Schooled for life

Asked Krishna Menon with a frown, "Simeon? Simeon? From where?" "From the Bible, sir," answered Major Eric Simeon, straight off the bat.

That exchange related by the major himself would have taken place around the year 1960 when Krishna Menon, then defence minister, had the excellent idea of starting Sainik Schools to provide potential officers. As some readers may know Lt-Colonel Simeon joined his ancestors on May 15. He was 91.

I first met him when I stayed overnight at the Sainik School in Kunjpura, near Karnal, where Krishna Menon sent him as the founding head. I recall his wife Georgina better known as Jean accompanying some boys on the piano that evening, but he was busy elsewhere in the school. As I left after breakfast I did not see much of him.

But we kept in touch with the occasional letter. By a lucky coincidence, my warship went in for a refit in Calcutta when he was the headmaster of La Martiniere in Calcutta after leaving Kunjpura. Although neither he nor his wife ever mentioned it, their son going underground to join the Naxalite movement while still at St Stephen's College in Delhi must have been a bitter blow.

Here fate did them a good turn: taking over as the first Indian Doon School headmaster, he was able to ask Indira Gandhi, whose son was a pupil there, to help. Dilip, their only child, got off scot free.

The Doon is a difficult school to run like most residential schools. In addition it had a string of old boys lobby. Colonel Simeon's arrival and his somewhat military style red and green lights outside his office were not exactly greeted with rapture by the staff. The Cathedral School in Bombay, which came later, must have been somewhat easier. Retirement to a small flat in Pune meant some peace for him.

... contd.

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