Br A G Bennett
2000-11-29
 

Br A G Bennett joined the Irish Christian Brothers at St Joseph's, Bow Bazar, Calcutta, and his first posting was at St Mary's High School, Mount Abu in 1941. Br Bennett was an Anglo-Indian and suffered the normal discrimination by the whites to the coloureds. He never liked to be called Archbald and was always referred to as George.

When I joined SMHS in 1947, Br Bennett was our dorm master (and I got my first taste of the strap because I had left my shoes under my bed and consequently the sweeper had not swept under my bed) and also games master — Benny had a dog Juno who would walk through the dorm — early one morning the guys closest to the dorm door heard strong sniffing sounds and when they got out of bed, found Juno on the inside of the dorm mesh door and a panther on the outside — noses touching — fortunately the panther must have had a good meal and did not try clawing the mesh which would definitely have given way.

He and Bro Meredith were very good at games — as both of them joined in our games they really showed us their skills — those guys who felt that they had reason to get back at either of them would try to kick the football or hit the ball with their hockey stick aimed at either of them — but when Bro Bennett got hold of the ball, that guy was in trouble — after dribbling around him and making him look an ass he would give him a kick or hit with his stick. When Benny played cricket, he would throw the ball under-arm straight to the wicket and was responsible for getting a number of guys run out.

He was a great shikar — regularly went into the jungles to shoot game — once he shot a sambhar and all of us got plenty of meat that day — but sambhar meat is not easily digestible and many of us had tummy-aches. The Government had banned killing of peacocks and peahens — we heard Benny shoot something on the hill behind the school, but did not see him emerge — he came back eventually up Tiger Path — he had gone on a circuitous walk dropping peacock feathers along his route.

The Rajasthan Government appointed him game warden and then he could no longer shoot any game.

Benny remained at SMHS upto 1956 — when he acted as Principal, since Bro O-Keefe had gone on leave to Ireland. He was responsible for calling me up to SMHS to teach Physics and Chemistry — that's when I got to know him a little better. After this spell of teaching, which I enjoyed, I asked Bro Benny whether he thought I should join the Brothers — that is when he brought up the question of discrimination of the whites against the coloureds — and knowing me pretty well from being a student and then as a teacher, he advised me against joining up as he felt I was too independent and would bring disorder to any religious order. He told me of his personal reaction when the first young lady teacher was appointed at SMHS in 1944 — it is not easy to be celibate.

When Bro O'Keefe returned in Jan 1957, Bro Benny was transferred to the concrete jungle of Delhi — He made the best of his stay here — teaching till official retirement and then coaching weak students after he had retired. When I went looking for him, I was surprised to find him cleaning the chapel in St Columba's — polishing the wooden floor. He was also the one who made sure that St Columba's garden was kept in good order.

When the home for senior brothers was built at Regina Mundi, Benny was transferred there (I think in 1994). He continued to keep himself busy coaching weak students. He arrived at Regina Mundi in February and I met him in April that year — he had identified 50 different species of birds that visited the little garden at Regina Mundi. He complained to me that although he was in Goa he had seen only the road from Dabolim Airport to Regina Mundi. So having a car available I took my Dad, then 90 years old, to Regina Mundi, picked up Bro Benny and went to Mormugao Harbour — and then lunch — I did not know what to order as Benny was supposed to be ill — but both Dad and he ordered beef steak with beer out of a cask — and I could safely order the same — Dad finished his steak fairly promptly, but Benny could get down only little more that half — and he was about 80 years then.

Benny never wore spectacles — either for reading or for distance — the secret for his good eyesight was that as soon as he got back from an outing he would wash his eyes — cup his hands and then dip his face into his hands and open and close his eyes under water.

—Aloysius D'Souza (1951)



By chance I came across this web site and memories came flooding back to the time when I was a teenager. I read Aloysius' eulogy and felt compelled to add my own, to a man who fashioned my life in such an important way.

I was a 1956 graduate popularly known as “Baddu.” I notice that those who compiled our class photograph did not forget my nick-name. By any standard of excellence, Br. Bennett was an extraordinary individual. He was our class master from the 5th standard all the way to the 9th standard when we took the Overseas Senior Cambridge exam. He taught us all the subjects except Hindi and during the vacation at the end of the 1952 academic year, Br. Bennett went to Bombay and took Hindi classes. Lo and behold — come 1953 here was our teacher taking on Hindi. His attention to detail was exemplary and he made copious notes for the class when exam time came. It is a testament to his teaching that five of us placed in the top 20 in our final Senior Cambridge exam. He was a hard task master and a strict disciplinarian. Any infringement in the class was swiftly punished by the leather strap that he carried up his right sleeve and appeared like a vengeful snake to mete out the appropriate justice such as six of the best. He taught our class the value of hard work and inculcated in us a work ethic that has governed my life as a practising surgeon. He expected honesty and personal responsibility from each and every one of his students. His talents extended far beyond the confines of the classroom. He was an accomplished field hockey and soccer player and excelled at handball. Our Wednesday and Friday walks were embellished with readings from Jim Corbett's Man-eaters of Kumaon, when our intrepid “shikari” would be on all fours crawling through the grass to illustrate the tiger's stalking of his victims.

After graduation, I continued my medical studies in Calcutta and met my mentor and had cups of tea with him at St. Joseph's School. R.I.P. Br. Bennett.

—Mallapur Shashi Rao, MD (1956)