The ‘People’s Captain'

Khushwant Singh

Amarinder Singh Chief Minister, Punjab, India

In April 1951, Amarinder was sent to Lawrence School, Sanawar, a co-educational boarding school in the Kasauli Hills, (now in Himachal Pradesh). At Lawrence, Amarinder was allotted the Cock Sparrow House and enjoyed a host of privileges, which have passed into the folklore of the school. Keen observations of the housemaster provide an insight into his days at boarding school:

* Very obliging and ever ready to help everybody, but very slow and untidy.

* A good, but a little careless, worker.

* A charming and likable personality. He is generous.

* Possesses considerable sports ability and should develop into a good all-rounder and athlete.

* Is positively keen on cricket.

The clincher was the final comment, and held the key to what would unfold in the ensuing years, wherein the housemaster opines that Amarinder was ‘a promising lad in many ways’.

After spending almost two formative years in Lawrence School (10 April 1951 to 3 December 1952), Amarinder was sent to The Doon School in Dehradun, in what is now the state of Uttarakhand.

The Doon School years form a rather challenging and important chapter in Amarinder Singh’s life. On the morning of 25 August 1953, dressed in grey trousers, a blue shirt, and a blue turban, Amarinder with roll no. T-45 of Form F (Class 5), walked into the dormitory of Tata House. Shadowed by, yet oblivious to, the challenges to which attention had been drawn first by Hede Dayal and then by the housemaster at Lawrence School, Amarinder’s battles with academics started right from the word go. And to claim that the Yuvraj of Patiala was academically inclined would be furthest from the truth. He was sent to the fourth section of each class, specially created for the weakest of students.

Periodic confidential progress reports addressed to Maharani Mohinder Kaur, by the headmaster, J.A.K. Martyn, and the housemaster, K.N.P. Nair, not only highlight the Yuvraj’s indifferent performance in academics but also demonstrate the exasperation and the frustration of the school in dealing with the regal child.

Terming him as an intolerably lazy, careless and forgetful boy, the school constantly brought Amarinder’s shortcomings to her notice. A letter dated 11 December 1956 amply demonstrates what the school was up against.

‘Dear Maharani Saheba,

Amarinder is not … registering the attitude to work [that] his age and talents demand in spite of my repeated advice and his pious assurances. Early in the term he assured me he was following the classes properly, understood everything and didn’t require any help…I found he had been neglecting work and inattentive in class…He had twenty-three late marks, sixteen detentions, thirteen red cards [for substandard academic performance] and two yellow cards [for indiscipline] on his heavy debit side’.

‘Yes, I was poor in academics,’ admits Amarinder candidly. ‘Maths was my worst enemy. I just could not figure out the way of the numbers and tried to avoid them as much as possible. However, I did enjoy biology and geography.’

Amarinder soon focused on his desire to join the Indian Army. Keeping the family tradition of serving in the forces, Maharani Mohinder Kaur made a special request to the principal of The Doon School to allow Amarinder to devote all his course time to prepare for the National Defence Academy (NDA) entrance exam, the stepping stone for the armed forces. Percy Paine, hired specially for the task, coached Amarinder intensively. They set about the task most diligently, and Paine worked hard on improving Amarinder’s writing and spelling skills, absolutely essential if the Yuvraj intended to clear the NDA entrance exam.

Khushwant Singh
About The Writer
Khushwant Singh is the author of 'The People's Maharaja' the authorized biography of Captain Amarinder Singh.