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Br Eric D’souza was our To Sir with Love...: SRK

ANNA M.M. VETTICAD

Posted: Jul 17, 2004 at 2251 hrs IST

A boy is moving towards the gates of St Columba’s School. A senior student from the neighbouring all-girls Convent of Jesus and Mary School is passing by, and makes a move as if to ruffle his hair. The six-year-old fella recoils. ‘‘Apne aap ko hero samajhte ho?’’ the girl asks laughingly. ‘‘Of course,’’ he replies, ‘‘main Shah Rukh Khan ke school mein jo padhta hoon.’’

Fiction? Not at all. In fact, these words find an echo in the voices of most little men entering Columba’s every year when brothers in cassocks at orientation programmes tell them with pride and affection that this is the school where one of India’s biggest ever movie stars once studied.

The feelings are mutual. ‘‘Miss Bala my KG teacher ... Mrs Rai Singh my teacher in Class VIII ... Brother O’ Farrell, Br Oman ...,’’ Khan rattles off the names. ‘‘Whatever I learnt was because of them. Columba’s was amazing.’’

Khan was early off the starting block. He has memories of running races in KG, and winning his first bronze medal in Class III. By the time he left Columba’s, he had earned the award for the school’s best all-round student, the Sword of Honour. Khan was an accomplished athlete, football and hockey player, the cricket team’s wicket-keeper and an actor who also scored 80.5 per cent in Class XII which was excellent by the standards of the day. ‘‘I was never the kind of boy who wanted to hang around in the marketplace doing nothing,’’ he says.

In 1982, Khan was cast in The Wiz, a stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. Rather good too he was as a singing wizard, or so the audience thought. Why didn’t he tap that talent in Bollywood? ‘‘I didn’t sing in the play. I needed a back-up singer. Would you believe that the person who sang for me is now one of India’s best-known pop stars?’’ says Khan. The fellow Columban in question is Palash Sen, now lead singer and guitarist with the pop band Euphoria.

The Wiz was directed by Br Eric D’souza. ‘‘He was wonderful,’’ says Khan. ‘‘My batch would remember him well. You see, he was our To Sir with Love.’’ He continues enthusiastically, ‘‘Br D’souza removed the distance between a brother and a student. He would wear shorts. We would sit in his room, which was a big deal for us boys, and sing songs while he made nimbu paani for us. To me, he’s the greatest teacher in the world.’’

Khan even tried to learn the guitar from D’souza. They have stayed in touch. The army regimen at Columba’s was ‘‘good for boys’’, says the actor, who remembers being caned every week, and even having his long hair routinely scissored at the assembly.

Columba’s with its huge lawns, and equal emphasis on studies and extra-curricular activities was the ideal playing ground for a child like Khan. Even now, he finds schools in Mumbai—his home now—‘‘strange’’ because they have so little space. ‘‘There were so many facilities in Columba’s, it simply lent itself to activities. It was a question of ‘have feet, will dance’,’’ says Khan. And at Columba’s, he couldn’t help but dance.

(With this we conclude our series on achievers in various fields who are alumni of Delhi schools.)

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