Brig Kohli’s daughter, Sheela, sent in a photograph [taken at Nathu La in 1965] of her father a year since he passed on at the age of 99
Football season, a mountaineering expedition, a cricket tournament, an inter-school debate competition – these are some of the events which have been canceled or postponed due to the pandemic at the Bishop Cotton School in Shimla, one of Asia’s oldest boarding schools for boys.
Though students are attending regular virtual classes from home, they are missing out on a number of sports and other activities, apart from the experience of community-living in the residential school, said Simon David Weale [MA Oxon] the school’s director.
“We’re eager for the campus to fill up with students again. They are attending 44 hours of virtual classes every week, and our teachers have improvised well and come up with innovative, teaching methods. But students are not obliged to attend all these classes as too much screen time could be unhealthy. Besides, the essence of holistic education provided here is the residential environment. That’s why even local students from Shimla live inside the campus,” said Weale.
A typical day at school begins at 6 in the morning and lasts till 10 at night, during which boarders are engaged in physical training, classes, organised games, prep and co-curricular activities such as public speaking, art and drama.
In summer, the school also organises outward-bound activities such as treks and adventure sports, and a month-long mountaineering training course for the outgoing batch, which have all been delayed this year. “The mountaineering course is usually followed by an expedition, and so far, there have been seven successful expeditions to Himalayan peaks above the altitude of 20,000 feet. For those who have missed the course this year, we are planning to rearrange it for them next year,” said Weale.
The school has a strength of about 450 students and 160 staff members. Though a majority of the students are from Himachal and neighbouring states of Haryana, Punjab and Delhi, there are students from all corners of the country, including Mizoram and Odisha, and some foreign students as well.
When the state government ordered closure of schools on March 14, around 70 per cent of the students left for their homes. Those appearing for their board examinations stayed back but left soon after the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CICSE) canceled the exams. Three boys from Thailand stayed back till as late as May but left as restoration of normalcy seemed distant.
Not the first disruption in school’s history
For many institutions, the pandemic crisis is unprecedented, but BCS has survived several such disruptions since it first opened for students in March 1863. On a Sunday in May 1905, when the boys were away for an outing, most of the school was destroyed in a fire. The students were shifted to other lodgings in town, and the school was rebuilt and occupied two years later in July 1907.
An outbreak of influenza in 1922 also affected the school, and the then headmaster FR Gillespy’s wife died while treating the children, said Weale.
After partition and independence, an exodus of Muslim, British and European boys led to the closure of the prep school in Chhota Shimla.
“We have also heard of some other disease outbreaks such as that of yellow fever during the school’s long history. And there was no internet back then to impart distance learning to the students, as is happening now,” said the director.
BCS was founded as the first ‘public school’ in India (along the lines of the British ‘public school’ system, which incorporates a house system, a prefectorial body and a system of organised games) by George Edward Lynch Cotton, the then Bishop of Calcutta, in July 1859. First established at Jutogh, it opened for students in March 1863 with Frederick Naylor as the first student. The school moved to its present site at the south end of the Knollswood Spur in September 1868. Suren Tagore was the first Indian boy admitted to the school in 1881.
BCS has a long list of distinguished alumni such as writer Ruskin Bond, six-time Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh and Major Roy Farran (Curzon), a decorated officer in the British Army. The school also has an infamous alumnus, Reginald Dyer, a British general remembered for his role in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. The motto of the school is: “Overcome Evil with Good”.
Hope you doing well!
This would be my 1st mail to you. It’s been 16 years since my batch and I, have passed out of school and life has taken us to various places.
My batch created a small whatsapp group, so that we can all be in touch. This year has been hard for most of us. Some of my friends lost their jobs, while others were sitting at home getting low pay or no pay.
Since, most of my batchmates were undergoing stress, Amos (Ibbetson), Parmeet (Curzon) and I, took an initiative of asking my schoolmates about their best memories at school and how life been after school.
We were lucky enough to get some responses, I am assertive that we would get more responses of my batchmates and uplift their confidence.
I thought of sharing some clips of them, for people who chose to send their clips.
I hope that you would like the glimpse of these nostalgic videos.
Batch of 2004
Bishop Cotton School
Crayons by Himmat Singh [1952-62 Rivaz House] of our main school in 1958, before the fountain came up. Note the tin shed verandah ,before dorms came up!
[Click the pictures for a larger view]
A wonderful obituary to John Whitmarsh Knight who I still feel floating in all our midst…On His teaching assignment at BCS Simla he described this..”as the happiest and most fulfilling period of his life …”Although it has been18 months since John wandered in to his special garden, his presence on our website will give great strength to each and every Cottonian.Thanks very much.My Warmest…Vivek
22/08/1941 – 09/11/2018
John Whitmarsh‐Knight was born in Karachi into a military family before partition and moved to England when he was aged 7. The family home was at Grove Park and John came to Dulwich from a local primary school. At Dulwich he excelled at sport. He was in the 1st XV for three years (58 – 60), being Captain in his last year, and in the 1st V11‐a‐side rugby team from 1957. He was a 1st X1 cricketer for two years (59 – 60) and in the hockey 1st X1 for three seasons. John was editor of the Alleynian and a member of many societies. He became a prefect in 1959 and Captain of the School the following year. During his last year, when in the Geography Upper Sixth, he took the scholarship exams at Cambridge and on the back of these was offered a place at Fitzwilliam College.
John was an all‐rounder in every sense of the word. At this early stage he already showed a deep love for literature; he was greatly admired and respected not only for his academic and sporting prowess, but also for his exceptionally warm, caring and thoughtful personality. He was known for his generosity, his kindness and willingness to help others, and also for his exuberant sense of humour and fun. With these endearing qualities, coupled with his natural modesty and prodigious memory, he made many friends both at school and throughout the rest of his life.
On leaving Dulwich he decided against going to university and instead worked in the City. However, he soon became disenchanted with finance and in 1964 left for Africa where he worked in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and then the Seychelles, being involved in international companies and latterly a government department. During this time he experienced a dozen coups d’etat, his recipe for survival being to fill the bath with water, buy quantities of food to last three months, board up windows and wait for events to calm down.
After 10 years John returned to the UK and took up a senior position in a Company owned by an OA friend, Paul Fessler. He successfully developed amongst other products a range of organic cosmetics to rival Body Shop. Each year during this period John became involved with the All England Lawn Tennis Club as a volunteer at the famous Wimbledon championships. He gained a reputation for introducing a much improved method for crowd entry, and the other senior stewards were also aware that when John was on duty his engaging personality ensured the crowd would be in good humour.
John though became academically restless and studied for an English degree at Birkbeck University. This he put to good effect and in 2009 he returned to his native India to become a very successful teacher at the Bishop Cotton School in Shimla; this is a boarding school in the Himalayan foothills and is a replica of an English public school. John described this as the happiest and most fulfilling period of his life. Regrettably, ill health due to chronic lung disease forced him to leave prematurely in 2012. He is remembered there as “a gentleman and scholar who worked tirelessly and was an absolute pillar of the Bishop Cotton School”.
A series of three documentary films entitled “Indian Hill Railways” was made for British television in 2010 and the third of these featured the Kalka – Shimla railway, which was built by the British and opened in 1903. The film director obviously recognised John’s charisma and showed him on a number of occasions, both traveling back to the school post holiday and also at the school itself. In the film John explained that previously he had worked in business which was a “take‐take situation, now [at the school] it is a give‐give situation, very refreshing.” This was a typical reaction from John.
Back in England John’s lung condition continued to deteriorate and he became less able to leave his home in Addlestone, Surrey. He spent much of his time delving into his many treasured books. John was predeceased by David, his younger OA brother and is greatly missed by his family and friends.
This obituary was written by three OA friends of John, Paul Fessler, Roger Lewis and Peter Lyon