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Strict teacher and a Small Wonder fan

Few students of Father Boris D’ Santos would have got away without a caning or two and yet the loudest applause was for him at the last reunion of St. Xavier’s old boys in December 2013.

Father Boris, the long-serving former vice-principal of St. Xavier’s Collegiate School, Calcutta, passed away on Wednesday. He was 80.

He had been suffering from bone cancer for some time, the school said. “Fr. D’ Santos had been ailing for some time. He received the best treatment that medical science could offer…. The doctors who attended included some of his former students,” said a statement issued by the school. Along with other Jesuits, his sister and her husband were present in his last moments.

Born on April 19, 1934, Father Boris was himself a student of St. Xavier’s school. A few years ago, when he was asked about his association with the school that was celebrating 150 years, Father Boris’s eyes had glistened as he related a story: “My brother and I were almost turned away from St. Xavier’s school on the day of admission in 1943 for turning up late. But fortunately, a lady teacher of the school happened to enter the prefect’s room and recognised my mother. They were friends. She said she could find a seat each for us and so I joined Standard I Section B on February 1, 1943.”

His classmate of the 1951 Senior Cambridge batch, General Shankar Roy Chowdhury, remembered young Boris as being good in both studies and games and “second-to-none in sprints”.

It was while he was working at CESC (then Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation) that Father Boris found his vocation to be a Jesuit. He joined the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) on September 14, 1965, and was ordained as a priest in 1974. The much-loved Jesuit was appointed prefect of St. Xavier’s school in 1984, a post he held till he gave it up a few months ago because of failing health.

The social media was flooded with messages saluting the master who juggled various roles, as English teacher, prefect, disciplinarian, counsellor, pastor and mentor. “Rest in Peace, Father. Thank you for everything that you inculcated in us. Will never forget you,” wrote Arpanarghya Saha.

“He shaped our young minds with his animated lectures. He cared more about us learning the language correctly than merely completing the syllabus,” said Ranjoy Chowdhury, 25, of the Class of 2005.

What endeared Father Boris to students was largeness of heart and a sense of humour. Dhruv Mookerji, theatre actor and a former student, remembered the last time he was pulled up by Father Boris. “It was in 1995. I was to give a speech at a school event. When he heard it the day before, he took me aside and angrily asked me to make it shorter. I pleaded it was less than one-and-a-half pages long. But he waved his finger and warned me that the event must be wrapped up before 4.30pm so that he could watch Small Wonder (the science fiction sitcom featuring Vicki the robot girl)!”

Former students recalled the complex signature that no one dared imitate.

The school described his death as the end of an era and iterated its belief that staff and students, their parents, and the old boys’ association would uphold the values and principles he held dear.

The funeral mass for Father Boris will be held at the St. Xavier’s chapel at 10am on Thursday, followed by internment at Dhyan Ashram, Joka.