Forty four long years ago – in October 1973 – two young men met each other for the first time on the cricket field of the Doon School in the Doon valley and the younger of the two learnt something from the older one, an American. The younger one was from the Dehra Dun team and the elder from the Mussoorie team.
“This is a memory that has stayed with me for more than four decades now. It was my last year in Doon School and also my last match here on these grounds. I got five wickets but the match was a draw. It was a Dehra Dun versus Mussoorie match and there was this American boy who played with a straight bat,” Ramachandra Guha said while recalling his days as a student at the Doon School.
When Guha asked him later in English why he kept playing with a straight bat, the young American replied in pure Hindustani “Cricket mein aur life mein straight bat se hi khelna hota hai”.
“The boy was Tom Alter and that was my first meeting with him,” said Guha while sharing his memories of his days at the Doon School on the occasion of its Founder’s Day where he was the chief guest this year over the weekend.
The celebrations ended yesterday. He said that Tom taught him something he had not forgotten.
Guha also told the audience that he was a Dehra Dun boy as he had been born in the beautiful Forest Research Institute (FRI) and later came to the Doon School at Chandbagh which incidentally first housed the FRI. His father and earlier, his grandfather, were scientists at the FRI.
“From the age of 11 to 20, I wanted to play cricket for India. FRI grounds and the Doon School grounds played a great role in inspiring me to become a cricketer. I was obsessed by the game. Nature , Cricket, Literature and History have been the pillars of my life and all became a part of my life due to FRI and the Doon School,” said the renowned author and historian.
“My very first publication was Birds of New Forest while I was still a school boy”.
He said the beauty and natural splendor of the sprawling FRI campus where he was born and grew up and later, the Chandbagh campus of Doon School evoked a deep love for nature in him .The school inspired in him the love for Literature too. Guha wrote a lot in the Doon School Weekly to which also contributed Amitav Ghosh and Vikram Seth.
“I wrote so many articles that some people think I was the editor of the weekly!”
There was another publication in the 1970s by the name of History Times which he edited along with Amitav Ghosh. Gautam Mukhopadhyaya, who retired recently as a diplomat, also wrote for this as a Dosco. He spent the weekend with the students at the school and was on the cricket field for more than three hours as an umpire.
Speaking at the Rose Bowl of the Doon School in the evening, he said that Diversity, Depth and Democracy made India a unique country.
“I have decided that I will travel less to foreign countries and explore this great country of ours where every state is different and has so much to teach us. I have begun travelling to various parts of the country and know it afresh.”
Guha stressed on the religious, linguistic, ethnic, ecological, technological and aesthetic diversity of India which make it the country it is. “Add to this its ancient civilization and great traditions!”
Guha said the school was now a much better place than it was when he was studying in it, referring to the growing importance it was giving to art, music and other creative activities like theatre. He fondly remembere d RP Devgun and Sheel Vohra, the two wonderful teachers of the Doon School, who were well-known cricketers in the 1960s.
Towards the end, Guha suggested that if the Doon School could take in girls at the level of Class XI and XII, it would be good. Only daughters of staff members can study at the Doon School as it is purely a boys’ school since its inception in the year 1935.One of the well-known old girls o the school is actress Himani Shivpuri who was earlier Himani Bhatt, daughter of the Hindi teacher at the school –HD Bhatt, a Hindi writer.
There is no doubt that Guha’s visit to his alma mater in Dehra Dun was a trip down memory lane where he remembered his teachers, his friends, his cricket matches, the beautiful October evenings of the Doon valley and his first meeting with Tom Alter, who recently passed away.