I forwarded a few days ago information about Partap’s passing away. Yesterday, I had a call from his cousin, Dalip Singh (Sohinderjit’s father) describing the circumstances surrounding his demise and some details about the family. Later in the evening I received information about the final rites, which I communicated at short notice, and some of us witnessed the last few minutes of the mortal remains of Partap before he was cremated. It was a dignified but sad event.
These occasions are usually sad but in this case there is greater sadness surrounding a life that experienced serious barriers constantly. The man heaved them aside and lived with impressive dignity. His stunning responses were courageous. He was stout-hearted and he grappled with every adversity, fearlessly. He extracted our admiration.
Partap was lodged at the Revera Living & Long Term Care Centre under a Canadian government funded programme. He had been there for several years after he became virtually incapacitated. He had fallen off his wheelchair and his mobility almost extinguished after that accident necessitating housing in a long term care institution. Those years were more unhappy because his requests or cries for assistance were never adequately entertained. He was helpless.
Partap reported on November 19, 2020 that there were thirty cases of Covid at Revera and two days later he was infected. A doctor attended to him and diagnosed it as a mild case of the virus. A week later he was recommended intubation and medicines. He declined the oxygen and his condition deteriorated rapidly until he passed away on December 2, 2020. His medical condition had sunk significantly about 6 months prior to this event. His blood pressure fluctuated wildly and he suffered frequent and severe headaches. I contacted the Centre and a doctor subsequently visited him but Partap’s medical condition remained poor if not worse judging by the conversations he frequently had with me and certainly with G S Anand & Badal.
From what I can piece together of this life, Partap was rustic at heart. He was blunt and candid, never mincing words or his feelings. The personality was akin to tempered steel but in this case you could not then employ it for any other purpose not amenable to a change of shape, except marginally, or any kind of surface polish. You could keep beating it and it would withstand any kind of pain with courage, without complaint, but its strength remained consistent and lasting. The years at BCS reinforced those basic attributes and perhaps hardened them because they strengthened the core in abundant measure preparing it for the difficult life that was to follow. Polish and finish were not part of the structure of his character. He was not the snobbish, refined, elegant public school product. Style or smoothness was not for him He was the son of a man who lived the earthy existence. Being a heartland Punjabi, he was exceptionally generous, often robbed and cheated.
Partap was the youngest in a family of seven brothers and two sisters. He yearned for his mother who died when he was still very little. He spoke of her with feeling and with emotional warmth about anyone else’s mother.The mother’s absence he suffered and felt it all his life. He often spoke about it. The father, a wealthy landlord who had made his assets in Burma, built a gurdwara in his wife’s honour and it bears her name Mai Nand Kaur Gurudwara in Ludhiana. I have photographs of the gurdwara under construction.
After the father’s death, the family began migrating to Canada and in the process sold large parts of their property in India. The land assets were fragmented, shared and disposed from a capital that was rapidly depleted. Partap came to India a few years ago, after a gap of 30 years, to transfer land from his name to others so that ownership would hold no issues for the beneficiary at any later date. For this transaction he reverted to the original name that we all knew him by, Kanwarjit Singh Grewal. He changed it to S Partap in School for reasons I do not recall but most of the time he was known as Partap Grewal.
Memories rush back because I knew him from 1954 (he had joined School in 1953). Partap did not seem any different from the other boys at that time. His closest friends were largely Curzonians or those who belonged to his dormitory. His was not an exuberant personality but nor was he the quiet type. He did possess resolute determination and that was his one major attribute that enabled him to distinguish himself from any of the others. The other person I can recall with similar grit is Guljit Kochhar.
To be recognised in School you had to be an outstanding sportsman. Academic achievement got you a thirty second applause in the Irwin Hall when Form Order or Half Yearly results were announced by the Headmaster. The career path in those school years to become a prefect or being a popular figure centred entirely around sporting ability. Partap excelled in all the major team games, cricket, hockey and football, winning his colours.
His individuality, however, shone as a long distance runner, especially the marathon. Right now I am unable to fetch that picture from my collection but that victory in the 1963 marathon is etched in my mind to this day. Mr Arjun Advani, his House Master is standing right there to congratulate him. I can still see those images so clearly as it happened that day. He had practiced hard for the event and Govinder who came second in that race recalls being beaten handily. Those would now be the few times when the use of his strong legs were a cause for such an applause. It would now be for just another year when those limbs would support this long distance runner. After 1964 this man would run any exceptional distance but only on the strength of an indomitable spirit. His running legs would be of no consequence after that year.
These achievements on the games field he accomplished with constant practice. To ensure a place in the football Ist XI he began practicing the kick with the left foot until it was a formidable salvo. He wanted the position of left wing because all the other team slots were or would be filled by players who would be stiff competition or were visibly better players. Determination, will power, resolve and the ability to punish the body is what he had most. He exploited it to the fullest.
Post 1963 I lost contact with Partap. I got to hear about his presence in Canada about 20 years ago when I located him and literally drew him out from being a recluse. After that he was in regular contact with the internet making it all possible
On one occasion I discovered he was in New York and that was our first meeting after School which was about 13 years ago. He came to my hotel. I was aghast to see him in a wheelchair. but certainly excited to see him again, I greeted him by thumping his shoulders. He quickly resisted and then informed me about the weakness in that area that had occurred as a result of standing up, folding the wheel chair, lifting it into the vehicle before hauling himself to be able to drive himself around. The wear and tear of the shoulder bones had caused damage impairing his ability in the use of fingers and his hands.
Partap had been afflicted with polio, usually a chance of one in a million, at the age of 18 straight after School in 1965. The absence of medical facilities, which must be delivered within 24 hours of the problem, in a snow bound village, resulted in permanent damage. Some medical attention was administered at PGI, Chandigarh, a few weeks later. Improvement did occur until the treating doctors moved away causing his condition to regress. Thereafter the damage became irreparable.
Young Partap then focussed on academics and graduated from the distance learning course offered by Delhi University. He would arrive by train and live those few days for the examination near the Delhi railway station. He then went on to qualify in a computer science course offered by institutions that held some repute. Back home in Ludhiana, he suffered neglect and consequently moved to Nainital to live with Dalip, his cousin, where he spent 11 years. When Dalip and his family migrated to Canada, Partap followed them. Arriving in Canada the only skill he had to offer was his computer knowledge but the Indian qualifications were not acceptable. He qualified again but this time in Canada.
Partap then went to work with IBM as a programmer and he would be showcased by the corporate from time to time as an example of a differently abled person delivering results. Some years later the effects of shoulder damage caused by constant hauling of the wheel chair, referred to earlier, affected the use of his hands. This resulted in an operation, the cost of which resulted in him declaring himself bankrupt. The exact details are blurred even though he had medical cover but the insurance company reneged on some technical grounds caused by an insufficient or inaccurate declaration.
Helpless again, Partap then did accounting and computer support work for a school in the New York area which is when I met him.
The high point of his existence was his visit to India a few years ago after a long gap of three decades. He was excited.While I collected him from Delhi airport that night, Billy Gill hosted him in Chandigarh while Dr Santokh Singh organised his visit to the Golden Temple. To Partap this trip was a long time dream fulfilled. Several of you met him and the dinner evening at R S Sodhi’s remains a memorable one. He never forgot it and he thanked each one whenever he would recall that trip.
The last few years as I have recounted proved difficult but that did not dissipate his strength or his spirit. His correspondence was, when the occasion arose and he felt strongly, spirited, feisty and assertive. It would take time to sober him down because what he felt strongly about had to be communicated bluntly and without inhibition. That was also the manner at the Revere where we tried to force his opinion. Unfortunately over time such efforts fatigued him and his zeal began to flag. Age and the will to live began to diminish. The last few months eventually took their toll. He gave up at the end but on his terms because he had nothing more to live for.
We will remember this great and wonderful man as the embodiment of determination, persistence, courage and most of all fearless in face of any hardship and suffering. He never gave up when he knew he had to win. God bless, you dearest Partap. You are an inspiration. He was a Cottonian in spirit and in deed. He lived by the motto “Facta Non Verba” His deeds we will remember.
G S Anand has suggested we hold an akhand path for Partap. I am making arrangements to organise it at a gurdwara near where I live. Anyone who would like to assist with this effort is welcome. It is our last initiative and homage to a soul that we all recognised, respect and will remember with affection.
My kind regards
P.S. I am sending as attachments to this mail pictures of Little Partap in 1957 with him standing outside the entrance to the Remove dormitories. In that picture are (left to right) Ashok Dinanath, Jaspal Sawhney, Mathew Zachariah, with Partap at extreme right and Vijay Pawa immediately behind him. In the other group picture with Mathew Zachariah standing on the left of picture, Partap is the guy second from the right in the last row in between Atwal and Jatinder Randhawa. In the line up at Sanjauli for the 1961 marathon, Partap is eighth from the left in between RS Sodhi (C) and Manmohan Singh(C)
Govinder Singh has been kind enough to forward pictures of Partap in various team photographs and the line up for the 1963 marathon has Partap, seventh from the left right next to B M Singh (C). We confirm he was the Sportsman of the Year 1963
P.P.S. You see how proximate and friendly he was with the Curzonians!! No complaints.
K. Vijay Singh – popularly known as Kuttu – [Lefroy House.1958-66] has been a active and prominent member of the OCA and the Executive Committee.
Here’s wishing you and your team much success as President OCA Delhi!
Sarbjit [SABU as he’s known by] Singh (Rivaz 1957-65), after 47 years in the corporate world, started a second career in 2018 as a maker of short films on birds and nature. His love for nature and the environment are abundantly clear from the myriad of films that he has done.
What became an interest in the mid-80s after meeting a German couple visiting India for bird-watching, has grown into a passion for Sabu. He has been visiting Himachal regularly for the past 10 years and probably has one of the biggest video databases of birds of the lower Himalayas in the world, especially the Indian Paradise Flycatcher.
He also visits parks and sanctuaries as far apart as Dachigam in Kashmir to Vedanthangal in Tamil Nadu and from Kolkata to the Little Rann of Kutch. The rich diversity of the North-East is on his bucket list, he tells us.
Sabu has a active YouTube channel where his work is documented and available to view. Do visit his channel and SUBSCRIBE – we OCs can assist promote his viewership greatly. Thank you! He is currently a one-man band and does his own shooting , editing, music selection and voice overs. Amazing talent.
Sabu Singh has also written articles on whatever takes his fancy, including excerpts of school life, which are at https://hubpages.com/@sabusingh, for those interested.
Here are a couple of his videos, hope these whet your appetite to go explore his other videos on YouTube as well!
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”.
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