Mohan Guruswamy is Chairman and founder of Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi, India. He has over three decades of experience in government, industry and academia. He can be contacted at mohanguru[at]gmail.com.
There was a small item in the Deccan Chronicle a few days ago inviting alumni to join in yet another celebration. I will miss it.
But two years ago I attended an alumni evening at my old high school, the Mahbub College High School at Secunderabad, where I was also asked to say a few words. The MCHS caters predominantly to the lower and middle classes in Secunderabad. It has been in existence for over 150 years and has had its share of distinguished alumni such as Admiral Ramdas Katari, Air Marshal P Jayakumar, Mohan Kanda IAS, former CS of AP and ML Jaisimha, the Test cricketer. I joined it in the 10th class and passed out from it in 1963 with a very high first class. The reason why I was shifted was due to the reputation for academic excellence it enjoyed those days.
But it was also a hard place. The student community was tough and every class had the norms of a wolf pack. On my first day, I was stopped by a bunch of tough kids outside my class and my bicycle tires were deflated. When I complained about it to the games master, RN Dixit, he eyed me from feet to head and said “you look big enough, go and sort it out yourself or you will find life very difficult.” Next morning, when the same thing was being repeated I took the ring leader on and roundly thrashed him and in a few minutes I was accepted by all as an alpha not to be trifled with. It was the best advice I got in my life. I have never forgotten it.
We sat on fixed bench and long tables with names carved from times immemorial. But the teachers, mostly Tamil Brahmins, were top class. The incidence of Tam Bram teachers was due to the fact that the school was started by Secunderabad’s Mudaliar community, who despite their legendary rivalry with Brahmins respected them enough to entrust them with the education of their children. Both my father, Maj. NK Guruswamy IAS and uncle Maj. NK Vishwanath IPS served as Presidents of the school committee. As the school grew it took in a very cosmopolitan hue and the social stratification was also more reflective of the community. Some of my classmates were children of cab drivers, factory workers, railway clerks and as the son of a senior IAS officer, I was a bit of an oddity. I got a few more knocks because of that.
In 1963, when I passed out, MCHS students obtained the first nine ranks in the State 12th class exams. Almost a fourth of my class of forty went into the IITs. Most of them now live in the USA. The rest seemed to drift into the tedium of urban lower class life. Yesterday I met quite a few of them. I have never shook so many hard and calloused hands for a long time. The guy I beat up on the second day in school was there and regaled the others with how I beat him up. One of them told him if you had fought back well he wouldn’t be doing it still.
I recall my teachers with respect and affection. Some really standout. My English, Maths, Physics and Chemistry masters above all. I also recall Sarwar Saheb who wore a Kashmiri topi ala Shammi Kapoor on a school trip to Kashmir in 1962 and then hurried us out of the valley when the war broke out. Years later when I was at Harvard, one of the administrators discovered that I hadn’t done my TOEFL, and wanted me to do a basic course in English. When I remonstrated to my advisor I was asked where I had learned English as it was very good, I proudly replied from Mr. Soundarrajan at the Mahbub College. Similarly when my Economics professor was impressed with my Mathematical abilities, I told her that Mr. Veeraswamy at the Mahbub College had me.
MCHS had a top class schools level cricket team. One year it had piled up over 800 runs against the Hyderabad Public School, the place where the elite sent their kids. We skittled them out twice in one day and sent them packing back to their lush playing grounds in the smart blazers and emblazoned school bus. It also had its share of top soccer and hockey players like Pulliah and Jagannathan who played football and hockey for India; and how can MCHS be without its boxers. BD Manmohan who fought for India and once won a CWG medal was also there yesterday.
I still refer to my three years at Mahbub College as my hard knocks years. And believe me, nothing prepared me for life, as my three years here. I am glad I went back to it yesterday.