Managing Committee 2017 - 18

Florilegium

The View from down the Road

I am a “dyed-in-the wool” Josephite; and so is Christopher Rego – Chris, from the batch of 1976 of St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School, is senior to me by 14 years. Both of us unabashedly acknowledge that we owe all of what we are today to that hallowed institution, a foundational and inspirational rock on which several young men in Bangalore have built their lives and their life’s mission. So, when Aditya Sondhi – from the great rival school “down-the-road”; that school “which-is-not-to-be-mentioned” but which can lay equal claim to such a legacy – approached us to write a short article on the rivalry between Bishop Cotton Boys’ School and our alma mater for an anthology to commemorate Bishop Cotton’s sesquicentennial this year, I instantly remembered it was Aditya who had graciously written about his school’s “friendly rival” (oxymoronic) when St. Joseph’s celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2008. Images of several renowned school and college rivalries came flooding into my mind – Eton vs. Harrow (something that Aditya had, indeed, adverted to in his article); Oxford vs. Cambridge; Harvard vs. Yale or Stanford; and, closer home, St. Stephen’s vs. Hindu College.

Apart from these obvious references, I was clearly now struggling for some context to write the article requested; one befitting the occasion of the old rival’s sesquicentenary and, daresay, in the best spirit of the old rivalry between our two schools, without missing a step for my own alma mater! Guidance, however, was on hand – please write a piece which is “light and anecdotal, with a touch of history that I know both of you relish” said Aditya. Chris, the author of a seminal work tracing the history of St. Joseph’s (“Faith & Toil : 1858 to 2008”) extracted for and shared with me without hesitation (thank you, Chris) information on this old school rivalry from his reams of painstaking research. So, it fell to me to piece together a story, drawing almost entirely from Chris’s inputs, weaving my narrative through the threads of these anecdotes and the strands of the historical setting of Bangalore from the mid 19th century onwards. I end with a forward-looking perspective.

Post the establishment of the British suzerainty over India at the turn of the 18th century and their “despatch” of Tipu, Bangalore grew in prominence once the Cantonment was established in 1809. Bangalore’s early pinnacle was reached under the period of direct British rule between 1831 and 1881, when the Wodeyar Maharaja was the mere titular head of his Durbar in Mysore and the princely State was governed – directly from the Secretariat in Bangalore – by British Commissioners, with Mark Cubbon and Lewin Bentham Bowring, being the most prominent. An increasing number of Europeans and Anglo-Indians settled in the Cantonment, which developed into a township – the “Civil & Military Station” – rivaling the “pettah” (or “native” fort area, which pre-dated it), in size. Unsurprisingly, the demand for good schools increased and the first Catholic missionary schools came to be established – chief among them, St. Joseph’s Seminary (in 1858), which later became, first, St. Joseph’s College (up to 1927); and, later, St. Joseph’s “European” High School, before being renamed in 1968 to “St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School”. Two other major European schools were set up soon after St. Joseph’s – Bishop Cotton’s in 1865 and Baldwin’s in 1878; both Protestant institutions.

Dressed in their Sunday best, the boarders of St. Joseph’s would, after Mass and breakfast, go for a walk around town under the careful gaze of a priest. As noted in the “OBA Calling” of 1968 (the journal of the St. Joseph’s Old Boys Association):

“On these excursions, they often encountered similar processions of boys from rival Protestant schools [chiefly of] Bishop Cotton’s…. – a good opportunity to hurl ribald epithets or cat calls or even throw stones in good fun! Of course, they got as much as they gave.”

Thus, was born the old school rivalry between St. Joseph’s and Bishop Cotton’s – the genesis of which contest lay as much in the Catholic-Protestant divide (overlaid on centuries-old class and caste divisions), as in the age-old phenomenon of rowdy boys!

But, underlying all of this emerging rivalry was a certain, very British ethic – civility and good order; “gentlemanliness”! It has been said (and oftentimes equally challenged) that when things start to get nasty, trust only the British to be fair! There can be no doubt that in the early days of the 19th century right up to the early 20th century, premier schools like these in Bangalore (and in other cantonment towns) were almost always the exclusive preserve of Europeans, with Indians only making their way in around World War I. Nonetheless, this ethic of good order and fair spirit in ones acts and deeds – regardless of its origin – has come to embody the legacy and contribution of both these hoary institutions right up to today – a heritage that is, and must proudly be, carried on and strengthened. Where else can this spirit be seen more than on the sporting fields!

To generations of boys – Josephites and Cottonians equally – cricket has become synonymous with their school years; with the most vivid memories often being the fiercely fought matches between our two schools. Honours were (and continue to be) divided, with St. Joseph’s putting it across its rival in one year; with the compliment being repaid, in equal measure, by Bishop Cotton’s in another. Every contest was (and is) invariably fought tooth-and-nail, with boys from the rival camps egging their teams on from the sidelines. Every now and then, however, after a tough fight, honours were shared. On 24th July 1961, a match between the teams ended in a tie with both schools scoring 80 runs. In that game, Santosh Naidu, Vece Paes and Peter Rodericks bowled well for the Josephites, whereas D. Deviah did well with the bat; St. Joseph’s won the Cottonian Shield in 1969 after a ten year drought.

Commenting on the friendly rivalry between St. Joseph’s and Bishop Cotton’s, Mr. Humayun Mirza, an eminent Old Boy of St. Joseph’s, had this to say in a speech at the Centenary Sports of St. Joseph’s on 8th April 1958:

“No praise is too high for Bishop Cotton’s….I had rarely seen [a team] play a losing game which they had as much right to expect to win, with such cheerfulness and such friendliness. This is a supreme test of character and I feel that I have not the right to leave unrecorded here what redounds to the everlasting credit of Canon Elphick’s boys.”

An instance where the shoe was on the other foot occurred on the hockey field. During a closely fought hockey match, a fracas broke out among the Cottonians and the Josephites, with teams and supporters alike joining in the melee in the heat of the moment. It later transpired that a disputed goal which gave St. Joseph’s victory was actually illegal and the referee had faulted in allowing it. The Cottonian hockey players were rightfully livid at losing to their perennial adversaries and approached their Principal to ask him to contest the award of the trophy to St. Joseph’s. The Principal of Cotton’s however took the laudable step of declining to rake-up the matter on the basis that true sportsmanship was not about winning, but about taking the smooth with the rough and in accepting the referee’s decision taken in good faith. That laid the matter to rest. And, it only remained for the boys of St. Joseph’s, involved in the “good fight”, to be hauled across the coals during assembly the next morning, labeled “immature savages” and “overgrown hulks” before being put under the cane. Now, I am sure all of that sounds familiar in both camps!

As India emerged from its colonial past, the ethos of both schools built-up over several decades were clear for all to see, illustrated in microcosm by these incidents – inspirational themes calling upon both Cottonians and Josephites to wage the good fight, but always keep ones wits about oneself and ones head held high. There can, I believe, be no better endorsement, or a truer reflection of what both our alma maters stand for and for which we are each, respectively and for each other, genuinely proud. A thread runs silently through this theme on both sides of the rivalry: eloquently demonstrated in the personage of one of St. Joseph’s finest Principals, Fr. E. J. Jacques – “Good, better, best; never let it rest, Till your good is better, and your better, best.”

The spirit of camaraderie and fellowship is another theme intrinsic to both schools and their interactions with each other. In 1910, just a couple of years after its founding by Robert Baden-Powell, separate Boys Scout troops were formed at Bishop Cotton’s and St. Joseph’s and named the 1st and 2nd Bangalore Troops, respectively. The 2nd Bangalore Troop at St. Joseph’s had a chequered initial decade of its existence and had to be reconstituted in 1921. In an elaborate ceremony at St. Joseph’s, forty boys who had passed the tenderfoot examination were sworn into the “brotherhood” of the Scouts. Boys of the 1st Bangalore Troop of Bishop Cotton’s marched in with their colours to support their new brethren; in an impressive initiation ceremony performed by District Scoutmaster Major Pakenham-Walsh who also lead the Cotton Scouts.

Old boys of both schools have often met to celebrate their common heritage of great schools and having been brought-up with stellar values and ethics. At several of these gatherings of old boys from both schools – including the joint staging of Blue and Gold Balls – the highlight was a cricket match between the two teams, followed by competitions like “egg-catching” and “3 legged races”. On one occasion, there was even a Tug-of-War between Bishop Cottons and Sacred Hearts! The “OBA Calling” of 1992 includes this joke:

“Hear that an Old Cottonian from Hind Levers;
Approached a Good Shepherd Fraulein and said;
‘Gimme your PALM OLIVE’, to which she said;
‘Not in your LIFE, BOY !’;
‘They are meant for the “JoSOAPites!”’

As we stand on the cusp of what many are calling “India’s century”, the abiding tale emerging from the historic old rivalry between St. Joseph’s and Bishop Cotton’s is a shared sense of truth, of civility, of hard work, of good order and fairness, of camaraderie, of honour, of virtue and, ultimately, of good citizenship of, and to, this nation of ours. Built on decades of competition, each of our sights must be firmly set on building in each of our alumni, regardless of class, creed, caste, race, religion (or avowed non-believers), gender or sexual orientation, the ethos of our schools’ respective mottos: “Fide et Labore” – Faith and Toil; and “Nec Dextrorsum, Nec Sinistrorsum” – neither to the Right, nor to the Left; for the better good and glory of India.

As if to underline this theme of collaboration between these two great though rival, institutions, a noble effort to build village schools (and champion social change) in Manipur spearheaded by Chris Rego – including hostel accommodation and a nutrition scheme – has seen alumni of both schools join hands for a common cause. What better way to celebrate our shared concerns than to work together without reference to which school we each attended; as our respective heritage emphasizes the same abiding ethic – to borrow a phrase – of malice toward none and with charity for all.

Writing in 2008 of St. Joseph’s, Chris Rego in his book said:
“In the Sesquicentennial year of the school, its stakeholders look back in awe at the metamorphosis of the institution, slowly and surely, with every passing year, its growth not merely in brick and mortar but in character, competence and compassion.”

These are words equally true of Bishop Cotton’s. We join countless of our Old Boys at St. Joseph's, and, indeed, its students, teachers and all its stakeholders, in warmly congratulating Bishop Cotton’s on completing its sesquicentennial; and, indeed, to joining hands with us at St. Joseph’s, in jointly seeking to make the next 150 years more glorious to the greatest benefit of all our young citizens, who pass through our portals.

* * * * * * * *

Siddharth Raja (Class of 1990, with valuable inputs & materials from Christopher Rego, Class of 1976) in 'Pucca Sahibs', the sesquicentennial journal of Bishop Cotton Boys' School.
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