The Doon School

The Doon School
The Doon School
India Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, India,
Motto Knowledge our light
Founded September 10, 1935
Founder Satish Ranjan Das
Headmaster Peter McLaughlin
Faculty 67
Pupils 480
Campus 69 acres (280,000 m²)
Colour(s) Blue and gold

The Doon School is an independent school located in Dehradun in the state of Uttarakhand in India. Established in 1935, it was founded by Satish Ranjan Das. Its first Headmaster was Arthur E. Foot, a former science master at Eton College.

The school has 480 students, graduating classes number about 80, and the total number of alumni who have graduated, since the school was founded, is estimated at 5,000.

There are 67 teachers, of which 15 are women, with a teacher:student ratio of 1:8. The school offers 120 scholarships, including partial and full financial support, and approximately 25% of the students benefit from financial aid. Doon is a boys-only school; the only girls who have studied there have been the daughters of schoolmasters.

The goal of the school is to provide young Indians with a liberal education, and to instill in them a respect for the ideals of secularism, discipline and equality. The school is a member of the G20 Schools and the Round Square groups, the United Kingdom's Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference and the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.



Doon owes its founding to S.R. Das, an eminent lawyer from Calcutta who, in 1927, became Law Member of Lord Irwin's Executive Council on the condition that he might use the prestige of this position to raise funds for a new type of public school in India. He traveled widely in India with a goal of collecting Rupees 40 lakhs, but at the time of his death had raised only Rs. 10 lakhs in cash, and another Rs. 10 lakhs in promises. Mr. Das also formed the Indian Public Schools Society with the object of founding new public schools in India that would admit students without regard to caste, creed or social status. (In a technical sense, the IPSS "owns" The Doon School although the school operates independently.)

Following Mr. Das's death in 1928, the IPSS did not accomplish very much and by 1934 some of the donors of the Rs. 10 lakhs had started to inquire about the return of their money. At this point, Sir Joseph Bhore, then Railway Minister of Lord Willingdon's Council, became Chairman of the IPSS, and with Sir Akbar Hydari as Secretary, worked to obtain from the former estate of the Forest Research Institute in Dehra Dun on favorable terms. Lord Halifax, then President of the Board of Education, lead a selection committee that picked Arthur E. Foot, a science master at Eton College to be the first Headmaster.

The Houses at the new School were originally named for their respective housemasters, but later renamed to honor the largest donors to the Indian Public School Society:

  • Hyderabad House, after Sir Akbar Hydari secured a contribution of Rs. 2 lakhs from the Nizam of Hyderabad's Government.
  • Kashmir House, after Maharajah Hari Singh promised a contribution of Rs. 1 lakh which was delivered in 1935.
  • Tata House, after the Tata and Wadia Trusts promised Rs. 1.5 lakhs, of which half was delivered in 1935.
  • Jaipur House, after Rai Bahadur Amarnath Atal arranged for contributions of Rs. 1 lakh from the Jaipur Durbar and smaller contributions from the tributary Thikanas.

(No building was named after Rai Bahadur Rameshwar Nathany whose donation of Rs. 1 lakh was initially made anonymously.)

On October 27, 1935, the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, came to preside over the formal opening of the school. There were 70 boys enrolled in the first term, and another 110 boys had signed up for the second term.

Jana Gana Mana by Rabindranath Tagore was chosen as the school song in 1935;[1] the song was later adopted by India as the national anthem in 1947. Consequently, Jana Gana Mana is traditionally referred to as "School Song No. 1" at Doon, reflecting its position in the School's song book, rather than by its formal name or as the national anthem.


Arthur Foot had never visited India before accepting the position, and knew little of Dehradun beyond what he found after consulting an atlas: he noted that it appeared to be surrounded by forests and close to mountains, and the possibilities of outdoor recreation and mountaineering appeared to have influenced his decision as much as the chance to create a completely new type of school in India.[2]

Foot's first action upon being offered the position was to recruit John (J.A.K.) Martyn from Harrow as his deputy. Doon's ethos and guiding principles were determined early in its life by Foot, Martyn, RL Holdsworth and Jack Gibson (who went on to become Principal of Mayo College). While these masters all came from very traditional British schools, they were determined to create a uniquely Indian public school rather than a transplanted British institution, and they were soon joined in their efforts by equally influential Indians such as Sudhir Khastigir (the school's first art teacher, who had trained previously at Santiniketan) and Gurudial Singh (a pioneering mountaineer, who taught at Doon for several decades and acquired a reverential following among generations of alumni).

In an essay entitled The Objects of Education published in the school magazine, Foot outlined the basic template for a Doon education:

A complete education should teach a child:
1. to be able to distinguish between good and evil;
2. to form the habit of choosing good rather than evil;
3. to have his brain trained to think logically;
4. to have a reasonably wide general knowledge of important facts about the world in which we live;
5. to be able to express himself clearly in speech or in writing in the language or languages of the people with whom he will work;
6. to have a body that is healthy, strong and vigorous, and to know how to look after it;
7. to have developed a sensitiveness to beauty and taste and feeling that will strive to eradicate ugliness from his surroundings.[2]

In other essays, Foot marked the milestones in the development of each student:

By 14 he should have learnt all the ordinary principles of social behavior. He should know how to stand up and speak to a variety of different types of people -- to his own mother, to someone else's mother, to his father, to his schoolmasters, to servants, to Mahatma Gandhi or to the Viceroy, and to do this without any self-consciousness... At fourteen a boy should have constructed a framework of competence in language, in mathematical ability, and in social behavior. After that age he is, as it were, filling in a design to the framework. In short he learning to exercise taste... At 16, he acquired taste, a sense of the beautiful and the ugly, of the strong and the weak, of good and evil... At 17 must come another quality, less instinctive and requiring a maturer mind: he must acquire a capacity for judgement.[2]

In a letter to parents, written in 1940 in the context of World War II, Jack Gibson wrote:

There are still too many boys blind to what they could see and deaf to what they could hear. They leave their minds blank, to be filled by the unbeautiful and untruthful, by unscrupulous propaganda, by debased public taste, by flattery and by appeals to fears and prejudices, to which a person without a mind of his own turns for second-hand and usually second-class opinions... When they leave school, they will join the ranks of those whose opinions are made for them by dictators, party leaders, or the writers of advertisements for patent medicines: it will depend upon what rut they get into... In these anxious times, it is more than ever important that each boy must train himself to think clearly so that he will be willing to come to conclusions that may be different from what he has expected and may point to something different from what we were brought up to believe to be the accepted order. He must train his body to undergo hardships and be prepared for unexpected discomforts, and above all he must awaken and sharpen his sympathies for and understanding of people outside his own class and circle.[2]

Martyn, who became Doon's second Headmaster and had a continuing involvement with Doon over several decades, acknowledged the influence of Kurt Hahn in the development of Doon's ethos:

I do not think I would ever have come to India if it had not been for that very remarkable German Jew, Kurt Hahn... When I first knew him I was teaching history at Harrow and he was head of Salem, a school he had established on the shores of Lake Constance, based on the ideas of Plato and the principles of British public schools... I longed to put his ideas into practice but at conservative Harrow I had no opportunity to do so. When I read in The Times that A.E. Foot of Eton had been appointed headmaster of a new public school to be opened for Indian boys at Dehra Dun, I offered to come with him and my offer was accepted... I had no previous interest in India; what interested me was the chance of starting a public school in a new environment... It was Arthur Foot who did the main planning, but luckily his ideas ran parallel to my own. I would not have been as bold as he was in trying to eliminate punishments, but we were equally keen on providing as wide a range as possible of activities that were creative and challenging... The problem, as we saw it, was to create an atmosphere in which boys would learn the importance of public spirit at the same time as they acquired self-confidence and initiative.[3]

Life at Doon

Doon follows the House System, with five administrative units, or dorm-like houses, named, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kashmir, Oberoi and Tata. Each house is run by a Housemaster, who is assisted by a senior boy known as the House Captain. One senior boy serves as School Captain and assisted by School Prefects from each of the houses. In addition, there are two holding houses, Foot and Martyn, named after former Headmasters, where new students live for one year before they move into the main houses.

The academic year consists of two terms: the Spring Terms runs from February through the end of May and is followed by the summer vacation, and the Autumn Term starts in August and lasts till the end of November, followed by the winter vacation.

Grade levels are referred to as forms and are designated by letters:

  • F form = 5th grade (now defunct)
  • E form = 6th grade (now defunct)
  • D form = 7th grade
  • C form = 8th grade
  • B form = 9th grade
  • A form = 10th grade
  • S form = 11th grade
  • Sc form = 12th grade

Individual class periods are referred to as schools. The school day begins with First Bell soon after 6:15AM (and, indeed, a series of hand-rung bells punctuate daily life for the boys). The boys get chhota haazri before doing calisthenics outdoors on the playing fields. There are two schools before breakfast, followed by five schools before lunch. All meals are served in a Central Dining Hall and boys from each table take turns acting as waiters for their table-mates. The afternoon includes a rest period as well as time devoted to various extra-circular activities. In the later afternoon there are compulsory sports before dinner. Dinner is followed by Toye time (an obscure term for evening prep that originated at Winchester College) when the students do homework and study on their own. Lights Out is at 9PM and breaking bounds to sneak into town late at night remains a tradition.

Extracurricular activities and sports are a compulsory part of school life: cricket, hockey and football are seasonal sports. Tennis, table tennis, badminton, squash, basketball, swimming, boxing, athletics and gymnastics tournaments are also available. There are around 23 clubs and societies including debating and chess, and magazines are published in English and Hindi. The Doon School Weekly (established in 1936) is distributed to the school community every Saturday morning.

Social work, known formally as Socially Useful Productive Work, is also part of school life, based upon Foot's precept that "the boys should leave Doon School as members of an aristocracy, but it must be an aristocracy of service inspired by ideas of unselfishness, not one of privilege, wealth or position."[2] Over the years, generations of Doscos have helped teach underprivileged children in the Dehra Dun area, and the school has worked with villagers in the construction of houses, community centers and school buildings; sanitation systems; energy efficiency systems; self-employment and small scale irrigation systems.

The school awards include School Colours, Sports Colours, the Games Blazer, and the Scholar's Blazer. The school originally had no valedictorian or commencement ceremony and boys would leave as soon as they had completed their board exams. In March 2011, an annual ceremony was established to celebrate the graduating class's departure from the School.

Midterms & Mountaineering

Halfway through each term, the boys take a one-week Midterm: a rugged trip often through the Siwalik Hills or Himalayas which senior boys take unaccompanied and which they plan themselves. This includes camping out in tents, cooking their own food and hiking. Alumni have credited these Midterms as being among their most formative and character-building experiences while at school since they require a great deal of self-determination, planning, effort and endurance, particularly for boys who go on five-day treks in the Himalayas unaccompanied by any teachers. ("Jamming" a midterm, which involves sneaking off to an unauthorized destination such as a city offering greater attractions than a remote mountain, continues today although the consequences of being caught are severe.)

Doon has been credited with pioneering mountaineering in India,[4] thanks to the considerable talents and efforts of masters such as RL Holdsworth, Jack Gibson and Gurudial Singh, and alumni such as Nandu Jayal.[5] Notable climbs by Doscos include Bandarpunch in 1950, Kala Nag (6,387 meters) in 1956, Trisul in 1951, Kamet in 1955, Abi Gamin in 1953 and 1955, Mrigthuni (6,855 meters) in 1958, Jaonli (6,632 meters) in 1964, Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2009, and both Gran Paradiso and Mont Blanc in 2010.

Expeditions by Doscos have had their own idiosyncrasies: after Gurudial Singh lead a successful climb of Trisul, he performed a headstand asana on the summit as a tribute to the Hindu god Shiva who is said to abide within Trisul ; Holdsworth has been described as holding the high-altitude record for smoking a pipe, which he did on the summit of Kamet after the first ascent in 1931; and, as a lark, two Doscos climbed Mont Blanc in 1951 wearing cricket boots[6].

The boys

The vast majority of Doscos are Indians, but a dwindling number are from Pakistan: they studied at Doon before Partition forced them to leave in 1947. Relations between Indian and Pakistani Doscos have remained warm over the years, despite the long history of conflict between the two countries.

Bangladeshi boys continue to study at the school, as do boys from Nepal.

Doon remains a boys-only school despite continued pressure to become coeducational[7]. A small number of girls, all daughters of schoolmasters, have studied at Doon over the years.

Discipline has always been strict, and the school has expelled chidren from well-known families. In the 1950s Headmaster J.A.K. Martyn's suggestion that Sanjay Gandhi finish his senior year elsewhere was unquestioningly accepted by his mother, Indira Gandhi. In contrast, Doon's decision to expel a ward of Chief Minister Nityanand Swami of Uttarkhand in 2001 resulted in threats to cut off power and water[8] (nothing came of these threats after Mr. Swami discovered that Doon had stronger political connections than he did).

Doon has slang typical of a public school, including tuck shop (for purchasing snacks), change-in-break (a particularly annoying form of punishment), quis-ego, bags (dibs), lend (sycophant), scopat (ambitious to a fault), don't die (just kidding), sneak (tattle tail), vella (idle) and many others. Many boys acquire a nickname which often attaches for life, and can see variations of the same assigned to siblings, sons, and even grandsons who later attend Doon.

The campus

The school consists of a single campus, covering approximately 70 acres (280,000 m2) in the city of Dehradun in the state of Uttarakhand in India.

To house the School, the Indian Public Schools Society acquired Chandbagh Estate in Dehradun from the Forest Research Institute. Part of the estate, where the Central Dining Hall is now located, was once a deer park. The IPSS also acquired an adjoining estate from the descendants of James Skinner, which forms the part of the campus known as Skinner's Field. At the time of acquisition, Skinner's was an overgrown and somewhat neglected estate, and its most prominent features were two sheds formerly used for housing elephants.

While the grounds are beautiful, with gardens and rare trees, life for boys is monastic: they sleep on narrow beds and study in unheated rooms; the floors are rough stone and the lights are fluorescent tubes.


Doon and other schools

Historic links

Welham Boys School, from its foundation in 1937 through the early 1980s, acted a preparatory school to Doon and Mayo College. This link ended when Surendra "Charlie" Kandhari, a Dosco and former Housemaster at Doon, became Principal of Welham and transformed it to a high school. As a result, many Doscos from the 1940s through the 1970s are also Welhamites.

Doon has long had a familial relationship with Welham Girls School: several families who chose to send their boys to Doon also chose to send their daughters to Welhams, and many Doscos over the years have married alumni of Welham Girls. An annual "dance social" with Welham Girls was the highlight of the senior year for many Doscos, and alumni events are sometimes coordinated by the alumni of both schools.

In 1998 the Chand Bagh School was established by Pakistani Doscos approximately 40 km north of Lahore, Pakistan, and modeled on the general structure of Doon.

Exchange Programs

Doon has exchange programs with a number of overseas schools; at present, a small number of Doscos are attending[9]:

And Doon is current hosting students from the following schools:

The school is a member of the G20 Schools and the Round Square groups, the United Kingdom's Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference and the International Boys’ Schools Coalition. The BBC's World Olympic Dreams School Search twinned Doon with The Thomas Hardye School in Jan 2011.

Schools with similar names

As India's private schooling industry expanded, several schools were established that appear to have been named in a deliberately confusing manner: there is the Doon Global School, Doon Presidency School, Doon International School, Doon Preparatory School, Doon Cambridge School, Doon Girls School, Doon Public School (which is not even located in the Doon Valley), and even a Doon College of Spoken English, none of which are related to The Doon School.[8] Some schools have even adopted Doon's idiosyncrasies at face value: for example, the Delhi Public School offers "Marker Cups" to those who get the highest "marks" in examinations; Doon's Marker Cups, which also are awarded to those who score the highest in particular subjects, were named for the Marker family of Pakistan who donated the Cups.

Doon in films

  • In the movie Aisha, the character named Randhir Ghambir is a Dosco.[10]
  • More controversially, the film Dazed in Doon, which was commissioned by the School on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, and produced by an ex-Dosco Ashvin Kumar, was banned because it "doesn't give the school a good name".[11][12] The dispute remains unresolved between the school and Mr. Kumar.[13][14][15] See main article: Ashvin Kumar.

Doon in fiction

  • In Salman Rushdie's anthology of short stories East, West, the characters Zulu and Chekhov are Doscos.
  • In Kiran Doshi's Birds of Passage the central character Abhay is a Dosco.
  • Vikram Seth used his own experiences of being bullied at Doon, to model the character of Tapan in A Suitable Boy.
  • The title character in Aminuddin Khan's A Right Royal Bastard is a Dosco.

Doon in research

Notable alumni

Rajiv Gandhi (Class of 1960)

Old boys of the school are known as Doscos, although the more correct term is ex-Dosco since within Doon itself pupils are known as Doscos and alumni are referred to as ex-Doscos or, more simply, as Old Boys. The term Dosco is a contraction of Doon and School.

Foot defined "success" for a Dosco in broad terms, with an emphasis on public service:

Eighteen -- the close of the last chapter, the end of the last examination, the whistle to finish the last game, the last Golden Night, the last good-bye at the railway station. Now it is too late to worry about the things you might have done better at school but you can go out in confidence that evil things will be forgotten and only kindnesses remembered. Yellow cards and Red cards will all be burnt but the Honours Book will be preserved. The goals you scored and not the goals you missed are down in the record... When you leave the school you have probably already decided on the next step in your career. What is going to be your outlook? Are you going to use your equipment and your opportunities in order to secure as much as possible of wealth and power and influence with the great? Is it your ambition to be a successful member of an acquisitive society? Do you hope your education will enable you to get more from your country or give more to it? Will the monument you leave behind you (for you cannot take it with you) be a palace on Malabar Hill or will it be built up in the hearts of the people you have served?[2]

Doscos have achieved prominence in politics, government service, and the armed forces of India and Pakistan, as well as commerce, journalism, the arts and literature. They include former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, nine Cabinet Ministers, two Chief Ministers, several members of the Indian Parliament and state Legislative Assemblies; a Naxalite; nineteen generals, two admirals and the former heads of the Indian Air Force and the Pakistani Air Force; and twenty-four Ambassadors (including those from India, Pakistan, Nepal and the United Kingdom).

The writers Vikram Seth, Ramachandra Guha, Vijay Prashad, and Amitav Ghosh, journalists Prannoy Roy and Karan Thapar, film actors Roshan Seth and Himani Shivpuri, social worker Bunker Roy and sculptor Anish Kapoor are all Doscos. Lovraj Kumar was India's first Rhodes Scholar, Abhinav Bindra was the first Indian to win an Olympic gold medal, and Nandu Jayal[5] pioneered mountaineering in India.


  1. ^ Constructing Post-Colonial India: National Character and the Doon School by Sanjay Srivastva [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f The Doon School Sixty Years On, published by the Doon School Old Boys' Society, October 1996.
  3. ^ Sahibs who loved India, edited by Khushwant Singh, September 2009
  4. ^ Encyclopaedia of Travel, Tourism and Ecotourism, Volume 1; by P.C. Sinha [2]
  5. ^ a b For Hills to Climb; editor: Aamir Ali; Published by The Doon School Old Boys' Society
  6. ^ Climbing with the Doon School Richard Anderson, Alpine Journal []
  7. ^ President leads assault on Doon School heritage The Pioneer, Oct 4 2010 [3]
  8. ^ a b India Today April 23, 2001 [4]
  9. ^ Doon School Old Boys Society Newsletter Sept 2011
  10. ^ Bollywood Hungama, June 9, 2010
  11. ^ Doon School bans Ashvin Kumar's film Times of India, Nov 14 2010
  12. ^ Doon film fallout! Times of India, Nov 18 2010
  13. ^ Ex-student's film celebrating Doon draws school's ire Times of India, Dec 25 2010 [5]
  14. ^ My reaction to censorship on Inshallah Football Kashmir Dispatch, Dec 24 2010 [6]
  15. ^ Sharmila denies censoring Jessica, Kashmir Films The Hindu, Dec 24 2010 [7]

Other Sources

  • The Dosco Record is a book of short biographies, similar to what may be found in a Who's Who, which was first produced by J.A.K. Martyn who deliberately modeled it on the Harrow Record. (Martyn had been a schoolmaster at Harrow School before helping A.E. Foot start The Doon School.) As a consequence, alumni are listed in the year in which they joined Doon, rather than the year in which they graduated; Martyn believed that this would make it easier for Doscos to look up their friends. The book is updated every 8 years or so, and is published by the The Doon School Old Boys Society ("DSOBS") and distributed only to alumni. It includes biographical information about every Dosco (even people like Sanjay Gandhi who was expelled before completing his studies); it also highlights family connections between Doscos such as whether a particular Dosco was the son of another Dosco, or married the sister or daughter of another Dosco.
  • The Rose Bowl is a periodic newsletter that contains alumni news, obituaries, reminiscences, etc. It is produced by the DSOBS and distributed by post to all alumni; a PDF version is also sent by email to alumni.
  • The Doon School Register is published, every few years, by the DSOBS. It includes the contact details of every Dosco; deceased alumni are noted as such. Also included are the small number of "Associate Members" (honorary members) of The Doon School Old Boys: for the most part these include former teachers; also included are people such as Salim Ali who had been frequent visitors to Doon and were considered to be part of the Dosco fraternity.
  • Doon, The Story of a School, edited by Sumer Singh, published by the Indian Public Schools Society 1985. This (somewhat slim) book was distributed to alumni and contains essays, reminiscences, and stories about the founding of the Doon School.
  • The Doon School -- Sixty Years On, edited by Pushpinder Singh Chopra, published by the DSOBS in October 1996. This book is similar in many respects to Doon, The Story of a School, but much larger.
  • Constructing Post-Colonial India: National Character and the Doon School by Sanjay Srivastva, published by Routledge 1998.

External links

Doon in the press

Coordinates: 30°20′0.23″N 78°1′49.73″E / 30.3333972°N 78.0304806°E / 30.3333972; 78.0304806

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