Br A G Bennett

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)

George few up in Marquis Street, Calcutta, which was a predominantly Anglo-Indian neighbourhood. His father was a master dredger working on the river Hooghly while his mother taught in Loreto House, Middleton Row. Each year Br Stan O'Brien would interview, at the Grand Hotel, parents seeking their son's admission to St Edmund's, Shillong. George seems to have made the grade and was soon part of the group on the stream train passing through East Bengal (now Bangladesh) on his way to St Edmund's. In 1928 “Budda” O'Brien turned up at the Bennett house and asked if George would join the Christian Brothers. George entered the Novitiate and had James O'Keeffe as fellow novice under the formidable, but much liked, Br Luke Aherne. George speaks of a pleasant Novitiate except for the one instance when his sister came to Mt Carmel to visit him prior to leaving for England. The following day George asked the Novice Master if he could go to the Goethals sports to be with his sister but was refused permission. George made a second attempt a little time later and to his surprise the Novice Master, evidently annoyed, produced a cane and walloped him across the backside. In his early years George moved to and fro across the country, teaching in various schools. He was an extremely good teacher, and on a few occasions he was unexpectedly transferred to a school where the Brother teaching the exam class fell ill or could not complete the year for various reasons. George had to take over the class mid-stream as it were; not an easy task considering that though the numbers were small, the Brothers taught most of the subjects. In 1939 at the outbreak of the war, George was sent to his alma mater, St Edmund's, where his younger brother was a student, and on one occasion George had to punish him for smoking! Time was when monks regarded Mt Abu as a place where troublesome Brothers were sent. George was sent there, not as a troublesome Brother, but as further proof, if proof was needed, of his brilliance as a class teacher. The Principal, Br Cyprian Roe, had decided to drop a class and so the senior and pre-senior classes were combined and sent up for the Cambridge exam. George completed the task with 100% success. He spent 14 years in Mt Abu and thus began his fascination with the wilderness and nature. He was never at a loss when identifying the amazing variety of trees, flowers and shrubs, or the calls of a wide variety of birds. He was a good sportsman and outstanding at hockey, cricket and soccer. His sports and drill displays were executed with parade-ground precision and rhythmic perfection. But George will be best remembered in Mt Abu for his fearlessness and skill as a marksman. In his years in Abu he shot three marauding leopards that were preying on the livestock belonging to the school servants. Apart from that, he bagged several deer and wild fowl that supplemented the rather bland and monotonous boarding school menu. George, like the rest of humankind, has his faults and failings. He often was ill at ease with boys who he felt were being deliberately uncooperative. This caused him great worry and mental anguish. He also, for some strange reason, detested taking meals charge, which was part and parcel of boarding school duties. He claimed that in the dining hall boys showed their most obnoxious human-animal instincts.

The 1960s saw George in St Mary's Orphanage, Dum Dum, and then he spent 28 years in St Columba's, New Delhi. Here he taught Class 8, was Sacristan and tended the garden, all with the same thoroughness which had become so characteristic of anything he did. He loved his daily walks to The Ridge, a well protected green, forested area in the middle of this metropolis where the peacock, pheasant and other birds abounded. George was a scholar and patronised the British Council Library, avidly reading books on exploration, Imperial history and natural history. George loved Delhi but times were rapidly changing and so were the well worn monkish traditions, so much part of George's life. He had strong views, particularly on religion and religious life, and could be highly critical of those who thought otherwise. He stood as an upright man and spoke his mind when occasion demanded it. George reacted strongly to the Brothers' corridor being thrown open to staff, students, parents and relatives of the Brothers. Decided that enough was enough, he and Br Finton O'Farrell decided to move to Shanti Nivas in Goa, a home built in 1994 for elderly Brothers. George enjoyed the relaxed life in Goa and spent much time reading, doing the crossword and solving old Senior Cambridge mathematics exam papers. After about two years George began losing weight, and a scan showed an aneurysm (dilated artery) in the food canal. On November 14, 2000, George was admitted to the SMRC Hospital, where he appeared to be making a recovery but then took a turn for the worse and passed away on the 29th. He lies buried among many of his confreres in the beautifully located cemetery in St Xavier's Church, Chicalim. May he rest in Peace.

—From a CB publication, forwarded by Duncan Collie (1956)