On the occasion of the golden jubilee of Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, the 1962 batch honoured its English teacher

Looking at Sheila Murphy Cherian, Francis Vijayarangam said with a slight quiver in his voice: “Your role was to take care of us, to help us look after ourselves!” Apt words for a teacher who taught English but above all cared for her students, they spirited away the 20-odd men in the audience to 1962. They were no longer at Maple Hall in Savera, but tucking their legs under their desks at Sainik School, Amaravathinagar (SSA), near Udumalpet, and turning the pages of their English text-books.

In 1962, when SSA was started, Miss Murphy, as they called her, was in the same boat as these boys. SSA’s first school captain Vijayarangam continued his address to the teacher, which was a prelude to an evening-long celebration of her 80th birthday and SSA’s 50th year: “The school was just being established. And we and you were also just starting out at SSA.” Sheila started out as a teacher of English, but when these boys left school, she had established herself as their mentor.

In the process, she did service to the ideals on which Sainik Schools were founded. Said M. Johny Manimaran, also from the 1962 batch,“The brain child of then Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon, these schools, established in each of the major States of India, are manned by senior officers of the armed forces with the objective of turning boys into men who can take on the responsibilities of the armed forces. These schools would prepare them for the National Defence Academy.”

As illustrated in the last 50 years, the experiment has been immensely successful. Added Manimaran, “In 1962, the first batch, numbering 150 students in the age group of 10-14, joined Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, for Standards V to IX. In December, 1964, four cadets from this batch qualified and joined the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla and went on to become officers in the defence forces. Subsequently, year after year, many students of SSA, have gone on to become senior officers, generals, air chief marshals and vice-admirals. Those who did not make it to the NDA, also made it big in other fields. The holistic education helped them excel in civilian life. They have stood out as CEOs, IAS officers, entrepreneurs and so on.”

Given the focus of the institution, teachers had to provide an education that went beyond text books. They had to cultivate the ability to work in teams and to look out for one another. Sheila epitomised this quality. A lot of water has flowed under Amaravathi dam, as Vijayarangam put it, but she identified each of the boys from the 1962 to 1966 batches and also recalled where they hailed from. She also remembered the punishment — tweaking the ears — she meted out to some of them.

The boys also showed her how precious and unforgettable she was, by recalling her life at SSA, including her marriage to SSA’s then physics teacher Cherian. When Jayanth Poovaiah, executive director, Deccan Aviation, summed it all up in a touching poem written for Miss Murphy, the gentle dews of nostalgia settled down on Maple.

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