Mini Mahabharat on Patna's Gandhi Maidan
For Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha, who stepped down recently as the Indian high commissioner in London, the cricket that he learnt at St Xavier’s School in Patna was not just a sport but part of his bringing up.
“I joined St Xavier’s Patna (at the age of 8) in Class III in January 1966,” recalls Yash. “The principal was the legendary Father Gordon Murphy.”
Yash was a day scholar from 1966-68, commuting from the family home in Danapur in the school bus. “I had uncles and aunts going to St Xavier’s and St Joseph’s Convent. My aunts would keep a seat for me in the bus.”
In 1968, he took the entrance exam for Mayo College in Ajmer and got in but then followed a row between his father, Srinivas Kumar Sinha, who was in the army, and his grandfather, Mithilesh Kumar Sinha, who was in the police. The latter ruled that Rajasthan was too far away and so, “as a compromise” to improve his academic chances, Yash joined boarding at St Xavier’s in Patna.
The following year, St Xavier’s, founded in 1940, underwent became Hindi medium. It was a wrench for Yash to have to shift to the other established English medium school in Patna, St Michael’s High School.
This was taken over by St Xavier’s and Fr Murphy became its principal. Leaving behind many of his friends and even relatives at St Xavier’s, Yash joined boarding at St Michael’s in 1970 and took his school finals in 1974, before going to St Stephen’s College in Delhi.
There was one match in 1973 “I will never forget,” says Yash. “I still have the scorecard.” Class X of St Michael’s would battle against Class X of St Xavier’s with the game played on matting on Gandhi Maidan. “I was aspiring for the school cricket team and there was a particular Father, Fr Starr, an Irishman, who was blocking me.”
When Yash, left-arm medium pace bowler, was included, he realised it was his do-or-die moment. The game resembled a mini-Mahabharat. “My youngest uncle Chaku played for St Xavier’s. I had to prove myself. That was a key match for me. I took six wickets for something like 20 runs. We destroyed the St Xavier’s team and won easily because of my wickets. I bowled out my cousin Rajesh Sinha, who was the captain. Very stylish batsman. Ball swung in from outside the off stump — he went forward to drive, completely missed the line. Middle stump!
“And when I got those six wickets Fr Cleary (the St Xavier’s coach) came up to me and embraced me though his team had lost. He was an amazing man. The next day I was inducted into the St Michael’s team as the strike bowler. My best figures were 7/11.”
As high commissioner, Yash had to felicitate Virat Kohli and the Indian team in the Long Room at Lord’s and also host a reception for them. As head of mission, he had to deliver many speeches, often off the cuff, and attributes the fluency to the elocution lessons and dramatics he did during his Patna schooldays. Over lunch at Joe Allen’s in London, he could still recite Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Debating had other advantages: “You could meet girls from St Joseph’s Convent.”
He throws in: “I was among the first boys in Patna to wear bell bottoms.”
Of St Xavier’s he says: “That was a wonderful institution — if you see the alumnus of St Xavier’s, (there are) people like Surajit Sen, who was one of our top news readers on All India Radio. Aftab Seth and his brother Roshan Seth — some of them went on to Doon School and finished there. Down the list there were Air Marshals and many senior bureaucrats, politicians. In the foreign service in my peer group there were four of us — Arun Singh, who retired as ambassador to US; Ajit Kumar, who retired as permanent representative to the UN in Geneva; myself passed out in ’74; and then Amar Sinha retired as secretary in Delhi.”
The family connection with St Xavier’s runs deep. When the school’s founding principal, Father Marshall Moran, said he was short of land in 1941-2, Yash’s grandfather Mithilesh, a senior police officer with whom he was very friendly, helped him to get the playing fields in Gandhi Maidan. “At the time the land was part of the police lines.”
By way of thanks, Fr Moran allowed Mithilesh’s son, Srinivas, who had joined Patna College, to stay in the Father’s block at St Xavier’s where the facilities were much more comfortable — and a lot cleaner — than in the school dormitory.
Mithilesh did so well in the police and intelligence bureau that there was a tussle for his services between Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Sri Krishna Sinha (no relation), Bihar’s first chief minister.
“SK Sinha wrote to Sardar Patel saying he would like to have the services of my grandfather in Bihar. Sardar Patel wrote back saying, ‘I can’t spare him.’ SK Sinha wrote, ‘Please send me MK Sinha I will give you an equally fine officer in exchange’. Sardar Patel reluctantly agreed. My grandfather went back to Patna, was DIG for a while and took over as IG (1952-58) in his father’s footsteps.”
In 1953, a committee from overseas, head by Paul Appleby, reported that “Bihar is the best ruled province in India”, says Yash.