life, that's my daughter, and I like to take her now on motorbike rides with me. Anmol and I love to go on long drives together, into the woods somewhere, and camp out and cook - cook something really delicious!
During your school life were you very fond of sports and what games do you like to play? Do you still find time to play these games today?
Oh yes, I love to play a lot of games. In school I played cricket, soccer, volleyball, badminton - but my favourite game is basketball. In basketball I represented the school team and also the Punjab state team. I was very fond of games - oh yes.
I still find time for sports. I make it a point to go down to the field when the boys are playing basketball or cricket - but since joining Sherwood, these last few days, I have not had much time for games - but, yet, I do try to take time off and I have been down to the games field on quite a few occasions. Yes, I definitely would be seen there quite frequently in future.
What was your attitude towards girls as a young boy and now, as a principal, what do you feel about the pros and cons of the system of co-education?
We had great respect for girls. We felt it an honour for a man to respect girls. We were also taught that no matter what, we should never raise our hands on the fairer sex. Our family taught us that. Womenfolk in my family were addressed with great respect. Though in English we use the pronoun "you" for everyone - young or old - in Hindi, for example, we distinguish between "tu", "tum" and "aap". Women in my family were always addressed by "aap". So I grew up with a great respect for girls. And as I studied with girls right through my school and college, this respect was put into practice. When we went out with girls for games or cultural functions, we boys would automatically take the responsibility to be their defenders, their protectors, and would insure that no untoward incident would inconvenience them while they were in our company. So that was our attitude towards girls.
I feel that co-education is a very essential part of education. I know that a lot of the old residential schools have been running as singular schools for either boys or girls. But now I can see that many of them are opening up - and I am glad that quite a few schools have opened their doors to co-education. I am definitely in favour of this. I think that co-education develops in the student a sense of "honour" for the opposite sex and also teaches both sexes the right behaviour towards each other. This is essential because the world at large is comprised of both men and women.
Would you consider the continuation of co-education in Sherwood College?
Well there is no question of discontinuation. And if the issue to continue or not is ever raised, I will be in favour of co-education.
Could you tell us something about the other schools in which you have worked?
I have worked in PPS Nabha, which is a residential school - it's a 300-acre school and it is an IPSC School. Initially it was a boys' school, but later they changed to co-education. That school is doing a wonderful service to the community coming form the agricultural section of society. That school taught me a lot on how public schools are run. After that I worked as the Vice-Principal in the Indian School, Sur, a day school in the Sultanate of Oman. My wife, Aradhana, and I were together here. There we had the opportunity to cater to a large student body from the sub-continent - we had Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans - even Philipinos - so that was really nice. Interestingly, this school in Oman was managed by a committee formed by the parents. This was the first and only time when I have worked in a school managed by the parents of the children. Hence, we got the unique opportunity to look at things from the parents' point of view - how they would like the school to function - and it was quite an experience. That school really taught me quite a lot. Thereafter, I came back to India and I worked in Hebron, which is a 105-year-old British school, a totally residential school. It is also a mission school and it is very English in nature. In fact the architecture etc. - even the food - are typically English. It is a very good school and it taught me how to work in a residential school on Christian lines, without being religiously biased. The next school I worked in was Kodaikanal International School. That is an American school, also a Christian institution about 104 or 105 years old. KIS taught me the way of residential schools - how to be child centred and respect individuality: it showed me why one should be treated as one of a kind and not as a group. This school also taught me how to bring out the best in the pupil, giving him or her all the freedom to grow - not blocking the person in the direction that he/she may want to flow. Kodaikanal International School also taught us - Aradhana and me - how to work in a Christian school while being very sensitive to the students of other faiths and the staff from other faiths. The aim there was to build up a community, which is not divided on religious grounds, but definitely enriched by the goodness of humanity. Then I came to Monarch International School where I was the Principal. While I was there we got the affiliation to IGCSE, that is the examination of the University of Cambridge, England, and it was in this school that I picked up my administrative skills. And now I'm here in Sherwood.
Are there any changes you would like to initiate in Sherwood? Please elaborate.
Well Sherwood College has been running very well. It is an excellent school. And here I would like to take the opportunity to thank Mr. D.R.A. Mountford for giving us a 30-year stability. This is something, which probably many of us are not mindful of because it has come to us as a very prominent factor that has always been there, and we have taken the long years of stability for granted. I have seen what schools can become if there is a period of instability. So, thanks to Mr. Mountford who has run this school very well. Sherwood College is appreciated all over the country and even abroad. Therefore, I am not here to make any changes but I am here to see that the systems are plugged in - because it's very human for us, sometimes, to just let go. So, that is what I am looking to do.
When was the first time you heard about Sherwood College? Have you visited Nainital before?
Let me be very frank with you, I did not hear about Sherwood in my childhood. I only heard about Sherwood during my teaching career, about four or five years down the line. That was when I heard that there is a mission school named Sherwood College, in Kumaon, in a place called Nainital. I came to known more about Sherwood when I was in the process of applying for the post of Principal here. I promptly turned to the Internet, to check up the Sherwood website, in order to find out more about the school. Unfortunately, there is no official website, but there are a lot of talk groups on the net hosted by old Sherwoodians, which I found to be quite informative. So, that is where I got quite a lot of information about the school, about what we are. So, ever since I joined as Principal I have a strong desire to host our own special website for our school - and this is a task I have taken a special interest in.
No. Never. In fact, I came here only when I was appointed, first on 20th or 21st of January this year (I can't recall the exact date). That was the first time I saw Sherwood College and Nainital. I fell in love with this place.
You have travelled a lot to foreign countries. Could you share some of the experiences with us?
Yes. I have extensively travelled in the Middle East and I have found the society there to be very male dominated. Now, this is not a very good thing in my opinion. But at the same time the people there are very disciplined. They have a strong feeling of patriotism and are much in love with their country. However, one of the best things about the people in the Middle East is that they do not discuss politics. In fact, they are not allowed to openly discuss politics. And that goes a long way in building the nation in one way. I have been to Europe and I like Switzerland a lot. I was there on a conference for international residential schools. It's wonderful there as it is such a clean and largely unpolluted country. I have also been to the United States of America and I have observed the kind of freedom that young people enjoy in that country. The life style, especially of the youth, gives them a lot of scope to express themselves openly -both in their dress and in their attitude.
Tell us something about your family- your wife and kids. Is this the first time you have been separated from your family?
Aradhana, my wife, is a teacher by profession. She teaches Geography and Social Sciences. I also have a daughter Anmol, who is seven years old and I have a son, Agaaz, who is just seventeen months. My father retired as a P.C.S officer from the Punjab Cadre and now he is settled in Dehradun. My mother comes from a medical background but she didn't practice after she got married and they both stay on Rajpur Road in Dehradun.
Yes. This is the first time I am away from my wife and kids and I find it very painful. It's very difficult for me to handle this separation and I feel like a part of my body is not with me.
We all have a special place that we call "home". Where is home for you?
As I mentioned, Dehradun is where my parents are. And when I am not in Sherwood, I think that is the palace I would be most happy in.
What are your dreams and ambitions? Could you share some personal thoughts with us?
Well, my dreams and ambitions are to stick to this place- this chair - with all the honour and dignity the post of Principal requires of me. And I would love to be instrumental in touching each one of you, one at a time. And I would like to be remembered as a constrained person - a person who hears and who cares about all those in his charge.
Are you a very religious person? As a Christian, what do you think is the role of Christianity in an increasingly secular society? Should schools like Sherwood College be more Christian or secular?
No, I am not a 'religious' person. My concept of religion is that a man should be more spiritual than 'religious'. My concept of God is spiritual and I take my religion -Christianity - more as a personal relationship with my God on a day-to-day basis. I strive to be a spiritual person and I do not believe in empty rituals and customs. I don't believe in mere observances, like going to a place of worship just for the sake of being there physically, but not being there in your heart. My belief is that when we go to Church, we should go with the intention of sharing a relationship on a one to one basis with the Lord. When we enter the Church, we are entering God's house and we ought to be fully prepared - with our minds and our hearts to enter into this unique relationship with God.
Definitely, Christianity has a very vital role to play in the secular society. In fact the virtues of Christianity - which are based on selfless service, unconditional love, help and care for the needy, the sick and the downtrodden - if we practice all these principles that Christianity teaches us, then we can teach the whole world what it means to be tolerant and make the place we are in truly humane and secular.
Yes, certainly Christianity is for us, the staff, to adopt - not for the sake of religion but for the important values that it teaches us. We, the staff body, need to be considerate; we need to give you - the pupils in our charge - unconditional love. I am aware that the student body come for different faiths, from multi-cultural backgrounds, multi-religious backgrounds - and this is good, as you bring in lot of strengths. With the values that you are taught at home, you in fact contribute a great deal. Sherwood is a Christian school on the basis of its origin, so we need to work on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ with the strengths that you bring in as members of different faiths. It is this homogeneous working that I would strongly aim for.
If you had the chance to turn back the clock, is there anything in the past that you would like to change? Please share with us, Sir.
(Laughs). If I had a chance to live my life again, probably I would consider being an Old
What are your views on Corporal Punishment?
(Getting Serious) I am totally against corporal punishment. I don't believe that any individual has the right to hit any other individual, for whatever reason. If, we do that we are living in a barbarian society, where might is right. There are other ways to bring about discipline and I would strongly recommend graded punishments, like taking away the privileges of the erring child, making the child realize for himself or herself where and how he or she has done wrong. Yes, I certainly do not believe in corporal punishment.