ADVENTURES OF A ‘COTTONIAN’
BRIG HARISH K. DHAWAN (RETD)
(RIVAZ HOUSE 1948-51)
I clearly remember the warm sunny day in June, 1948 when my mother left me at the BCS. I was assigned to Rivaz House and the House Master Mr. JL Papworth put me in the care of Ranjit K Bhandari who helped me to settle down in the school and put me through my paces.
Then began one of the most wonderful and memorable chapters of my life. As all boys from Public Schools have similar memories, I would not dwell on the normal issues. I want to touch upon only five issues which stand out in 1948.
1. Rule of Law: There was absolute rule of law. All boys were treated equal regardless of their background and punished according to the gravity of their offences.
2. TUCK SHOP; The centre of attraction was the Tuck Shop which was run by “Chippoo”, a versatile personality who did various jobs in the school and ran the Tuck Shop in his spare time. My mouth still waters when I think of the delectable Puries and the Burfies which Chippoo provided. The reason why I have mentioned “Chippoo” is that his name was a part of the school song and that it has some bearing on my visit to the school three decades later.
3. TOUGHNESS: We were taught to stand up to the rigours of weather. There was no winter heating or summer cooling in the wind swept dormitories. In the month of March the school party arrived in Shimla by special train. Invariably it was the snow, hail or the sleet which welcomed our arrival. The moment we get off the train we were all lined up and told to walk all the way to school (whether it was snowing, hailing or raining). There was a scramble to reach the school first, as we could get the bed of our choice, which was on first come first served basis. The usual scramble was to get the beds next to the windows.
4. CANING: The most memorable or traumatic event in the initiation of a new boy was “caning”. I had been in the school a few months when my attention was drawn to the play ground. As I looked at the play ground, I saw my friend Jogi (name changed) running like a “locomotive with its tail on fire”. When I asked as to what has happened to him, I was told that he had been “caned”. Low and behold a few months later it was my turn to be “caned”. I had lost my report card and was informed that on Friday Week it would be my turn to receive the punishment, for the mortal sin of losing my report card. I was called into the House Master’s study. Mr JL Papworth an otherwise genial House Master looked like the embodiment of the Devil. He told me that “Dhawan you have been naughty and will now receive your punishment”. Then he asked me to touch my toes. A few seconds later I received the first “wallop” on my back side. Mr Papworth let me feel the searing pain continue for a minute before I got the second dose and similarly the third. Thereafter he informed me that it was over. I catapulted from his room with lightening speed when I heard Mr Papworth’s voice calling me back. He said “Dhawan you have forgotten something”. I was then made to bend down again and given another “dose”. Then realisation dawned on me that I had forgotten something very important. I turned around and told Mr Papworth and the Senior master who was witness to the canning “Thank you, Sir”, meaning thank you for canning me. So ended the first lesson.
5. The story of departure of the boys from Pakistan: Though I joined in 1948 yet every one talked with deep sadness of how the then school captain (H Aga) and the boys from Pakistan had to leave at short notice on 21st October 1947 and of the solemn farewell given to them in the School Chapel and the Irwin Hall.
There were also very many happy memories of the School, however, I shall not dwell upon them as I would like to narrate some of my adventures since leaving school.
At the National Defence Academy, 1954 to 1957
At the National Defence Academy we had four Cottonians, JN Rudra, Robindra Dewan, Prabhat Chand and myself. We were all very close and were able to withstand the rigours of the Academy routine with tremendous resilience. Though there were only four of us yet we made our presence felt and we were recognised as the ‘BCS boys’. Prabhat Chand had the distinction of commanding the passing out parade at Indian Military Academy. Not many schools can boast of this distinction. He was slated to win the Sword of Honour; but had the courage to stand up for his subordinates and as a result narrowly missed that coveted honour. However, his selfless act drew a great amount of admiration from the officers and the Cadets of the Academy.
In 1962 I was selected to be a part of the Indian Brigade which was to take part in the United Nations Operations in the Congo. We went by Ship to Dar-e-slam and from there we were inducted into the Congo. In the Congo we did a bit of soldiering. A well known action or battle if you can call it at that which was publicised in the world press, was the “Crossing of the River Lufira”. My Engineer field Company had first constructed a Ferry for crossing of the Troops across the river followed by a Bridge to replace the one demolished by the retreating Katangese. The rapidity with which this was done enabled our troops to capture the town of Jadot Ville leading to the surrender of the Katangese forces. A reporter from “Time and Life” came to interview us. In addition to the battle experienced, he asked me stories of my background, the Partition and the School where I had studied. When I mentioned BCS in passing he exclaimed that it was more than a mere co-incidence that the senior most General Officer Commanding United Nations Forces in Katanga, Maj Gen Prem Chand and his junior most Engineer Officer Lt Harish K Dhawan were both from the same School, BCS.
Mombasa – 1963
On the return journey we were to board a troop ship at Mombasa. While transiting at Mombasa my father who was then the High Commissioner in Uganda had given me an address to meet his friends “The Sondhis”. They invited me for a dinner at their place. My visit to the Sondhis was turning out to be a disaster. They were the big Tycoons of Mombasa and I was only a Lieutenant, the lowest rank in the Indian Army. My only claim to fame was that my father was the High Commissioner of Uganda. Just as the dinner was coming to an end, their mother the Dowager Mrs Sondhi asked me politely as to where did I do my schooling. The moment I mentioned BCS the whole atmosphere changed. I was treated like a deity. They had all studied at BCS. Immediately we started talking the same language. They phoned up the large BCS community in Dar-e-slam, Mombasa and Zanzibar of my visit. They then organised a get together of the BCS clan just for me. We discussed the school, it’s Masters Freddie Brown, Mr. Murray and our other masters. They narrated how all the well known families of East Africa would send their children by sea every year to BCS. They have since made a great name for themselves and their School in East Africa and in UK where many of them are now settled.
At the Foot to the Changla Pass (Ladakh, 1966)
After the 1965 war I was posted at a place called “Shakti” at the base of the Changla Pass. I was then commanding a Boarder Road Construction Company and we were building and developing the road across Changla Pass located at a height of 17500 feet which was then the highest road in the world (leading into Chushul Lake, on the border with China). The temperatures in winter reached -40 degree. One day I got an invitation on Ladhakhi New Year’s day for a meal with Mr Tashi who was the village elder of the nearby village called “Chimre”. When we went to meet Mr Tashi, he welcomed us to his Drawing Room and made us sit down on a lower Platform. On a raised Platform in front of us was a heavily decorated Chair which was empty. Mr Tashi told me that that chair was meant for his young son who had been ordained a Lama. The story he unfolded was that when his son was born the Head Lama of a Monastery across the mountains had died and that the people from that Monastery had come and said that his son was the incarnation of the Lama who had passed away. Therefore in his house there was always an elevated place where his young son would sit and his father had to sit on a lower platform. When I asked him as to where was his son now he proudly took out the photograph of a 10 year old boy and said he is now “studying in BCS Shimla”.
Kashmir, Sopore, 1972
After the Indo Pak War of 1971 I was posted in the Kashmir Valley at a place called Pattan on the road from Sri Nagar to Baramulla, (close to the line of control). Those were relatively peaceful times i.e. that was the calm before the storm. The only piece of entertainment we would normally get was to occasionally see a Movie in the nearest town of Sopore – which incidentally now-a-days is the hot bed of extremists activities in the Valley. I was a Major at that time and had always problems in getting a proper seat as they were generally reserved for senior officers. One day during the interval I happened to talk to the owner and the topic turned to his son. He told me that he had sent him to study at BCS. The moment he heard that I was also from BCS all things changed. Me and my colleagues always got reserved seats with free snacks in the owner’s reserved box, much to the discomfort of my protocol minded senior bosses.
Visit to the School in 1978: Somehow after I left school for almost 30 years, I had no occasion to visit the school. In 1978 when the Engineer Regiment which I was commanding had sent a Field Company to the Hindustan Tibet Border for reconstructing the defences damaged in the earthquake, that I had a chance to visit the school enroute. It was a nostalgic visit, full of memories.
When I asked the Rivaz House Master, Mr. Hakim, as to what was the news of Mr “Chippoo” he motioned to the play ground at an elderly gentleman basking in the sun. I went up to him and shook his hand and told him as to who I was. His words shook me like a thunderbolt. “Dhawan – Rivaz House – 1950”. Here was a man who had seen us in our teens and hundreds of boys had passed through to the school during the 30 years and yet he remembered who I was. This was the high point and most memorable part of my visit.
When my Regiment moved to Chandimandir from the Valley, my neighbour was the Station Commander, now late Brig Shiv Dev Singh. One day we were informed that his son would be coming from Australia and was to be married to an Australian girl and we were invited to the wedding. When I met the groom (Pet name Beanu) I realised that he was also from the BCS and he narrated to me that there were a number of old Cottonians in Melbourne and Sydney in Australia and they have regular get togethers and were particularly proud of their school heritage.
While I was posted as Chief Engineer Border Roads in Nagaland I tried to locate one Peter Sema who had been with us in the School. Though I could not locate him yet I found that a large number of Naga boys from respectable families along with their counterparts from Manipur and Arunachal were studying at the BCS.
What I want to bring out in this is that there was something in the BCS, its name and traditions that people came from all over India in fact all over the world came to study at the school. They have since all done well in life, and kept the flag of the school flying wherever they have gone.
There are many more tales I have of our get togethers in Delhi of the special carmaderie when we meet an old Cottonian. This is something of which we can be rightly proud of. Using the phrase of one of the most respected Army Generals (Army Commanders) used in another context. “I can proudly say that I was a lucky man. I was lucky to be a Cottonian not everyone can have that luck”.
Brig H K Dhawan (Retd)