A man for all seasons

What an amazing tribute to an amazing human being! The funeral service of the Jesuit priest Ambrose Pinto was an affair to remember for its dignity and efficiency. Many tributes spoke of his incredible achievements as a scholar, educationist and social scientist. I like to remember Ambrose as a long time friend and teacher to my children.

I met him in extraordinary circumstances in the year 1980. I was hurrying to a PTA meeting in the school library when I collided with a tall, lanky young man in a T-shirt and shorts, rushing in the opposite direction from the indoor basketball court. He was clutching a ball and dripping with perspiration. "Be careful where you are going, young man," I reprimanded angrily. He grinned sheepishly and vanished.

The next morning, I saw him again. This time, he was walking sedately in his long, white soutane nodding a good morning to students. The vice principal of St. Joseph's Boys High School was on his rounds. This time, it was my turn to apologise. We became the best of friends after that.

Many years later, I used to meet him in the college where he was the principal. I would find him relaxing on a stone bench. We would talk of the sad state of education in the country. Nobody was there to hear us, but we would set right its ills while the sun set! One day, he suddenly asked, "Do you have bad knees?" I told him they were not simply bad, but beyond repair. He immediately went into action, talking about a visiting surgeon in Coimbatore where he would go with me for a knee transplant.

"You must have it or else you will become quite crippled," he warned. I remembered his words as I limped towards the casket holding his lifeless body in the church yesterday. Dear Ambrose, your concern was touching.

He was a spiritual man and a rationalist at the same time. I recall another incident that happened in 1985 when the school celebrated its 125th anniversary. Among the many celebrations, it was decided to have a theatre production on the life of the Jesuit patron saint, Ignatius Loyola. The famed Prabhat Kalavidaru was entrusted with the production, and I was asked to write the script.

My task was difficult. I could not write about the Jesuit saint without mentioning his early life, his loves and the transformation from a swashbuckling warrior to his evolution as a man of god. The play offended devout Catholics in the school. They wanted the script to be slashed. Especially scenes like a young Ignatius courting an aristocratic lady with a song in Latin. There was panic all around.

Ambrose quietly commented: "How can we understand Ignatius Loyola without his transformation?" He offered to take it to the Jesuit Order in Bombay for approval. The play came back with no cuts.

That was Fr. Ambrose Pinto. A man for all seasons.

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