Saturday, June 21, 2008

KTWV 9 Issue 17: The fine “Gentlemanly World”

Last week I had a copy of an email from a Mr. Kapadia to a Mr. Chopra.

It appears that in Delhi they have a Club where people get together to see movies. These two gentleman attend this club and share their company with a few others.

Mr. Yezad Kapadia (Yesh to me) is a Cathedralite of the 49 era, 10 years my senior. He discovered that Mr. Dev Chopra was a Stephanian, also of the 49 era.

Mr. Kapadia got talking to Mr. Chopra, and of course the topic came up about me, a Cathedralite and Stephanian. Mr. Chopra expressed a desire to know more about my blog.

A few minutes after an email from Mr. Kapadia to Mr. Chopra (introducing me), I had a nice email to “Dear friend Jacob” from Mr. Chopra.

I replied “Dev” with a copy to “Yesh” thus:

Jacob Matthan
15 June 2008 11:10
To: “Dev Chopra”
Cc: “Yezad Kapadia”, “Jamila & BGV Verghese”, Ajay Verma, “Sarwar Lateef”, “Montek Singh Ahluwalia”, “Suresh & Meera Philip”, “Aftab Seth”, “Raj & Roshni Sircar”, "Rahul and Rupa (née Gholap) Bajaj", "57er Ashok (Tony) Jaitly", “Niranjan Desai”, “Deepak Mukarji”, “59er SUJIT BJHATTACHARAYA”, Ajeet Mathur Prof, Swaminathan Aiyar, Sreenath Sreenivasan, John Dayal

Bcc: 64er Deepak Deshpande

Dear Dev,

It is a great honour that you have chosen to be in touch.

I have chosen to share this email with many of whom I know will be pleased to hear about you. These include Raj Sircar (Canada) and Deepak Mukarji (Mumbai), whose association with our alma mater is not just as students! I am also copying Sreenath Sreenivasan, Professor of Journalism in Columbia University who runs the New York Forum of Stephanians and is also the Moderator of the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) in the US.

B. G. Verghese and his wife, Jamila, are the oldest Stephanians that I am in touch with presently. Both are just a tad younger than you. I was in touch with Col. Shafat Hussain in Canada, but I seem to have lost contact with him over the past 5 years. He was in college around 1945.

My time in Stephania was 1960 to 1963. It was an exciting three years. I was probably the first and last 2nd year student to be elected as President of the JCR. The first JCR evening of music was the highlight of my Presidency as also the introduction of various JCR tournaments - Bridge, Chess, Caroms, Draughts, Table Tennis. The Rai twins, Chandra and Suraj, beat Ajay Verma and me in the very last hand of the Bridge Finals with an unbelievable call of 7 Spades on the very last hand where Ajay and I had bid 7 Hearts! It was only the intuitive communication that twins have that prompted that call! Both were makeable contracts!

It was also during my years that Sarwar Lateef (World Bank), Montek Singh Alhuwalia (Planning Commission), Swaminathan Aiyar (Economic Times), Dr. Peter Philip (MRF), Zaffar Hai (creative films director and producer), Prakash Joseph (the artist), Aftab and Roshan Seth, and a few others started the college rag - which was called Kooler Talk as the name Blacksmith was rejected by Principal Sircar and Dean Rajpal. Niranjan Desai (ex-Ambassador), Ajay Verma (who lives in Lund) and myself were known as The Heaps and we did write exposés for the rag during our time.

Kooler Talk as a hard copy has had a chequered life. I started the online web version from here in Finland in 1996. It has a worldwide readership of Stephanian's interested in a bit of nostalgia. Over a thousand Stephanians correspond with me regularly and help me keep my spirits up in that I know I am not writing to thin air.

Originally it started as a web page monthly. But times have been changing. About 5 years ago I changed it to a blog. Others have copied my style and presentation, but my Kooler Talk Web Version Blog keeps going. Now I am experimenting with the new fashion - FACEBOOK!

Ashok (Tony) Jaitly, in his book about our college, kindly gave my online efforts a nice reference. I do try to stay above politics and stay with nostalgia, although I have been drawn into the recent controversy which surrounds the College Principal fiasco. Friends, such as John Dayal, keep me abreast of happenings behind the scenes.

I also started a similar online web site / blog about my school, where Yezad and I went, Yesh being 10 years my senior. Seventh Heaven is extremely popular and also more active than Kooler Talk Web Version.

There are a few of us who share both the alma maters - including Industrialist and Rajya Sabha MP Rahul Bajaj, Ashok (Tony) Jaitly, Dr. Peter Philip (MRF), Sujit Bhattacharaya (son of the former Governor of Reserve Bank), Prof. Ajeet Mathur (now Director of Manpower Planning in the Planning Commission and also at IIM, Ahmedabad).

Rahul celebrated his 70th birthday last week and I did a small tribute to him on both my blogs. He was kind enough to spare a few moments to write a word of thanks to me.

I would love to broaden the horizons of my efforts which is purely a labour of love of both my alma maters. I am happy that many former staff and ex- and present students stay in touch with me and give me a pulse of the institutions today.

My wife and I will visit India in November 2009 to take part in the 50th Year Reunion of my school class. We will also visit Delhi to meet with several tens and tens of my friends who are there. I hope too organise a joint Stephania / Cathedralite reunion session while I am visiting the capital, our last visit being as long ago as 15 years ago!

Do let me know what ideas you have in mind. You can read the blog and delve into its archives at the Kooler talk Blog. Thank you for being in touch and a special thanks to Yesh for having put you in touch with me.

Yours most sincerely

Jacob Matthan
Stephanian - 1960 - 1963
JCR President 1961 - 1962

It was great to see that because I copied many who were mentioned in my email, that a large number of sub-converaations resulted, people remembering each other and their previous associations.

And the two gentleman, Mr. Kapadia and Mr. Chopra, exchanged an email marvelling at the rapidity of communications of today across continents.

No doubt, at the next film viewing session in Delhi, Mr. Kapadia and Mr. Chopra will exchange a few words about the Kooler Talk Blog and the Seventh Heaven Blog.

Thank you, Yesh and Dev, for being part of our alma maters communities and may your wonderful gentlemanly formality live for ever!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

KTWV 9 Issue 16: Is this for real?

I was just reading about the cut-off percentages required for admission to the various colleges in Delhi University. In the Times of India Stephen's cut-offs up by 1-2%.

My initial thoughts were values around 75 - 85%, but I was astounded to read that cut off percentages were around 98%.

Delhi may have managed to score a high of only 97% in English in the Class XII CBSE exams, but at St Stephen's, applicants from the commerce stream need 98% to qualify for the English (Hons) course. The college, which came out with the cut-off list late on Tuesday, has hiked the marks almost uniformly across all the courses by 1-2%.

Either the kids of today are super geniuses for 98% to be used as a cut off percentage, the marking system is so poor or the examination content is so low that it is possible to set such a high cut off percentages.

In our days we were happy if we got 80% as 75% was considered as the distinction level. Only the super brilliant got over that mark - and they were super brilliant - I was never in that class.

Parents were happy if we came home with a good report card which had a couple of subjects in the high 50s or low 60s, but your best subjects had marks in the high 70s or low 80s.

The only subjects where we could score 100% were the Mathematics - Maths and Additional Maths!

In addition, our teachers were so strict that they graded us even on the quality of our handwriting, page presentation, neatness, and other factors which showed we were educated.

Some comments on this cut off percentage, just to educate me, would be greatly appreciated! According to today's norms - I AM A JACKASS!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

KTWV 9 Issue 15: Demise of Vinod Chowdhury

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing away on Tuesday of one of the most loved present day teachers of our college - Vinod Chowdhury. He was just 58, and passed away after a brief illness followed by a cardiac arrest. He was the senior Reader of Economics at our college.

Younger to me and 7 years after my time, many have mentioned to me his contribution to College life. He taught Economics for more than 30 years and was an outstanding debater. He set up the Commonwealth Collegiate Debating Society a few years ago.

Vinod acted as Head of the Staff Council. He was the media adviser to the former Officer on Special Duty and Acting Principal Valson Thampu.

Vinod deeply loved his alma mater and served it well.

His last rites were performed at Nigambodh Ghat.

My deepest condolences go to his bereaved family.

Monday, June 09, 2008

KTWV 9 Issue 14: The ever youthful Rahul is 70

Young and dynamic Rahul Bajaj in 1986
Copyright The Hindu

At the top in 2006, Rahul Bajaj
Copyright The Frontline

Do whatever you think best, but be best at whatever you do.
– Member of Rajya Sabha Padma Bhushan Rahul Bajaj

Like a handful of people of the 1950’s as 57er Ashok (Tony) Jaitley, 58er Dr. Peter Philip, 59ers Sujit Bhattacharaya, and myself, 54er Rahul Bajaj was a Mumbai Cathedralite and a Delhi Stephanian. (There is an earlier blog entry on both blogs listing several more who share this common heritage.)

Ashok Jaitley, Tony to most of us, wrote a book about St. Stephen’s College. Rahul released the book where Mani Shankar Aiyar, another Stephanian of our era spoke. Here is a quote from Tony’s book:

"The same spirit of striving for the best was infused in all other activities despite the cultivated air of nonchalance that Stephanians have always sought to project about themselves. But this has not deterred the real achievers from being clear about their own perspective. Rahul Bajaj, one of the most innovative and successful captains of Indian industry, recalls his days in College as the second most powerful influence after his school in Bombay: 'It was the first whiff of freedom...and as the Cat Stevens number goes, "the first cut is the deepest." The notion of a performing elite was imprinted in my mind at College. We are all here to make a difference and we should be very good at something, is the essence of Stephania."

Also like Peter and me, Rahul was a Savageite and also House Captain. There, however, the similarity ends, as Rahul is one of the topmost industrialists in India and also ranks extremely high in the world.

It is reputed that Rahul was a sportsman. He was an outstanding boxer and won his weight most years. He is remembered as being part of the School Table Tennis Team. I also remember him as an long distance athlete. As I was just a newcomer to school in 1954, the year Rahul graduated, I am not fully and personally conversant with all his accomplishments at school.

The Bajaj Enterprise started as a sugar manufacturing factory in 1931. It has now grown to become one of the country’s largest business houses.

Rahul took over the running of the Bajaj Auto company in 1965. Activities encompass the manufacture of a whole range of products.

In 2001 the Bajaj Group had a sales turnover in excess of US$ 1,300 million. The Net Assets were worth US$ 1,333 million and the Net Profit was US$ 58 million. It was ranked as the 5th largest business family in India by the Centre for Monitoring Indian economy (CMIE).

It has under its umbrella over 25 companies and a strength of over 25000 employees.

It’s core strength, however, is the unshakeable foundation based on its tradition of trust.

Rahul's most recent interview with Chris Morris from the BBC was about the small car of Bajaj Auto, in relation to the Tata Nano. It can be found at this link.

The interesting similarity between Ratan Tata and Rahul Bajaj is that when Ratan was Chairman of Air India, Rahul was Chairman of Indian Airlines. (I do not remember Ratan as a Cathedralite but younger brother, Jimmy, was a 57er and played hockey and cricket with us.)

Rahul received the Padma Bhushan in 2001.

Cathedralite 54er and Stephanian 57er, Independent Rajya Sabha member, Chairman of Bajaj Group, Rahul Bajaj will turn 70 this Tuesday.

I hope as many of you that can will wish this outstanding Cathedralite / Stephanian and wish him many many more years of service to our nation.

(Many thanks to Cathedralite 56er HS Uberoi and Cathedralite / Stephanian 57er Ashok Jaitley (and his brother Ravi, Rahul’s classmate) for their valuable contributions when writing this tribute.)

Friday, June 06, 2008

KTWV 9 Issue 13: Facebook experiment continues

Although I am not blogging as regularly as before, I am around on the internet. I am still experimenting with Facebook.

I have two pages of photographs associated with my Facebook page at the moment. The first is called "History of JM" where I am putting up photographs of me from my childhood days till today. As I discover new photos from my past in my collection, I scan them and put them up in the annual order I think they were taken. Not much interest to others, but a sort of interesting work for me.

The second page is my experiment with photojournalism of today, where I am recording the days activities in the form of photographs and uploading them on my page called "Jacob's week in pictures". I am trying to make it more interesting as the days go on, but I am not quite a photojournalist as yet.

I am planning to start a new photo page on Facebook. If one wanders around our home, each and every nook and cranny which has the touch of Annikki (not my den which is a mess) is the creative paradise of a great artist. I am trying to photograph all her artistic creations that lie around the house, not as individual items but how she transforms even the simple wasp's nest into a creative artistic form. I am still searching for a name for this page, so if you have a suggestion, please do let me know.

I was planning a page of pictures from my alma mater, Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai, but I discovered that one already existed on the alma mater Facebook Group page. I plan to put up the older pictures from my collection on this page rather than start a new page. I do not know whether the younger crowd that populates Facebook will appreciate this history, but it is worth the effort.

there is also a Stephania Facebook Group page, but I have not yet played around much in that group as yet.

There is much to Facebook that I have not yet discovered. Hopefully I will be able to separate the wheat from the CHAFF and create an experience which is rewarding to all age groups that populate Facebook, not just the younger crowd.