“A SCHOOLMASTER’S MEMOIRS” exposes the malaise with India’s elite schools candidly… challenges the practise of hanging on to rotten traditions, allowing bullying and commercialised new-age schools…

My blog deals with education and this is the very first time that I am discussing a book – “With a Little Help from my Friends”. Published by Rupa Publications, this is more of a personal blog of Mr Dev Lahiri. Because of it being an insider’s account, it adds greater credence to what I have been discussing in my posts over the years.

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Mr Lahiri, a Rhodes Scholar, has served at prestigious schools such as The Doon School, Lawrence School – Lovedale, Welham Boys School and The Heritage School-Kolkata. At Doon, he was a Housemaster while at the other schools he was the Head of the institution as a Headmaster or Principal.

In this book he has detailed, in well-sectioned chapters, the experiences that he had at each of the institutions and while doing that, has held out a mirror at the internal functioning of the Indian Educational Institutions. This includes the management of the schools, conduct of students, expectations of parents and also the various government departments.

I can’t go on referring to the author as “Mr Lahiri”.

To me, he is and will remain “Sir”. I have particularly enjoyed the book as have observed him fairly closely in parts of his experience and this book actually fills in the gap in my observation of him as a head of an institution. I know several individuals mentioned in the book and that has engaged me further. However, parts of the book have shocked me too.

Sir commenced his teaching career at The Doon School while I was a student there. My memories of him are that of a cross-country and long distance runner, a history master and observing his passion for dogs. Though he never taught me but since my residential house (Hyderabad) faced the main field, I would watch him exercising his dog “Bagheera” there. He would throw a “chalta” (I believe it is called elephant apple…) and the dog would run out to fetch it. Years after my schooling, I  interacted with Sir when my children were studying at The Heritage School in Kolkata and thereafter visited him when he had moved to Welhams in Dehradun, where my nephew went on to study. Thus, the chapters that describe his experiences at the three schools are very interesting insights at schools that I have known from close quarters. However, the highlight of the book is his experience with Lawrence School as that is where he seems to have made maximum impact and that is where he seems to have suffered most too.

This book is a must read for anyone associated with school education in India.

In one of my earlier blog (from 2012) on bullying, I quoted an article by Sir and this book goes further in illustrating how schools take far too long to act on instances of bullying. I find this very troublesome. Bullying, in schools, is far worse than ragging in colleges and it continues without attracting attention of external authorities. I am still waiting for a time when a parent of an affected child will take any of the residential or private schools to the authorities as I understand, the recently enacted act against ragging can be applied even to the school incidents. Sir refers to the practice of “piza” (a junior student nominated as a personal slave) of senior students at one school and this rang a bell to me as I had heard a recently graduated student of a reputed school brag about his “personal assistant” at school who would do his errands. It may not have been exactly like the “piza” described in the book but I have a feeling that far serious instances of bullying continue in some schools. I also wonder as to how parents of such so-called “pizas” don’t take action against the schools and the erring students? Come on, go to the police and file a case… That is all that is required.

There are other negative aspects pertaining to the Indian Education System that has been elaborated upon. Such as the practice of teachers ignoring regular classes in favour of tuitions offered by them outside of the classroom. This was one aspect that surprised me. I knew that the salaries paid to teachers in private schools are often not commiserate to the fees charged to students, but the fact that even such reputed schools, that are in so-called “Top 10” in India, encourage a system where the teachers have to supplement their income through tuitions, was unknown to me.

I will let you read the book, to understand the context for the following quote…

“Headmaster, tuition is quite akin to prostitution. Whosoever, feels their wares are better, will naturally charge more!”

A fairly direct description of tuitions imparted by schoolteachers. The individual who has been attributed the above is also well known and respected schoolmaster of mine and I am yet to figure out if this is an argument in favour of practice of tuitions or against it!

Shortage of quality school teachers, influence of drugs on students and involvement of external elements are detailed by Sir in his “personal blog / memoirs”.

Go ahead and take a good read of this page-turner especially if you are associated with any aspect of Indian Education. It can help you reflect on certain practices taking place in the name of tradition and may work at an overall improvement for the future generation. This is one book that has not hesitated in taking names to detail the experience and thus, this makes the book an even more, powerful read.

Footnote (Message for Mr Lahiri):

Sir, even I have had a pet in college days and had named her Bo. My room-mate (Gaurav Saklani) had suggested the name (Bo as in Bo Derek) and for the same reason as you have stated. I get a feeling that he possibly took the idea from you.

And Sir, your ability to rise against all odds especially the ones that have related to your health is an inspiration… Didn’t focus on that aspect in my post above since my blogs primarily deals with education…

2 Comments

  1. Hi Ravi just finished reading your blog. It reiterated what I have always suspected regarding these so called elite schools. Having relocated back to India from the US with advanced degrees in education combined with several years of work experience there( 35+ years) I contacted one of the schools mentioned to offer my services on a voluntary basis. I wrongly assumed that the principal would be excited to have me on board, but boy was I mistaken. It is so much easier to continue with the same old way of doing things that any one who questions the status quo is perceived to be a threat.
    I hope that with blogs such as yours, and books we can all work together to change the present mindset.

    Here’s to a new era in Indian Education,
    Rupa Khanna

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  2. I have not read this book as yet, but as a former student at one of the schools at which Mr Dev Lahiri taught, I will say a couple of things: 1) there are certainly traditions and practices at pubic schools (or any educational institution) that have no place in a civilised society as we like to think we live in: 2) As many people that condoned (silently or otherwise) practices like hazing, ‘pizas’, etc., there were so many that did speak out against them. That Mr Lahiri was unable to root this practice out of a school, and that subsequent headmasters have done so, perhaps also speaks to his style of administration. 3) This brings me to the third point, that he had a nasty temper and was himself rather bully-ish in getting kids to toe his line, rather than being the adult and leader in many instances; Monday morning assembly was more often than not an occasion for him to vent and yell at the student body as to why we were such an awful bunch and that he would not stand for it. I assure you that specific instances aside, we were rather a rule abiding population! Those that dared to speak out, faced his awful temper. Ones experiences at any particular institution are bound to be tinged with bitterness, or satisfaction where one finds oneself and ones style of functioning not very welcome or conversely, appreciated. But yes, every author is entitled to his/her perspective and opinion. 4) I do agree that that it is upto parents, the old students’ association and leaders among the current student population to bring Victorian era abhorrent practices and traditions to an end at these schools, and I am glad that Mr Lahiri has added his voice to this cause, ironic though it might be. I look forward to reading more of your progressive posts on this blog.

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