Come the first summer showers and as the aroma of the earth ascends to the nostrils, nostalgia drives me to Tambaram, near Chennai. The time machine whirrs back by four decades and I visit yet again the portals of Madras Christian College — one more famous MCC for you.
The coppery red soil is carpeted with chrysanthemums that bloom all around: the setting is definitely not Indian and you start looking for kilt-clad Scots to enliven the English environs. Fathers flourished those days in X’ian — not the ones in white cassocks and red sashes but their genteel ones in bush coats — the earliest versions of today’s safari coats (?). Fathers McNicol, McPhail, Saunders and Kibble are but a few and the presiding deity was none other than the inimitable Rev. Alexander John Boyd.
Father Boyd is perhaps the only example of a person, I remember, who can enforce discipline with a smile: ‘Fella! You’ve just walked on the grass (lawn); that’s four annas’; what a way to punish and fine with no pain. It is said that a proud Englishman wished to ridicule the true Scot in Boyd: “While the Scots feed on oats, we the English feed it only to our horses.” Pat came the reply, “That is why you see fine horses in England and fine men only in Scotland.” A boy who got very poor marks wanted a clarification: “Father, is it out of hundred or out of fifty?” Prof. Boyd replied slowly but firmly: “No son, it’s out of pity that I gave you those marks.”
Prof. Kibble was old and absent-minded. It is fabled that he flashed his torch on the “sundial” to find the time at night. He borrowed Father Boyd’s car on a Saturday evening. After finishing his business at George Town and leaving the car parked at China Bazaar, he took the electric train and returned to Tambaram. Only when Prof. Boyd asked for the car the next morning did the memory of the car parked at Parry’s Corner hit Prof. Kibble.
Among the Indian professors the one who caught your eyes, ears and heart was the veritable Subbu. Short and stout. Be it “Selected English Prose” or “The Return of the Native” khadi-clad Subbu enchanted us with his diction and analysis. “My mind to me a kingdom is” is a dictum we learnt from him. Subbu was Prof. K. Subrahmanyam of “Know Your English” fame.
And not to forget the ‘Dennis the Menace’ in us — hundreds of carts laden with milk, vegetables and other kinds of goods for the Madras market would cross the gates of the college early in the morning — 2 or 3 a.m. The bullocks would plod along while their masters slept deeply. One night (early morning?) all the carts were smoothly turned back towards Chinglepet — away from Chennai — by the boys and pandemonium would certainly have ensued when the sleeping drivers woke up in the “hubby who returned empty-handed” style.
“Had I the wings of a dove,” lamented Alexander Selkirk. He needn’t have. Sitting in the grill room (this is no kitchen grill. A room with only grills and glass windows; no solid doors) in my creaky cane chair as I look around for a ‘panavision’ of Ooty — I take off to pastures of the past for happy landings!
(Dr. Gopalakrishnan studied B.Sc & M.Sc at the Madras Christian College half a century ago. His email:firstname.lastname@example.org)