Citadels of Learning

The Old Royals Association organized the launching of the Royal College Curepipe (RCC) Centennial Magazine on 24 March 2014 at Henessy Park, Ebene.

The Chief Guest was the President of the Republic, Mr Rajkeswur Purryag, who delivered the keynote address

The cover of the magazine has a yellowed photograph of the front of the College building, with a car dating to the olden times – unmistakeably of pinque-pinqou vintage – standing in the foreground on the road. The writing on the cover reads: ‘100 years. Royal College Curepipe. Citadel of Learning.’

I wanted to be sure what ‘citadel’ means, so I looked up the Concise Oxford Dictionary (8th edition, 1990), which gave me ‘a fortress, usually on high ground protecting or dominating a city’; next I consulted the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (3rd edition, 2001) which added a literary definition, ‘a place or situation in which an idea, principle, system, etc., that you think is important is kept safe.’

Although it is not situated on the highest ground in Curepipe, RCC certainly dominated the city as an iconic landmark, being the oldest boy’s secondary school in the island, and additionally perhaps because of its architectural resemblance to Buckingham Palace and the blue basaltic stone of which it is made. I suspect that its location had something to do with the Royal Road as well as the proximity of the railway station in Curepipe, which used to be – for those who may not know this — where Jan Palach south now stands.

During the launching ceremony, all the speakers, who in addition to the Chief Guest were the Master of Ceremonies Gerard Manuel, the President of the Old Royals Association Amaresh Ramlugun and the Editor of the magazine Serge Riviere (the latter three being all Old Royals) made liberal use of quotations. The authors of these quotations ranged, amongst others, from Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King and Honore de Balzac.

I have not had the time to read the magazine from cover to cover as yet – which must be done – but the pieces that I have gone through have given me a sense that ideas and principles of importance have been and continue to be safely transmitted. We all know that learning these days focuses more on the utilitarian and the material, with little or no attention to what used to constitute a ‘liberal’ education. But I felt a glimmer of hope from the pens of some of the contemporary students who have contributed to the magazine. N. Kurmoo (2013 student) shared a ‘piece of Shakespearean sagacity’ to be taken ‘as you wish’:

‘Fair is foul and foul is fair;

Hover through the fog and filthy air.’

Suraj Lutchmadu evokes the ‘precious time’ at the RCC that has strengthened his ‘belief in certain values and helped me to develop my personality.’ He goes on to add how ‘everything is unique at RCC’, cherishing experiences and people whom one meets. I enjoyed the very apt quotation by CS Lewis that he chose to capture what he meant, ‘Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… it has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.’

Nickhyl Dawoor winds up his poem ‘RCC, My Beloved! (To my friends out there)’ with these two stanzas which deserve to be quoted in toto:

‘Time claims us all,

Our country school will not betray us nonetheless.

Maybe in an underpinned pouch,

Or somewhere on the stone walls,

A piece of us remains and lives

While the terrible things and rigmarole

We drew in nooks and crannies

Bespeak to posterity,

Of garrulous hands and pen

That once belong there.’

What better example could there be of ‘like philosophy, like art’ that have ‘no survival value’ but which give ‘value to survival’? That, more fundamentally, transform survival into living, that make humans out of the animals that we are, that seep through to give us a sense of who we truly are – or should be, humans with humaneness and humanity.

Undoubtedly one of the strong points of the magazine is the interview of good old Kotok, late Mr Maureemootoo, who used to be our usher, often reviled and feared, but respected and fondly remembered: in our later days of course, not when he was actually disciplining us! For that was what he indeed was, a ‘martinet’, which means ‘strict disciplinarian’ – and I learned this word in Form II, found in the English Grammar book by Ridout which was the prescribed text then, the English teacher being Mr Nelson. It resonated, with respect to Kotok, much later in my psyche, one of those several words that have remained ingrained in my memory for reasons that I do not know.

Kotok’s interview is a little resume of the atmosphere and ethos of RCC during his tenure there, 1951 to 1970, and we get insights into the mindsets and personalities of some of the British rectors whose names still ring through the precincts of RCC – Constant, Sims, Bullen. I learned for the first time that Kotok had been in the military, and so had been Bullen too, and no surprise therefore that they were one of a kind in their running of the institution.

As the years have passed and I have had the opportunity of meeting fellow compatriots from different walks of life, social backgrounds and professions, who received their education from institutions other than the RCC, I have often wondered whether we as Old Royals have overhyped RCC. Is there something, some defining thing, that makes the RCC unique? What is its DNA?

What made these questions pop up in my mind is the fact that the lives of the non-RCC educated folks I have met have been no different in terms of success and happiness at both career and personal levels. No one has ever done a survey to answer that query more objectively, scientifically and, frankly, I do not even know whether it is necessary considering my, and most likely, other’s experiences too. The non-RCC guys too came from citadels of learning, surely?

Perhaps it’s the enthusiasm of the Old Royals guys, or their bias? No doubt, the element of being proud to have belonged there, the sense of kinship fostered and that lingers so strongly is part of the explanation. Whatever be, the desire to learn, to acquire utilitarian and non-utilitarian knowledge, to be the best are perhaps the hallmarks of RCC tradition that could be emulated across the board.

It would be a very good initiative for other colleges to form Old Boys Associations – and equivalent ones for the girls (‘Old Girls’, why not!) – which support their alma maters. We need many more citadels to take the country forward, and a networking of such associations could make our country an enviable model, in the educational sector if nothing else. Not a homogenized melting pot, but a vibrant, kicking and raring to go rainbow nation. Sporting its colours, including the 8th one that scientists have recently discovered.

Terrae Quis Fructus Apertae…

 


* Published in print edition on 4 April 2014

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