Justice Markandey Katju: Remembering my math teacher Winston Gardner

Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju–

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

The Anglo-Indians are descendants of the British who came to India during their rule, and married Indian women. Their already tiny number diminished considerably when many of them migrated to England, Canada, and Australia after India’s Independence in 1947.

Those who remained, made an outstanding contribution to the nation, particularly in education. They became great educators and imparted the best education, making students like me beholden to them for making us who we are. One such outstanding Anglo-Indian teacher, who later became a school principal, was Winston Gardner, who died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 83.

The Gardners are descendants (or descendants of close relatives) of Lord Gardner, a British general who came to India in the late 18th century, and raised a regiment in the Indian army known as Gardner’s Horse. That regiment exists, albeit with a different name — The Second Lancers.

Upon retirement, Lord Gardner was given an estate in Kasganj, Uttar Pradesh as a reward for his distinguished service, and many generations of Gardners lived there.

Much of that estate is gone, but there is still a Gardners’ House standing on it and is occupied by some family members, including my classmate Julian Gardner, father-in-law of the current principal of Boys’ High School and College in Allahabad (renamed Prayagraj), David Andrew Luke.

I was a student of Boys’ High School (BHS), Allahabad from 1951-61, and Winston Gardner was my math teacher in Class X and XI (1960 and 1961). He was very good at teaching mathematics, and it was he who introduced us to calculus, a new subject to us then. He would explain concepts lucidly, and soon most of my classmates became very good at it.

Apart from being a good math teacher, Mr Gardner was also a good cricketer, and often played matches with us as an all rounder on the BHS playing field. He was also a good singer, and with his Elvis Presley sideburns, was a hit at functions.

(Above is a group photo of BHS teachers of 1960, in which Mr Gardner is standing in the center behind Principal Dudt)

He taught math at BHS until 1974, when he became Vice Principal of Barnes High School, Devlali, Maharashtra, and then Principal of Laidlaw Memorial High School in Ketti, a town in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu, where he served as principal till 2011, a record 31 years.

I lost touch with him after I completed my Senior Cambridge examination in 1961, and went to Allahabad University. I later became a lawyer, and then a judge at Allahabad High Court in 1991.

It was my fellow Gardner-student Sabir Ansari, a medical doctor and a colonel in the Indian army, who informed me that our math teacher had become a principal of a school in Tamil Nadu.

In 2005, a year after my appointment as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, I went on an inspection of the Ootacamund (Ooty) District Court. There I learned that Mr Gardner’s school (Laidlaw Memorial School in Ketti) was only 9 km away. I was determined to visit it, and meet my former ‘guru’.

It was a great meeting between a guru and a chela after a gap of about 45 years. Mr Gardner (I can never call him Winston) was delighted to see me, and he immediately organized a meeting of all staff and students of the school in a huge hall, which I was asked to address.

In his short introductory speech he said the school was honored by a visit of the Chief Justice of Madras High Court. I replied that I had come there not as the Chief Justice, but as a humble former student of your principal, who was one of those who made me what I was today. I also mentioned how he introduced calculus to my class, which was a new subject for us, and therefore required a good teacher like Mr Gardner.

I lost touch with Mr Gardner again, and later became a Supreme Court judge in 2006. I retired in 2011, the same Mr Gardner retired as Laidlaw’s principal.

A couple of weeks ago, someone messaged me about Mr Gardner’s demise. He sent me his wife Joan’s phone number and I spoke with her. She said a memorial service was being held shortly for Mr Gardner, and requested me to send a message which can be read out during the service, which I did.

May his soul rest in peace.

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