Date:01/08/2004 URL:
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To sir, with love

K. RAMACHANDRAN profiles noted educationist Kuruvila Jacob in his centenary year.

Distinction ... the first Indian principal at the Bombay Cathedral and John Connon School, 1968 - 1979.

KURUVILA JACOB is a legend. Not because he became headmaster of the famed Madras Christian College Higher Secondary school in 1931, when he was only 26. Not because he presided over this great institution for 32 years.

But more because of what he stood for. To quote his biographer, Usha Jesudasan, the most striking aspect of this legendary person was his Faith...Faith in a God who was the creator of all life and the architect of all Plans.

And then the quality of a teacher who really believed, nurtured and practised `holistic education', not in the cliched sense, but in the real sense.

Students who learnt under him still recall after nearly 40 years and books, that traversed extra curricular activities, games, physical fitness, food, moral instruction ... And religion. "His Bible classes still remain in our memory," notes I. Jairaj (of the 1960 batch of MCC HS).

And yet, he lived secularism, though "it was never mentioned in our school days," recalls Viji Santhanam, 1961 batch, now joint managing director, Brakes India, and convenor of the Kuruvila Jacob Centenary celebrations committee. All students would attend Kuruvila Jacob's Bible class, but religion was not at all talked about. "Because for us it was more than religion," Viji Santhanam adds.

And these are the essential qualities that make old boys of MCC to even now give up something that they are doing and answer a call to celebrate their favourite head master's centenary.

Getting into the spirit .... the college song, Leeds, 1929 - 1931.

A visionary teacher, whose stature — shaped as it was by sheer hard work — allowed him to rub shoulders with the high and mighty in government, to influence educational policy making and still make his point when required, though it did never please all in power.

Yet for all the stature that he commanded, the man's simplicity is what his students recall.

It is not an ordinary teacher or headmaster who allows his hostel students to take five days off to watch a cricket test match at Corporation Stadium during term days, or take the boarders to football matches of Santhosh Trophy. "We even had a committee among the hostel boys to select English pictures that were screened on Saturday evenings. And later our menu included Chicken briyani," Jairaj reminisces. Such was his personal attachment to his charge that even after decades, he would recall any old student by name.

Early days

Kuruvila Jacob was born on August 3, 1904, among eight children into a family which three centuries earlier settled down in Karakal. Young Kuruvila was influenced by the dignity of his father's bearing, who was a district munsif.

After finishing basic education , Kuruvila joined CMS College at Kottayam, whose principal Rev.W.E.S. Holland was another tremendous influence on Kuruvila's life. The principal made Kuruvila secretary of the social service club. In the evenings, the youngster would organise games for the YMCA boys. It was after finishing college that Kuruvila decided to become a teacher. And decided to go to Leeds for an education course.

And that was also the time, August 1929 to be exact, when he married Grace Mathai, daughter of the then Deputy Collector of Salem. Two weeks after marriage, he sailed off to Great Britain, even as his wife joined the Women's Christian College, Madras.

After a one-year Diploma in Education at Leeds and another year of Masters in the same place, he received an offer from Prof. Hogg, Principal of the Madras Christian College, asking Kuruvila to take up the headmaster's job at MCC High school. Until then, one of the professors of MCC would head the school, but the college planned to move to another premises and the management wanted a trained educationist to take over as a long-term head of the school.

Kuruvila could not refuse Dr. Hogg's offer. And soon he was heading back towards Chennai, young and inexperienced, but full of ideas and dreams...

The school and the college shared a crowded premises in George Town area in North Chennai.

As headmaster

The late Chakko Kuruvila, his son, noted in a recent article: "I was struck by his over-reaching capacity to love and to nurture. It was a love that went beyond biology to embrace all ...The `sick room' in our house (which too was in the school's premises at Chetpet) always housed a boarder, over whom my mother fussed endlessly, soothing a real or at times imagined fever which she knew was nothing more than a longing for home and a mother's touch."

To recall the career that he spent at this school before moving to Hyderabad Public School and thence to the Bombay Cathedral and John Cannon School, Mumbai, is best done by his own students over the years:

The Leeds University rowing team, 1930. Kuruvila Jacob at extreme left.

Industrialist A.C. Muthiah notes the important values that he learnt from him — honesty, discipline, perfection, kindness and to be firm when required.

Several of his peers in education, including K. Venkatasubramanian, a former Planning Commission Member, recognise that very few had influenced educational policies as he did. Yet he was a kind-hearted teacher in the most catholic sense, mindful of the well being of students, but a very strict disciplinarian, at that.

"We even had citizenship classes. We would lay roads in the school, and on the last day of the term, we will spend time scrubbing the benches, so that when school reopens, all of them are polished again," recalls Viji Santhanam.

Persons such as M.S. Natarajan, who worked as Tamil teacher during Kuruvila Jacob's headship, recall how strict he was even to teachers. Natarajan notes at least two instances of teachers who did not follow his directives getting dismissed. "He did not speak much of Tamil, but he would insist on seeing that the composition and assignment notebooks. It was perhaps one of the few schools in Madras Presidency that offered Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, Sanskrit, and later French .... "

After leaving MCC in the early 1960s, a year before his superannuation due to personal differences with the management, he worked in Hyderabad and Bombay.

In 1981, when the TVS group wanted to adopt a school, Viji Santhanam had to fall back on his old HM's judgment. "After inspecting one school, he asked to me to forget it and go for another one."

To commemorate his memory, a panel of hosts comprising India's leading industrialists and old students plans to celebrate Kuruvila Jacob's centenary on August 3 in Chennai. And on that day would be launched an initiative to create leaders who nurture total quality management principles in Education, says Viji Santhanam.


  • 03.08.1904 Born at Shertalay, Kerala
  • 19.08.1929 Married to Grace Elizabeth, Kerala
  • 1929 - 1931 Post graduation at Leeds University, U.K.
  • 1931 Appointment as the first Indian headmaster of M.C.C. High School, Madras
  • 1939 Visit to London University and Europe
  • 1948 Commenced building of MCC HS at Chetput, Madras
  • 1950 MCC School commences functioning at Chetput
  • 1953 Member of international team of educationists that visited Europe and the U.S.
  • 1952 -1962 Visit to the U.N. as Senior Fellow of the United Nations, president of the Madras Headmasters' Association, president of the Christian Education Council of South India, Education Advisor to Kerala State
  • 1962 Member of Government of India Study Commission
  • 1962 Retired from MCC HS
  • 1962 - 1968 Joined Hyderabad Public School as the first Indian principal
  • 1968 Joined the Bombay Cathedral and John Connon School as the first Indian principal
  • 1970 Awarded the Padma Shree
  • 1979 Retired at the age of 75
  • 25.08.1991 Passed away at Vellore, Tamil Nadu

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