Kapadia boys on what it means to be a part of the 150-year-old St Xavier's family
The Kapadias, residents of Babulnath in South Mumbai, share a learning legacy, which only a few can boast of. Since 1915, three generations of the family have been associated with St Xavier's school and college
It's sometime during our chat with the gregarious men of the Kapadia family on a Friday evening, that a connection has been established between everyone sitting in the room. The quintet, all alumni of St Xavier's High School, Fort, have just informed this writer that their school, which is a few months shy of turning 150, initially ran out of a rented home called the Glass House, on Cavel Street, back in 1860. Known as Kalbadevi School then - because of its location - it moved nine years later to Dhobi Talao, where the glorious neo-Gothic campus sits today. "Or else, the school would have been in my neighbourhood," I tell them.
The Kapadias, residents of Babulnath in South Mumbai, share a learning legacy, which only a few can boast of. Since 1915, three generations of the family have been associated with St Xavier's school and college, both of which celebrate their sesquicentenaries in January. "The values you learn there, stay with you forever," says 84-year-old Dilip Kapadia, the eldest of the five members, from the batch of 1952 at the school. The sentiment is unanimous, and is oft-repeated during our conversation.
St Xavier's High School, Fort's SSC batch of 1960, which Harish Kapadia was a part of
In Jesuits we trust
The oldest Kapadia to trace his roots to St Xavier's was Raghavji Vallabhdas, the only son of textile trader Vallabhdas Odhavji. He finished schooling at the Jesuit institution in the year 1924, before going on to graduate from its college. "He was also the first non-Catholic to take up Latin as his second language, first in school and later, as a student of Arts," recalls Dilip's younger brother Bharat, 78, of their father. The many years under the "European padres" left an indelible impression on Raghavji, convincing him that there was no better institution for his seven sons. Four of his sons would keep the family tradition alive, as they went on to admit their kids to the same school - the last being 36-year-old Prem, from the class of 1998.
The Kapadias have a dozen memories of their school. While taking us on a nostalgia trip, they dole out names of several teachers and clergy associated with at least two of their generations. The name of Brother Antonio Navarro SJ (1903-1987), a Spanish Jesuit, who spent decades at the institution in the capacity of a treasurer, pops up almost immediately. "Have you visited the museum at our school?" Dilip asks. Brother Navarro, he recalls, was a passionate naturalist. He loved hunting and his collection, which ranged from birds to animals and insects, is now encased at the iconic museum in the school. "As a 14-year-old, I once joined him for a trip to a forest in Mulund," Dilip reminisces. "He had taken a wooden stick, which had a ball attached to it. When I asked its purpose, Brother said, he'd use it to lock the snake, in case it attacked us." Dilip doesn't remember seeing any snakes, but he had the "best time of his life" that day. There was also their favourite Parsi teacher Banu Ghadiali - she only wore gara sarees and taught two generations of the Kapadias. Prem also regales us with stories of the detention-loving teacher, Bruno D'Costa, whom students revered and were scared of in equal measure. "One mistake and he'd be off with a pair of your shoes," he says.
At Xavier's some rules couldn't be broken. Bharat recalls how the brothers had once showed up two days after Christmas vacation. "You did that?" his nephew, Deepak, 58, also a Xavierite, asks shocked. "For eight Sundays continuously, we had to come to school, open the library and clean the books. Come to think of it, it was actually a useful punishment… the school looked cleaner," laughs Bharat. "You are lucky," says Deepak, who completed his SSC from the school in 1977. "During our time, if we came late from vacation, the management would re-think our admission for the next year."
If Xavier's school, which boasts of an illustrious alumni - retired IPS officer Julio Ribeiro, cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, architect Charles Correa to name a few - was all about discipline, the college was where you enjoyed "absolute freedom". "You could dress in whatever clothes you wanted. No restrictions. No questions asked," says Bharat. He clearly recalls the liberal and cosmopolitan atmosphere, while also hinting at the college's dress-code policy from recent years, which has often been termed as regressive. Also, unlike today, when admission to the college would require 90 per cent, being a Xavier's school student in those days meant a confirmed seat at the college.
Harish, 75, who along with his brother Bharat was part of the college in the early 1960s, later played an important role in establishing the Indian Music Group (IMG) in 1973, with the support of Fr Lancy Pereira and tabla player Alla Rakha Qureshi. Before Malhar, it was IMG that ran the show. "We were Western in appearance, but Indian at heart. The group organised some of the most renowned Indian classical music concerts in the city, including Janfest," says Harish. His fondest memories of college, though, were the times he went for the social service camps in rural areas. "I attended these camps even after graduating. We built roads, wells and practically everything. I think those values of labour, patience and effort were instilled in us from school."
The fourth generation of the Kapadia family, however, seems to have missed out on St Xavier's charm, and deliberately so. It was a tough decision to walk away from tradition. "We would have loved [for] our boys to continue at the school," says Deepak, who got his son admitted to another ICSE school in South Mumbai. "Government interference and these new educational rules have ruined a lot of things," says Bharat. But nothing is lost yet. "We will rise," they add, of the Phoenix, which continues to be the centre of their universe.
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