1. It makes me smile to be introduced as Krishnadev Rao in Lovedale. For every day of the 9 years I was a student here, I was known as Pradeep Reddy. When I joined School in class 4, I was Pradeep Reddy. In my second term, I was adopted and my name was changed to Krishnadev Rao. But as far as everyone in School was concerned, I remained Pradeep Reddy.
My Headmaster was quick to realise the advantage of a Headboy with two names. In April 1981, for the first time in the history of the School, a President of India in office paid a visit and I was introduced to him as Pradeep Reddy. And that President was President Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy. The story doesn’t end there. A few months later, the then Chief of Army Staff also visited the School and this time, I was introduced to him as Krishnadev Rao. Guess what the Chief of Army Staff’s name was – General Krishna Rao.
Having two names can be confusing for many but I realised there was no confusion in the minds of my fellow Lawrencians when I heard a junior Old Lawrencian announce my arrival to his class mates. He shouted out, “Hey Guys! Krishnadev Rao of Pradeep Reddy’s batch is here!”
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, for the record, I am Krishnadev Rao of Pradeep Reddy’s batch.
2. It feels incredible to be standing here in front of all of you at this most solemn of Ceremonies. The last time I was at this Ceremony was 37 years ago, but in a very different capacity. This feels like a squaring of my very own personal circle.
It’s an honour for which I must thank the Officiating Headmaster, Mr Rajan Narayanan, The Bursar, Colonel Sudhakara Babu Thota and the wonderful Staff of this my dearest School for having considered me worthy.
To you, the Headgirl and the Headboy, the Vice-Headgirl and the Vice-Headboy and the Prefects of 2018-19, my warmest congratulations.
This is a pivotal moment of immeasurable pride for you and your parents. It will be indelibly stamped into your memories. Many years from now, you will look back on this year as being particularly significant in your lives. Savour it, enjoy it, carry forward your responsibilities and know the lessons you learn from the good and bad, will be transformational in the way you think, speak and act for the rest of your lives.
I‘m aware that the process of selection is elaborate and exacting, and have no doubt that each of you has deservedly earned the right to the wear those hallowed stripes through your talent and achievements, and most especially the faith your teachers have in your capability.
3. I know as Chief Guest it is expected that I will share some of my experiences of what it was to be a Leader in this School. But I also know that as a student of this School, I have many times sat in that audience in this Large Hall, listening to speakers and wondering when they would finish speaking, and wishing they had, at least ten minutes before they actually do.
I will try and address both these seemingly contrarian expectations. I have therefore cherry-picked just three particularly poignant examples from my time as Headboy.
And here, I have to acknowledge and thank my Class of 1982. If it wasn’t for them and the valuable experiences I shared with them, I wouldn’t have truly understood what it is to be a Leader.
4. In our time, selecting the prefects was relatively simple and immensely less stressful than today. We had no public short-listing of names; no system where a student could volunteer or apply to be a prefect; and we certainly had no interview process to identify suitable candidates. In fact, we had no formal selection system which involved students in any way at all. It was a closed-door decision, for the Headmaster and the staff to arrive at by consensus.
On a fateful evening in early April 1981, I was asked to report to the Headmaster in his office. I went fully expecting to be in trouble, but with an uncharacteristic twinkle, Mr Vyas, told me that I was selected to be Headboy – it was news, I was completely unprepared for. I was speechless! But if I was dumbfounded, my classmates were absolutely blown away! And for very good reason too.
In our midst was a classmate – intelligent, hardworking, a super athlete, ace sportsman, good at almost anything he did and extremely popular amongst all of us. He had been Headboy in Prep School and in Junior School and he had always been the Leader of our Class.
The announcement that I was to be the Headboy was therefore unexpected and perplexing. And understandably as a result, raised considerable consternation, debate and doubt amongst the student body in Senior School.
But, He, no matter how grave his disappointment may have been, did not once, either by deed or in spirit, show the slightest anger or resentment. Nor did he ever forsake his strong and abiding personal values. Instead, with equanimity and dignity, he accepted the decision with grace and carried out his responsibilities as the Vice-Headboy with complete commitment and heart.
I am forever indebted to Vikram Singh Rathore, my classmate, my friend, my able ally who, through his actions, demonstrated and taught me that MATURITY, INTEGRITY and CHARACTER are essentials to being a good Leader!
It is no surprise that his career in the Army now is a very successful one, and in all probability he will become Major General before the year is out.
5. Up to the time that I was in School, an urban myth abounded about our Chief Guests at Founders and the influence they have on the elements. Given our strong military ties and traditions, many of our Chief Guests were usually very high ranking officers from the three armed forces. The myth had it though, that should the Chief Guest be one the Chiefs then there could be trouble: If he was the Chief of Air Staff, Founders could be buffeted by strong gale-force winds; the Chief of Naval Staff would bring with him unprecedented rain; and in keeping with this myth, it would be far too risky to invite the Chief of Army Staff, as an avalanche or earthquake could possibly be too devastating to contemplate.
As fate would have it though, at our Founders in May 1981, the Chief Guest for Trooping The Colour was the then Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Ronald Pereira. And sure enough, myth rapidly dissolved into reality. The weather was bad on the first two days of Founders.
And it wasn’t much better on the morning of the Parade either. Intermittent drizzles from the time we marched on until the Chief Guest had almost completed his ‘Inspection’ and then, the Rain Gods unleashed their fury. The skies simply opened up. It didn’t just ‘Rain on our Parade’, it was a deluge!
While escorting the Chief Guest back to his seat, the Headmaster asked me to cut short the Parade and march everyone off. I refused but it wasn’t arrogance which prompted my response. All I could think then was how long and hard we had worked to be there; we had a tradition to protect; and that no matter what, we had to live up to our school motto and not Give In to the rain!
The Headmaster didn’t say anything. He just looked intently at me and walked on.
He took Admiral Pereira into the dry comfort of the shamiana to his seat. And then, instead of taking his own place beside the Chief Guest, he stepped out again, back into the rain and stood there with no protection, braving the deluge with us.
I still carry that vision of Mr L A Vyas, a tall, dignified, grey haired man, in his square black academic mortarboard hat and his black academic gown, standing in the rain, the water beating down on him for the next 40 minutes or so, until the very end of the Parade and the last child had marched off.
If ever there was an impactful act of good Leadership, it was displayed on that day. Immensely proud of his students, Mr Vyas willingly eschewed his own comfort to stand out and suffer with us, signaling to his students encouragement, SOLIDARITY and EMPATHY. What a man, what a Leader!
6. Being a Leader can get lonely especially when what you believe in differs from what the group might want. I cannot say being Headboy was easy – there were many times when I was at odds with some or many of my classmates. We all made mistakes but I realise, those experiences kept me grounded and many of those learnings from conflict have stood me in good stead over the years. As my classmate and good friend, Commander Sanjay Balsubramanian, who is in the audience with you, made a pithy observation to me – he told me, “the Investiture of the stripes was not as much an investment of authority as an investment of responsibility.” How true.
In this connection, Ramesh Nair, my classmate and Prefect, gave me an important message to share with you: that it’s alright for you to make mistakes; it’s alright for your classmates and your juniors to make mistakes; and when they do, help pick them up without anger or instilling fear – if you can do that, you will have passed a litmus test of Leadership.
I agree with that completely, and my advice to you as Leaders, is that when there is a difference of opinion, first try and negotiate; but should the difference persist, stay your course. In the short term you may be unpopular and lonely, so long as you are genuine, you will in the end earn trust, respect and friendship. A vindication of this approach came in the form of a letter I received from yet another classmate and Prefect, P K Mayan who happens to be sitting in the audience with you. He wrote:
Being a Leader is not a very comfortable or a popular spot to be in. I still remember, in your Headboy days, Reddy, you got a lot more of the brickbats than the bouquets; the major hassles coming from your own batchmates. But you stuck it out and today all of us realise, the cohesiveness and camaraderie of our batch of 1982 is because of you and your Leadership.
In all truthfulness, I was blessed to be Headboy of a very fine batch. And even though they were very testing, they were always honest; they were mischievous but never mean; fun-loving but never destructive; and as time would tell – a batch full of real Leaders. With a General and an Admiral, captains of the air and captains of the sea, business Leaders, top bureaucrats, architects, doctors and engineers of international repute, we are spread across the world. I suppose this would describe most other batches too but in the context of our School, where my Class of 1982 really stands out, is in the area of giving back. We have given back to School over Two and a half crores of rupees and counting; have built three well appointed staff quarters; collected every rupee necessary to rebuild the stables; and donated substantially towards support-staff housing. All this has been possible due to the camaraderie, cohesiveness and deep bond we share.
7. So, I do reach out to you, the whole Class of 2018-19, to work together with your prefects. This is your year! Have fun, make memories, bond and never lose your sense of wonder, your curiosity and your joy for life. The reputation, traditions and the good name of the school have been built by generations upon generations of Lawrencians who have passed through before you. And even as you stand upon the shoulders of those giants remember, now is your opportunity to make an even nicer, better reputation, a more memorable set of traditions for this OUR SCHOOL.
It’s your turn to show the world our flag unfurled with our watchword NEVER GIVE IN!