The title of the book signifies the significant change in the evolution of Welham Boys’ School, which today is ranked among the best in the country.
‘Rainbow’s End’ is an unusual title for a book about an unusual school, perhaps the only one of its kind in the history of educational institutions in India. Until the mid-1980s, Welham Boys’ was a preparatory school for the big three–Doon School, Mayo College and the Lawrence schools–who only admitted boys in Class VI as 11-year olds. With the ‘pot of gold’ having now shifted to its own premises, the title of the book signifies the significant change in the evolution of Welham Boys’ School, which today is ranked among the best in the country. It is this present that the author has so wonderfully captured in this outstanding pictorial where the images embellished by a nuanced narrative make it an enriching, and in many ways, also an exuberant experience.
Photographed and written by Shiv Kunal Verma over a period of two years, the book gives a wonderful insight into what makes Welham special and how successive generations have carried the torch forward; where things seem to be rooted and yet so much has changed, where it’s spirit has enriched multiple generations over the years and which has had a major impact on society.
Shiv Kunal did not go down the Welham route, hence his narrative has not been coloured by his being an insider. Yet being from the Doon School (a Dosco) he is the closest anyone apart from a parent, sibling or spouse can get to someone from Welham. As he points out “almost half my batch were boys (from Welham) who had the distinct advantage over all of us who were ‘direct entries’ in virtually every field.” Hence he has felt the pulse and seen the impact of this unique institution which has helped shape many lives at extreme close quarters.
The book is laid out in in five parts but each section is focused on a different aspect of the school which gives it a unique flavor.It soon becomes obvious to the reader that while the methodologies may have changed over time, the core values of the school continue to remain the same. The question asked by many who are outside of ‘the system’–what makes public schools so very special?–the book from the first page to the last, answers that question most comprehensively. Irrespective of the field any of the students choose to excel in, what is a lot more important is how that game is played.
Welham Boys’ was established in July 1936 in Dalanwala, Dehradun on the banks of the Rispana River by Miss Hersilia Susie Oliphant and the first boy, Maqbool Hussain Khan, joined school on 15 January 1937. There is no doubt that Ms. Oliphant had the whole hearted backing of Mr. Arthur Foot, the Head Master of the Doon School, where she was herself functioning as the ‘Dame’ at that time. She had arrived in India from England in 1920 as a governess to the princess of Cooch Behar, and in 1957 went on to also found the equally famous Welham Girls’ High School next door to the boys’ school. Few people at the time could have envisioned at the time of her arrival in India that for the next four decades, she would play a significant and major role in the development of education in India.
Public schools in India are modelled on the British public schools and are “public in the sense of being open to pupils irrespective of religion, caste, denomination or paternal trade or profession. Although the term “public school” has been in use since at least the 18th century, its usage was formalised by the Public Schools Act 1868 in England. There are of course frequent debates that continue to rage from time to time regarding their relevance today. The voices of course have grown louder in view of the pandemic and it’s redefining of education. This book helps dispel some of the arguments put forth by skeptics for it provides the reader with a rare insight into what this type of education has to offer. Just glancing at the images, it becomes obvious just how holistic education shapes the mind and moulds the character of young impressionable students, and transforms them into confident young men for whom the right values will always matter.
Welham Boys’ has constantly evolved and adapted to the changing needs of the times. The Board of Governors consist of eminent personalities drawn from various walks of life, faiths and genders, who having been achievers in their respective fields, are driven by a passion and consider the association with the school a pay back to society. Across the spectrum, they discharge their responsibility with a great deal of dedication and diligence, on a pro bono basis. They have driven the policies over the years which have ensured that the school while being receptive to new ideas constantly expands the horizons of the students to develop their character. The current board is headed by Mr. Darshan Singh, himself an old boy who went on to study at the Doon School. Previous Chairmen have included Mr. Dharam Vira, ICS and Mr. Gulab Ramchandani, both of whom like others before them, left their own imprints on the school.
Fundamentally, the school remains the bedrock where pastoral care was introduced and refined time and again to set a standard for other schools to emulate. The overall experience for any young boy being torn away from his parents at the tender age of seven or eight may be the same but the takeaway differs as they carve out a name for themselves as their individual traits emerge, flourish and are further nurtured. They are faced with triumphs and disasters, both in classrooms, on the sports field, and in various other activities and learn to deal with the vicissitudes of life. Success, failure, belief and recovery gives you the confidence to make the effort to confront these challenges.For those who have not experienced this collectiveness it is hard to fathom the comradeship that lasts a lifetime. Mr. FR Marshall, the Principal in 1962 ensured boys led a Spartan lifestyle, the hallmark of public school education, which contrary to the general perception outside the school’s boundaries, still remains in vogue.
Book I, covers how the school was born and gives a compact insight into the thinking of Ms. Oliphant and her single-minded passion that allowed her to convert her dream into reality. Subsequent contributions by all the principals over the years include illustrious names like Mr. KC Joshi, who raised the academic standards and in whose time a maximum of 53 boys made the cut for the Doon School in 1971 (no wonder then chaps like Shiv Kunal and me felt aggrieved, since a lot were our batch!).Mr. Joshi was followed by Charlie Kandhari, again an old boy who headed the school for eighteen years. Apart from ensuring its transition to its present avatar as a ‘full school’, he also ensured the Trust bought all the hired buildings required to expand the school. Mr. Dev Lahiri was a legendary Rhodes Scholar who headed the school from 2003 until 2011 and always believed in expanding the envelope and constantly encouraged the boys to set the bar higher and higher. In 2000, many an eyebrow shot up when Ms. Gunmeet Bindra, was appointed to head the all-boys’ school. The remarkable energy she brought to the table was incredible and she will be remembered for the confidence she instilled in the boys. Ms. Sangeeta Kain, the current incumbent who took over just as the pandemic swept across the globe, has since had her work cut out as the entire dynamics of learning is perforce undergoing a sea change. From her remarks in the book, her core area is to encourage curiosity in learning.
The book then gives an insight into the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools with their respective Houses. The junior house is where young boys come in and face the trauma of separation from their parents and homes before they emerge many years later equipped to take on the world on their own terms. Kept perennially busy by the ‘system’ they are fully prepared to face the stiffer challenges in later life as they transit through their years in school.
In Book II, the section titled ‘Life at Welham’ focuses on the key day to day activities that includes assembly, the meals at Bethany, and the daily events that are the set markers around which life revolves. The mosaic stretches from music to arts, plays and debates, to mid-term breaks and scholars’ recognition. The public school system, where the day to day functioning is left to the senior boys, specifically the prefect body, and how they carry out their responsibility with a great deal of freedom yet the guiding hand of the Masters and the checks and balances is explained wonderfully.
Sports of course, is a critical part of education, as they foster team spirit and teach strategy, resilience and collaboration as well as improve personal physical fitness. Book III then gives an insight into the large number of sports the students are exposed to, the standards achieved and the values imbibed while participating in these activities. Some of the more illustrious sportsmen from the school are Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and Micheal Dalvi, the latter rated as one of the finest cricketers not to have played for India. Of course the most coveted achievement is to be awarded the ‘Sports Blazer’.
Book IV takes you through the various initiatives of the school which include the unique ‘Military History Seminar’ which gives the students of Welham and many other schools an exposure into the security challenges faced by our country and an insight into what drives ordinary men to perform in the face of the gravest adversity putting the honour of their country above all. Apart from this are the various outreach programmes which help boys develop an all rounded personality while carrying out community service.
5 Circular Road, the iconic address that marks the schools location, apart from igniting young minds and giving the students a breathtaking view of the Himalayas also attracts its share of avifauna. Mr. Arthur Hughes, a former principal in the sixties, encouraged the students to explore the environs of the Doon Valley and this enthusiasm has remained even today. There are breathtaking images of the birds that visit school in the book and Kunal himself has contributed with 360 bird paintings of Indian species, all of whom line the corridors within the houses. ‘Knowledge pertaining to the environment is no longer a luxury,’ says Mr. Darshan Singh, ‘it is a necessity. These young minds are also the custodians in future of everything we hold precious–be it the fauna, avifauna or plant life.’
There is no doubt that this institution founded by Miss Oliphant has over time established itself as one of the finest schools and prides itself in being among the foremost private schools in the country. For boys who initially joined as even as five or six year olds, this is home and the friends they grow up with remain family forever as the bonds are unshakeable. The alumina of the school has carved a niche for themselves both globally and within India. Ms. Oliphant’s vision and indomitable spirit still endures and this legacy is what has been captured in this book. In the past, Welham Boys’ always had a relationship which was hyphenated with the Doon School. That bond still remains but this wonderful book shows us how Welham Boys’ today stands strongly on its own in the comity of schools and is living up to its motto by growing from ‘strength to strength’. It is indeed a fitting tribute to life in public schools, which has time and again set the bar for all-rounded education across the country.