The Irish Brothers ran the school as a “tight ship”. Discipline and neatness began from the student’s personal appearance and dress.
St. Columba’s was founded in 1941, by the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic society from Ireland that has undertaken missionary and educational work worldwide. Also informally known as the Christian Brothers, this group was founded by Edmund Ignatius Rice. One of the 19 Christian Brothers Schools established in India, St. Columba’s School located close to Lutyens’ part of New Delhi, next to the picturesque Sacred Heart Cathedral, adjoining the circular Gol Dak Khana (New Delhi post office), Alexandra Place, now Ashok Place and which was previously a rose garden, began in 1942 with 32 boys admitted through Class 6.
As a 1967 batch Old Columban, my recollections of the school from the mid-1950s to the latter half of the 1960s may come as a bit of a surprise to the present-day Columbans, or even those as far as of the 1980s.
The Irish Brothers ran the school as a “tight ship”. Discipline and neatness began from the student’s personal appearance and dress. Hair properly combed, nails trimmed, the summer whites clean and ironed, the bottle green and gold necktie properly tied in a single or double knot with the collar buttoned — summer heat or humidity be damned — and the school belt on shorts or trousers with white socks and black shoes. Teachers too dressed meticulously — ladies in Indian or Western dresses and gents in shirt and tie in summer and suits or combinations in winter.
With a lot of encouragement for games and sports, St. Columba’s excelled in athletics, swimming, water-polo and diving, hockey, football, cricket, gymnastics and basketball. The importance given to physical training and drill was backed by instructors like Mr Hukil and Lockwood who were National Cadet Corps officers and ex-servicemen sportsmen like Mr Gurung and Rajaram Sahu. Proper military precision marching and exercises with clubs, poles and medicine balls were all conducted to tunes and beats of the full-fledged school orchestra under the baton of Mr Menezes.
Not believing in sparing the rod and spoiling the child, class discipline was often ensured by use of foot rulers by lady teachers and canes by the Irish Brothers and lay teachers. Mr Colin Charles Vegas of Class 8-A was known for giving students the choice of the thick and thin canes named Betsy and Dear Lisa respectively. Canes were administered on fingers or bottoms and there were no complaints from parents.
Columbans joining the armed forces — in the period 1940s-70s at least — merits mention. In 1962, the swimming pool was inaugurated by then Naval Chief Admiral B.S. Soman, who while delivering his speech stripped of his summer suit to baggy swimming trunks, dowsed himself with water, histrionically plunged into the pool and swam on, followed by squads of school swimmers doing the crawl, breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke. Shortly after the 1965 Indo-Pak war, then Army Chief, Gen. J.N. Chaudhary was invited as the chief guest for inaugurating the school athletics and took the salute at the march-past. In November 1965, when an Old Columban Maj. Bhaskar Roy came to Delhi to receive the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest war gallantry award and visited the school, then vice-principal Brother Tynan took him to all senior classes proudly introducing him as a Columban who had done the country and school proud. While already then there were many Columbans in the Services and training at the National Defence Academy, from 1966-67 onwards there was a fresh surge of them including this writer. Out of these, Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal became the then youngest recipient of the Param Vir Chakra (posthumous), the highest war gallantry award. A large percentage of Columbans in the Services were champion swimmers, including Ravi Malhotra, Rajeev Ratan, Khetarpal, K.M.S. Shergill and this writer and many rose up to the top ranks.
Some known names in various fields are:
Academics and science: Deepak Chopra, 1963, physician, public speaker; Nitin Nohria, 1980, 10th and current dean of Harvard Business School; Siddhartha Mukherjee, Rhodes Scholar, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer; Rajeev Motwani, Gödel Prize winner; Mahesh Rangarajan, Rhodes Scholar; Randeep Guleria, 1975, surgeon, Padma Shri awardee and Derek Bose, author/journalist.
Arts and entertainment: Shah Rukh Khan, 1984, actor; Kunal Nayyar, actor best known for his role as “Raj Koothrappali” on the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory; Keith Sequeira, actor/model; Anubhav Srivastava, 2004, filmmaker (Carve Your Destiny); Arjun Mathur, actor; Cyrus Sahukar, VJ/actor; Mukul Dev, actor; Palash Sen, singer (Euphoria); Rahul Dev, model/actor; Sudeep Sen, author/poet; Vinil Mathew, ad-filmmaker and Bollywood director; George Chakravarthi, artist and Ritvik Arora, actor.
Politics: Anil, Sunil and Ashok Shastri, sons of PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Najeeb Jung (1967), Abhishek Manu Singhvi (1975), Derek O’Brien, Mahesh Rangarajan, Rahul Gandhi, Gaurav Gogoi and Jayant Sinha.
Law: Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, Chief Justice of the Allahabad high court, 1975 and Badar Durrez Ahmed, senior Judge, Delhi high court.
Business: Piyush Gupta, 1976, CEO and director of DBS Bank; Ajay Singh (entrepreneur), 1984, founder and chairman, SpiceJet; Sanjeev Bikhchandani, founder and executive vice-chairman, Naukri.com; Rishabh Dev, founder and managing director, Mapplinks; Vivek Paul, former vice-chairman, Wipro, consulting professor of Radiology at Stanford University, and founder of KineticGlue, a cloud-based computing company; Rajeev Dubey, president at Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd and Ajay Srinivasan, chief executive-financial services, Aditya Birla Group.
Media: Tarun Basu (1967), former chief editor, India Abroad News Service; Srikrishna Ramaswamy (1967), PTI, the Statesman and others and Sanjeev Prakash, CEO & editor-in-chief, Asian News International.
Sports: Ashish Bagai, former captain and batsman, Canadian cricket team; Mansher Singh, 1985, sports shooter, Olympic athlete; Arun Lal, cricketer and commentator and Novy Kapadia and Anupam Gulati, both sports journalists.
The senior school building once housed the entire school. Today, Class 11 and 12 are to be found here along with a library, science laboratories and the administration wing. On the first floor were the residences of the Christian Brothers, which were shifted to the Provincialate Wing in 2011.
The Edmund Rice Hall (ERH) has an indoor basketball cum badminton court. It has a stage at one end, seating space to accommodate more than 2,000 people and stadium-like step seating at the far end. It hosts the annual Christmas Play that is a major attraction, being organised entirely by the students and the faculty. It also hosts the Columban Jindal basketball tournament.
The Columban Open quiz is the premier school quiz of North India, with more than 200 teams participating every year. Started in 1984, the Columban Open quiz is in its 33rd edition and is one of the most prestigious quizzes in the circuit. It is organised by the Quiz Society of St. Columba’s consisting of students and a teacher in charge. The quiz is generally held in the month of August. The 2015 edition was won by Delhi Public School R.K. Puram (Shubham Sarcar, Aryaman Dubey, Anahida Bharadwaj and Abhimanyu Sinha) with a second team from D.P.S. R.K. Puram (Akshay Gupta, Aditya Sengupta, Hibah Mirza and Aneesh Gupta) in second place. The 2016 edition of the quiz was won by Modern School Barakhamba Road (Ayan Marwaha, Aatmik Gupta, Paavas Bhasin and Aniket Joshi) with Delhi Public School R.K. Puram as runners-up (Aryaman Dubey, Aveneel Waadhwa, Hibah Mirza and Aneesh Gupta).
The run-up period to the school’s 75th anniversary has been marked by two nostalgic and delightful get-togethers by the Old Columban Association (OCA). The first was a few months ago at Delhi Gymkhana, where the OCA had good spirits flowing, Sunil Lamba of Kwality provided delectable snacks and dinner and Brother Miranda the principal, dressed in a suit was mistaken for an Old Columban, till he addressed us. The second was a lunch on the lawns of the Ambassador Hotel, where many batch cakes were cut. While batches are organising their bashes, Arun Khanna (1969), of Claridges Hotel and president OCA, has confirmed that the anniversary lunch has been planned for December 23, 2018. As we used to cheer our sports teams: “Buck-up Columba’s, SCS, SCS, SCS…”
The writer, a retired Army officer, is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi