Home Feature Rendezvous with ‘Educational Czar’ Dr Sumer Singh!

Rendezvous with ‘Educational Czar’ Dr Sumer Singh!


By Kulbhushan Kain
“You mean to tell me that you did not know who she was?” I asked rather surprised.

“No, I did not. I was chatting with a few friends at a get-together at The Lawrence School, Sanawar, when she asked me for a dance. I could not figure out who she was and why she had asked me for a dance. I asked her who she was.”

She answered, “I am Pamela Bordes!”

I am not too surprised why Dr Sumer Singh did not recognise Pamela Bordes. He has met thousands of celebrities and good-looking people. Neither am I surprised why Pamela Bordes asked him for a dance!

Dr Sumer Singh is one of India’s finest educational minds. I have met almost all educationists who have shaped India’s educational destiny in the past 50 years, and I have no doubt that he is one of the finest. That’s why I dub him “India’s Educational Czar”.

I first met Dr Sumer Singh when both of us were bachelors – he was teaching History at The Doon School and I was on the lookout for a job to earn a living. I used to go to The Doon School where my brother-in-law was also teaching. Dr Sumer Singh caught the eye with his great presence, his beard, a “bandgalla” coat, a thick mop of hair, and a mind that reeked history, music, art, adventure.

Forty years down the line he has changed – the beard has greyed, the thick mop of hair has almost deserted him, and he has a prosperous girth. Spotlight has brought his individualised capabilities into the public domain- capabilities that have grown with each experience.

But some things haven’t changed – his class, the ability to keep abreast and ahead of the times, and a presence that stands out in a crowd – he is not the kind of man who will grow slowly on you. He is the kind of man who will make his presence felt the moment you meet him.

When I look back at what he has achieved, it appears that it was logical and inevitable. He was born into a Katoch Rajput Family from Basali and studied at Welham Boys, Doon School, and St Stephen’s College. His father, Maharaj Rai JB Singh, also studied at Doon and Stephen’s and was the Director at Britannia, ITC, and Godfrey Phillips. His grandfather, Maharaj Rao Jagdish Singh, was the Dewan of Narsinghgarh State.

Dr Sumer Singh was the Head of Daly College and Director, Daly College Business School, Indore; Head of Lawrence School, Sanawar; and also the Founder Director of The Asian School at Dehradun. He has also served as Advisor Education in the Government of Punjab, Chairman of the Indian Public Schools’ Conference, Trustee and Advisor on the Executive of Round Square, UK, Advisor to Mayo College Girls’ School, Ajmer, and GCIS, Bangalore, Advisor to Vantage Hall Girls’ School, Dehradun, Sanskaar Valley School, Bhopal, SAI International School in Bhubaneswar… The list is endless and reads like a telephone directory!

I prodded him on various aspects of education. I asked him whether there can be a good school headed by a “bad” Principal or whether there can be a “bad” school headed by a good principal.

He thought for a moment and replied, “Kulbhushan, a good principal can make a “bad” school good, and a “bad” principal can make a good school bad!” What a fantastic answer.

I probed further. Can we as educators predict whether a child in school will achieve greatness?

“No. Greatness in a student cannot be predicted as there are too many external factors at play – opportunities, perseverance, environment, mentors … but, yes, their character can be predicted,” he replied thoughtfully.

He is a very interesting man. All interesting human beings are well read and prolific writers. He has published five books: Doon (History), Daly College (History), Unity in Diversity (Religion), Aussie in India (Travelogue), and Indian School Education Revered to Reviled (A guide to School Management). He is in the middle of writing a monumental history of his ancestors and has completed 17 chapters of it. He is also an accomplished painter!

He has many anecdotes to share and does so with perfect intonation.

He was a good friend of the late LM Thapar. When LMT (as he was affectionately called) suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the ICU, Dr Sumer went to meet him. Since only medical staff was allowed into the ICU, he was “smuggled” in dressed as a doctor! When LMT saw him, he exclaimed “My God Sumer! Don’t tell me that you are going to operate on me!”

I asked him to name 3 people who came to his mind instantly among all those he has met and he responded, “His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, Narayan Murthy, and Sunil Gavaskar!”

Being a cricket addict, I queried, “Sunil Gavaskar…?”
“Yes,” he answered and narrated an incident. Sunil Gavaskar had visited Lawrence School, Sanawar, and took part in a friendly cricket match.

“The boys refused to catch him out! They just wanted him to continue batting. After some time Sunil was fed up and said, “Now you guys stop dropping my catches and start bowling straight, otherwise, I can STOP batting under the rule of retired hurt!”

Dr Sumer Singh – in cricket one can stop batting on the pretext of being hurt!

However, there is no clause in the field of education to stop you. Keep batting!

We are applauding you!

(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain @gmail.com)