Bon appétit – from Al [Ashok] K. Stokes

Bon appétit – OCA Dinner.

September 18, 2011
Five months ago, I was surprised to receive an email from Sukhinder Singh and Vijay Khurana to attend the 50th class reunion. I apologize for taking so long to reply. Firstly, I was in the process of moving. Secondly, since I could not attend, I did not feel I could contribute anything.

Upper II Class Photograph:
I have included the 1956 Upper II photograph originally sent by Brandy Gill. If my memory is correct, the person in the second row behind the 7th person from the left in the front row (the person with eye glasses) is  Bentick ( I don’t know if I am spelling the name correctly; I don’t know if that is his first or last name). Minor correction to Sukhinder Singh’s  message “we were together in the III form” It should read Upper II and not III Form. I left after completing Upper II, the year this photograph was taken. I joined BCS in 1952 when I was 8 years old and I was expelled from BCS in 1956 when I was 12 years old.

[Click this picture for a full size view, or right-click to save it]

[EDITOR: This is the listing we had earlier from Vijay Khurana when this picture was circulated in April 2011] –
Vijay said: “
I can recognise the following :
Sitting first row: (left to right) Gurdial Singh, Brandy Gill, KS Dugal, Sabharwal (Rivaz, left to join Doon), RLV Nath (second from right same row). . . but none of the others .
Standing second row( left to right) Rupinder Singh, Rakesh Sawhney, unknown and Ramesh Suthoo.
Standing third row (left to right) unknown, unknown, Ashok Anand, Ashok Mulchandani, unknown, SM Nanda, Himmat Singh,  AK Stokes, unknown, Inderjit Singh (Badal).
Standing last row(left to right): Preharan Singh, JS Rarewala, Hundal, GS Anand, unknown, unknown,  A Motwane].”

Graduated Senior Cambridge in 1960:
I considered Upper II as the 7th grade and VI Form as the 12th grade. After leaving BCS, I joined Modern School, New Delhi, in the 7th grade. This did not work out and I did not cooperate. I was in the boarding school. My parents then put me in day school. I was staying with my father’s friend. They thought that perhaps I was afraid of girls as Modern School is coeducational or perhaps I did not like the Hindi medium of instruction. Little did anyone know what upset me. I was only 12 years old and kept everything to myself. What bothered me was why they put me in the 7th grade when I had already completed the 7th grade in BCS. If you remember, I use to be on the top or near the top of my class. To make a long story short, I lost one year doing nothing. In 1958, my father put me in Hyderabad Public School. I insisted that I join the 7th grade which the school accepted. Luck would have it, their grading system was different. Their highest grade was not 12th grade but 10th grade. (On the first day of my class I had my Geometry class. I started with the 49th theorem. Within a few days I started to learn Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus!)  So I gained two years and lost one year. That is why I graduated one year before my classmates in BCS. This is not the end of the story. My father and my elder brother both graduated in Engineering from Benares Hindu University. The only college that I applied to was Benares Hindu University. The university was prejudiced against Senior Cambridge students as it was a foreign examination. I was told I did not qualify for admission. My elder brother told me that I was foolish in applying to one college only. Once again, luck was on my side. The son of the Vice Chancellor of Benares Hindu University was in the same predicament that I was. Finally, the university admitted Senior Cambridge students. In the first year of college I stood first in my class. From then on my mother had complete faith in me. This experience had a profound effect on me. We are taught to think within a box. This taught me to think outside the box.

Uranium Enrichment by Gaseous Centrifugation 1970-1985:
I had proposed to the Government of India for providing nuclear fuel two times in 1970 and 1985. Enclosed is a 1984 article from The Tribune, Chandigarh. Both my attempts were unsuccessful and I gave up on this good idea.

[Click this picture for a full size view, or right-click to save it]

Toastmasters International 1994-Present:
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit organization that teaches public speaking, communication and leadership skills. It has 270,000 members; 13,000 clubs in 116 countries. I have been a member for 17 years. We practice original speeches that last between 5 to 7 minutes.From time to time, I have given speeches on energy in general and nuclear energy in particular. The purpose is to explain in a non-technical the various facets and aspects of energy. I had stated earlier that I felt I could not contribute anything. Then, it occurred to me that this information would be educational to the students at Bishop Cotton School. I have introduced several new terms  such as Nugami (portmanteau of Nu for new or Nu from Nuclear and gami from origami) and Hatt (portmanteau of H from Heat and att from Watt). My proposal was based on providing 100% Nuclear Energy. This included both generating electricity and providing hydrogen fuel for automobiles by the electrolysis of water. France has come close to providing 100% electrical energy though they have not gone as far as using hydrogen fuel. They closed the last coal mine a few years ago. So far only Iceland and a few other countries have experimented with hydrogen as a fuel. I had proposed one 1 Gigawatt Electrical / 3 Gigawatt Thermal (in my terminology 1 Gigawatt  / 3 Gigahatt) Nuclear reactor for every 100,000 (one lakh) population. The title of my paper is: Energy is almost God… and God said “Numbers do not lie”. I had hoped to complete this paper by now but it has taken longer than I had estimated. Firstly, I had changed from a Microsoft PC to an Apple Mac and had minor software issues in producing the documents. Secondly, some of the documents were done on a phototypeset over 40 years ago. I want to convert these documents into digital format instead of just scanning the documents. As a sneak preview I have included a document “Nugami.pdf“. When you print this, make sure the “Page Scaling” is set to “None” so that you get a full size of the drawing. If printed correctly, the 32 x 32 grid should measure 6.375 inches by 8.25 inches (75% of 8.5 inches x 11.0 inches sheet of paper).

Hope to send the complete article as soon possible. Maybe the students at BCS will find it useful educationally.

Al (Ashok) K. Stokes

EDITOR: Here is an email from Vijay Khurana to Ashok [published online with permission from all concerned!]

Dear Ashok,
Thank you for your mail. My persistence eventually paid off. I had kept you on the mailing list even though there was never a response until now. When you did not respond to our first set of mails, I tried locating your physical address/phone number from the net, discovering a small bit of litigation as plaintiff to your account with the Township of Piscataway NJ and an obit for David Freedman. I knew you were close to New York or in its surroundings and felt for no good reason that you lived somewhere near Battery Park. I was in New York earlier this year when I made another attempt to contact you. Alas, no success. So, your mail is actually very welcome. It will bring back to your class mates some very happy memories and the emotions that accompany them. Thank you, again.

While you may not be able to attend the reunion, this bunch here would like to catch up with you, whenever the occasion offers itself only to relive those wonderful years and know the direction that your lives took. There is no expectation of any contribution but an exchange of tales and a warm hug.

I was two years your junior and in school that was a huge difference. It seemed bigger then. One generally kept away from your senior and your position was defined. This older person, however small the difference,was different in the mind and looked upon with a bit of awe because he was bigger and better at most things!! Try proximity and you were surely told to go where he thought you belonged, almost near the nether world ! Such was the belief.

The only time this body descended to your level was when he dropped a year. Little opprobrium was attached to the event and it was dusted off like any sporting event. After all sportmanship had to be practiced both on and off the field, and a further afar into the class room!! So, for the first few weeks he was a novelty that you looked at with some deference, bigger, but now not better. Then as the weeks passed you discovered that he invariably knew less than you despite repeating the curriculum !!. That only confirmed his need to be there in your midst. Over time, if he did not threaten you and let an arm rest on his shoulder, you had finally levelled out with this senior. Camaraderie had been secured.That was the levelling moment when your awe of him finally disappeared. He also became the valuable link to the senior class to which he once belonged. A caste system was in operation except that penance through failure did erase the dividing line.

Ashok Stokes, in my mind, was the guy who was bright academically and he had an excellent pair of hands. He could turn out lovely stuff that drew admiration. He also played a decent game of hockey and football.  Generally, the name Stokes conjured the picture of the chap whose name in his class would be announced last (remember names at the bottom of the heap were announced first, and the merit list moved in an ascendant manner) after each form order because he would be the one to have to walk up to collect a certificate of merit. However, on several such occasions, in that distant past, A K Stokes’s name would be announced but he was never there to receive the certificate. It happened time and again.His frequent absence from these formal and important town hall meetings remained unexplained.Consequently, after such meetings in the Irwin Hall, Stokes would be located and taken to the Heady’s office for canning. He was bright and he was incorrigible.

The second picture is the June of that famous year when the quiet summer break was disturbed in an empty school. I saw S S Sondhi, a prefect, walk with the chowkidar to the class near the Box Room and have it opened. Sondhi had, by chance, been walking past that locked class room when he saw a wooden plank from the floor move up and then drop down again. Something was amiss. What transpired I did not see but by the evening we knew that Stokes was the boy who had burrowed a tunnel. His ambition, we heard, was to take this tunnel all the way to the School Office. Quite some distance and had it continued that might have seen him eventually finish school in the Senior Cambridge class of Form VI.!!  The tunnel was a superb job which had been electrified. It had drawn supply from the school mains and was the cause of the fluctuating electric supply to our dorms. Also what tumbled out was a whole lot of carpentry tools, counter panes and an assortment of goods that seem to explain the large amount of missing stuff that had disappeared during that time.

The story then gathered steam. Stokes was provoked into this bizarre project by Mr Johnson, the carpentry teacher, who persistently accused him of stealing tools from the carpentry shop. Stokes was originally innocent of that accusation but since Mr Johnson stayed with that belief, AK Stokes felt he might as well prove the guy right since he was already damned and labelled a thief. He had been hounded and branded for no good reason. An inflicted insult provoked a cheeky and dangerous endeavour.However, this tunnel (I believe you called it your duplex apartment!) was no Great Escape that led anywhere. It was an audacious exercise of pounding under the floor board between two class rooms (III Form & IV Form) in an act of defiance against an accusation that initially had no merit.

Mr Johnson was an assured man with a loud and firm voice. His lessons in carpentry remain with me as I hold a saw at a tilted angle or use a hammer around the house. Most of the time I use the saw technique he taught us, to cut a bread loaf, tilting the knife at a 30 degree angle and then bringing it to a horizontal position as I reach the bottom of the slice!! So, when his tools were discovered, Mr Johnson felt vindicated. Stokes stood expelled and carpentry as subject was never resumed. It was a tearful departure. What now seems amazing is that this was a feat by a mere 12 year old who was self assured, confident and precocious. Also a boy who kept so much within himself that a true discovery of character could take a while – and it did.

I recall you returned to School again some time later, maybe a year or more, and that is the last time I saw you. A junior saw his seniors reunite. I can still see you standing near the Tuck Shop (almost in line with the IV Form class room) meeting your old class mates quickly identifying each one, first by his name and then his house and roll number.  You got them all right, without exception, reminding me of the intelligent boy who had left school under unhappy circumstances. However, we all knew that this was a boy with huge intelligence and the proverbial surname that spelt only but success. It is wonderful to know he is still there and brilliant as ever. !

You may correct and, perhaps, update my narration of this event and the perspective of the principal character would lend this story a more wholesome angle !!

We look forward to adding you to a class that has sadly diminished numbers than usual. A welcome addition.

Warm regards

9 thoughts on “Bon appétit – from Al [Ashok] K. Stokes

  1. Arun Basak (636) Lefroy

    Dear Stokes,
    “… If my memory is correct, the person in the second row behind the 7th person from the left in the front row (the person with eye glasses) is Bentick ( I don’t know if I am spelling the name correctly; I don’t know if that is his first or last name). ”

    Your memory does NOT serve you well, for the chap with glasses is me! I wonder whether you remember the raw onions that we kept in our school desks … Do you still draw and paint? You were first in many subjects- especially Art!!!

    Great to know that you are still around!

  2. Dr. Santokh Singh

    I used to wonder where Stokes has disappeared to! You were a couple of years junior (I belong to the 1957 S.C batch & was in Lefroy). Not only do I recollect your underground ventures (the upper II was made out of bounds for a few days for “repairs”I guess! We were all awed at your extra-ordinary intelligence & believed you to be genius. Your expulsion was not taken well by most of us. We felt that your talent should have been “put to more use!” Of course, we didn’t know how!
    Besides talking about this episode to a few OCs that I might have met, I used to “brag” about in it my family, to my son (Who also is an OC) & now I tell my 6 year old grand-son about what brilliant boys can do.
    Good to learn that you are alive & kicking, Ashok! Keep it up.
    Joshi (Dr.), I didn’t know that you or Deepak are from CMC, Ludhiana Great. I was there from 1960 to 1964, when (after IInd Professional) I migrated to Amritsar Medical College, from where I graduated & later retired as Professor of Surgery.
    Where are you guys these days— I mean Dr. Joshi & the Stokes brothers?
    All the best, & I really feel elated to have “shot-back” into childhood!!!

    1. Jai Joshi, MD

      In response to Dr, Santok Singh: I am in Houston, TX, and Deepak and Kusum Stokes are in CA. Congratulations on being professor of surgery.

  3. Deepak Thakur

    Dear Ashok Stokes,
    Thanks for sharing your version of the underground labyrinth/ study below the Upper II Classs room. We were handed down the legend not only in school but in Kotgarh, too. Now I can proudly claim to have heard the primary oral testimony instead of relying on heresay.
    Warmest regards,
    Deepak Thakur
    Rivaz 1964-1973

  4. David M. Wood-Robinson

    It was good to learn about someone’s experiences at BCS in the ’50s. I wonder if it would be interesting for me to write a short memoir of my time during the war when all the extra boys arrived from the UK? I would be happy to have a go at it but probably you already have quite enough on the subject!
    David M. Wood-Robinson, 1940-44

  5. Prithvi Raj Prem

    Dear Mr. Stokes

    The legend Of the underground labyrinth was alive & discussed till I finished school in 1971 !!!

  6. Jai Joshi, MD (Rivaz 1954-1963) in Houston, TX

    Dear Mr. Stokes,

    The story of the labyrinth you built under the floor of the Upper II class room become a legend that in my time was passed down by the elders, in my case by my brother, and I likewise passed it on to your brother (Deepak Stokes) and his classmates at Christian Medical College, Ludhiana. In the story coming down from the past; especially : one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable , there were not only lights but a stairway, perhaps carpeted, and the schools movie projector that allowed your underground screening of such hits as “Giant” long before Mr. Advani ever got to show it to the school. In the story I now tell, Kusum was the lovely young woman who was so impressed by you, that she fell in love with and married her classmate and your brother Deepak!

    From the young man in the 22nd row who sees you as something more than a BCS legend, thank you for sharing your story. I would have liked to have known you, but I was just a kid *

    Jai Joshi, MD

    * Adapted from Elton Johns “Candle in The Wind/ Goodbye Norma Jean”

  7. Gurdeep Singh

    Hi Stokes,
    Funny you should mention Upper II. Some months back on a visit to Pune, where he is now settled, I met up with K.S. (Bunty) Dugal and the conversation came around to our school days. Although I was a year senior to you guys, Bunty and I along with Sonny Rarewala and KS Sidhu (my class) had founded the Aeromodelling Club and therefore shared a common passion. So we spoke of our Aeromodelling, and various geniuses we knew then (Bunty and Sonny were certainly very bright, in a more than theoretical sense!) and we talked of how you and Bunty had built such a labrynth under the floor of the Class-room, complete with lights etc. that when it was discovered, the staff and school electrician were scared to enter to dismantle it. I still feel that you were unfairly expelled for this, and Bunty and I repeated this. Obviously you have continued putting your genius to good use, with a useful helping of luck that allowed you to complete your formal education. I was delighted to discern the same genius spark in yoir thoughts which are not a day too late! Gurdeep Singh (Horsey) Lefroy: 1953-1960

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