The Beauty of Lovedale Inspired this Graduate to Writing Adventure Books

Dalal and his wife met with other alumni of Lawrence School over dinner and to explain the process behind his popular adventures books set in India.

Dalal and his wife met with other alumni of Lawrence School over dinner and to explain the process behind his popular adventures books set in India.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: For some, it was decades since they had left the beautiful setting of their beloved primary school which had nurtured them, though there were some fairly recent graduates too, like the one from 2008, who shared stories of how the Lawrence School had evolved in the ensuing years. Still, all of the ten or so alumni sat together after dinner, sharing a bond that had survived the years and sang old school songs and little anecdotes that shaped their destinies since they had moved on.

These were some of the alumni from the Lawrence School of Lovedale – or simply recalled by the name of the area – who live in the Bayou City vicinity and get together every few weeks for a reunion and kinship over dinner. They are among the many others across the US- and across the globe – who hold allegiance to the values and standards that were instilled in them in their formative years at one of the four Lawrence Schools in the Indian Subcontinent.

Deepak Dala (right) next to his wife Marzia with his hosts Atul and Aarti Vir

Deepak Dala (right) next to his wife Marzia with his hosts Atul and Aarti Vir

The Lawrence School was established by Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence who had the idea of having a chain of schools to educate the children of the soldiers and officers of the British army in India. At first called Lawrence Asylum, he established four schools: at Sanawar, Himachal Pradesh, in 1847, and at Mount Abu, Rajasthan in 1856, both during his lifetime; then at Lovedale, Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu in 1858 and at Ghora Gali, Murree, in present-day Pakistan in 1860. Lawrence was killed in the Indian Mutiny of 1857, also called India’s First War of Independence.

The school’s motto “Never Give In” embodies the spirit of the Lawrencian: to pursue a task to its fullest and to completion, giving one’s best at all times. Many of its alumni have gone on to become notable in their fields of endeavor, such a Akshaye Khanna, actor; Anand Mahindra, Chairman & MD, Mahindra Group; Arundhati Roy, writer; Tashi and Nungshi Malik, mountain climbing siblings; Sashi Reddi, serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist and C Vijayakumar, CEO HCL Technologies. The alumni are affectionately called “OL’s” after the name of their association, the Old Lawrencian Association, which has chapters in major cities in India and across the world.

And this past Tuesday, May 23, these OL’s had gathered through their informal social email network, at the home of Atul Vir, a 1968 graduate, to welcome in their midst another 1975 alumni who studied alongside Vir for 7 years, Deepak Dalal and his wife Marzia, who made a brief three-day stopover on his way from watching birds and wildlife in Costa Rica enroute to Israel and Frankfurt before heading back to their home in Pune, north of Mumbai.

As Dalal explained, he had made a similar detour in his own life and career after he left the Lawrence School. He had trained as a chemical engineer at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and then joined the family business but got bored. “I was too influenced by the beautiful hills of Lovedale,” he told the crowd of eager listeners before dinner. “I couldn’t become a city person after that; I loved trekking and traveling too much.”

Instead, Dalal, followed in the footsteps of his mother, the noted Indian food writer, chef, cookbook author and cooking show host, the late Padma Shri Tarla Dalal, and became a writer. “Growing up in In India, we all read Enid Blyton and The Hardy Boys but there was nothing done in the Indian setting where we have deserts, islands, mountains and other great locales,’ he continued.
So Dalal embarked on writing the VikramAditya series of adventure stories and other travelogues based “in India for Indian children”. He has since written eight – Ranthambore, Snow Leopard, Sahyadri (after the hills near his home in Pune) – Anirudh’s Dream; Sahyadri – Koleshwar’s Secret; Andaman – The Jarawa; Andaman – Barren Island; Lakshadweep and Ladakh – and is now working on another on the history of Bombay.

He began his talk with a short slide show of the variety of colorful birds he had seen in Costa Rica; then moved on to show scenes from his expedition to Ladakh to research the elusive snow leopard for his book. He then showed pictures of tigers in Ranthamore, noting that in the past 100 years, their population has dwindled from 100,000 to 2,000. Twelve years after becoming a writer, in 2010, Dalal turned publisher, launching Tarini Books and came out with his Sahyadri books. He shared scenes of a bygone Mumbai when Churchgate referred to the nearby church (still visible) and Fort meant the battlement in the area.

With many more stories to trade between them, the group of OL’s ended the night with Rashid Kapadia’s presentation from his recent trip back to Lovedale and the group joining in on old school songs.