Friday, February 20, 2009

Memories of a Principal

I was in the fifth standard when Mr. John Lewis took over as the Principal at Campion. Since he was the Vice-Principal at Cathedral before switching to Campion, I remember some degree of worry over how well he would "Cathedralize" the school. Almost 20 years down the line, I can sit back and reminisce, and realize what a huge difference he made to Campion. He is the only Principal I interacted with on a personal level, so it would be unfair to draw any comparisons with any of the other illustrious principals.

Mr. Lewis was moulded as a young man by the great Dr. Kuruvila Jacob, who was Principal at Cathedral when he joined, or so he told my parents. Maths was his passion, and each and everyone of his students will remember his Rs. 15 mathematics book and his encouraging words of "The more I practice, the more I score, and score I must". He introduced a plethora of co-curricular activities at school, including the much dreaded gymnastics which became a part of every PT period during the monsoons when we could not play outside in the Back Gardens! House games were dismissed as a bane initially, but today I look back and realize how much fun we had, the wind in our hair, often playing well beyond time, with the sun making its slow descent into the evening.

Introducing the fourth house (Berchmans) was a master-stroke, since it created a situation where there would be one house in every competition which would be left without even the wooden spoon. It divided a lot of us, who had spent 5 solid years fighting for Loyola; but at the same time it made us strive harder to do well, since we peace-loving Loyolaites were rather happy getting our bronze-medals without much effort. And who can forget the one day in January every year when bus-loads of bleary-eyed teenagers would be transported to an absolute dustbowl called the Aarey Milk Colony and made to run through streams, slush, bush and brambles as part of what was dubbed the Annual Cross-Country Race. The dust-bowl had been witness to one of the greatest battles in the annals of Indian television, and the place was strewn with the remnants of the various 'chariots' of the heroes from BR Chopra's epic "Mahabharatha". I'd love to say that it made a jogger out of me, and stressed the importance of fitness.

The morning assemblies were quite a lot of fun, with the introduction of Mr. Lewis' little red book aka the hymnal. Every student was expected to have a hymnal, and sing the hymns with gusto every day. It had about 50 hymns, but Mr. Lewis had his favorites and needless to say I can sing "Give me oil in my lamp" and "Whole world in His hands" if you wake me up in the middle of the night! Some time in the 8th, we caught on to Mr. Lewis' pronounciation of "in his" and for a good three years we enjoyed singing that the good Lord had the "whole world INEEEEEEEEEEZ hands", much to the consternation of Mr. Eddie Noronha and Mr. Alvaro. My classmates still have not forgotten the day he sang the Cathedral school song instead of "Campion Calls...", and topped it off with some hums and la-la's once he realized his mistake!

I have a lot to thank the gentleman for, personally. He paid for an ambulance once, the first time I twisted my knee and made sure that I got taken care of at Bombay Hospital. My mother was quite amused to hear him chuckle about how he had "his parents working at Bombay Hospital" and how it was not a huge deal to make sure that I was well taken care of. She had visions of a school principal's parents slogging it out at the hospital - she still remembers him for that. He was a strict man, but he softened up to me after all the quizzes and debates I participated in; even letting me bunk one Chemistry lab (much to Mr. Colaco's irritation) and watch a couple of good friends from Cathedral debate against Hiranandani Foundation.

Idiosyncrasies aside, he was a good man, and he probably did a lot more for Campion than we realized or gave him credit for back then (or today for that matter). Mr. John S. Lewis passed away this morning. To scores of Campionites who saw the 'good times' in the 90's with him, he will be saluted as he moves on to Elysian Fields to join the pantheon of other Campion/Cathedral greats. He's now well and truly "ineez" hands, and He will take good care of him!


varun mani said...

great article mate, do you have any idea when the memorial is?

Soultan of Swing said...

"Funeral Mass at St Micheal Church Mahim on 21/02/2009 at 9:00 a.m. followed by burial at the same Cemetery."

So said the email.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your memories with us. On behalf of the family a sincere thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your memories with us. On behalf of the family a sincere thank you.

Siddharth Vij said...

One of Mr. Lewis's first acts after becoming principal was introducing a third section. That's the only reason I am a Campionite. Thanks for this great tribute.

frankmehta said...

At the end of this tribute, I am moved to tears and don't have much more to say. May Campion see more Mr. John Lewis'es' that help the school attain the glory that was present during his 'reign.'
I remember him convincing my parents to admit me into Campion school after I had floored him in the interview. My parents said there was no bus service to my place, and he promptly replied, saying, we shall have him picked up!
B Route was modified for me.
Man, I am nostalgic right now.

Signing off.