I hold my head high
I HOLD MY HEAD HIGH
Just heard that our school is celebrating its 100th year!! Its fantastic to know that for the past hundred years it has sent out children into this world who, I am sure, have been taught the same morals and values as me. It’s a seemingly impossible task to write in a page or two ,all that the school inculcated in me (and has stayed with me for a lifetime). I am penning down some of the thoughts and memories from my years there from 1969-1974.
Aah – the freedom and unfettered days of youth! The wide- eyed innocence of School. Life had just begun. I can proudly say that I studied for the six most important, beautiful years at The Convent of Jesus and Mary, Ambala Cantt. Joined in Class VI. It was then a neat, grey two storey building with red borders. Abutting it was another small, three room building, which was for the exalted Seniors and the ‘off-limits” Science Labs. The classrooms were large and airy, with big windows, and long polished corridors. I remember it fondly, a kind of gentleness emanated from it. Rules were followed but we never scared or uncomfortable about them. All the discipline seemed natural. Just a frown was a reprimand enough. There aren't any particular moments or incidents that come to mind on how these ‘hard to come by’ values of right and wrong, good and bad, kindness, politeness - were imparted to us, yet they somehow just formed part of our being. Ragging was unheard of, seniors looked after us and we looked up to our seniors, the teachers never raised their voices but we did as we were told. Moral Science was taught and the moral of the story always had a way of becoming a part of our life growing up.
I don’t recall much of Class VI – only that it was a co-ed then - we had large wooden tables and chairs and we sat in pairs. If you were made to sit next to a boy – were in the dog house. Behind me sat a boy called Georgie - that's his real name. I used to wear my hair in two plaits . He obviously did not like them because for some unknown reason he would often pull them!?! Georgie if you read this please call and apologise.
Our uniform was a white shirt and pleated skirt – all one piece. Red buttons, red belt, red socks and last but not least red ribbons completed the ensemble. It was then the only Convent in Ambala Cantt. Like most children I cycled to school everyday, though there were a few school buses from the Army areas too . It seems strange to me when I see the limousines drive up outside schools nowadays dropping off kids.
School days went by in a blur of games and exams. Vivid memories about the latter part of school when I came into the senior classes. We had an Annual Day and a Sports Day. Annual day was of course the hard work of all the teachers and kids and the pleasure of parents seeing their “angels” performing. Sports Day- we had an athletic track towards the rear of the school building and it was a life and death situation for our House to win the shield. Red House (of which I was the Captain and the loyalty still exists!) Blue House, Green House and Yellow House ( imaginative names like rivers/flowers/lords/ etc. were not in vogue then). We also had Throw Ball and a game called Tenniquoit (took me a lot of dictionaries to find how that was spelt) - played with a rubber ring. Haven’t seen that in a couple of decades!! And obviously the Olympic Committee hasn’t heard of it either!
Now a special mention of the people who shaped my life and my character. Heading the list is one of the softest, gentlest people I have had the privilege of growing up under. ‘Mother Regis’. How long I tried to look for her after I left school. She was the Principal then - she knew each of us by name - but she always confused me and my ‘best friend’ Ruby and always called us by the wrong one, although we didn’t look a bit alike. One day I reached school late, Mother Regis was taking school assembly. She announced “Good morning to all of you, and to you too Pomita, who vaulted so gracefully over the gate”. This was her gentle reprimand. I was never late for school again.
Sir Aneja- our Science teacher- tall, slightly heavily built, a dark moustache and a big black mole on his cheek, if I remember correctly. No special teaching aids, yet molecules and atoms came to life. Sir Gujral- an old turbaned gentleman who wore his long, white beard open- was also working with the science labs - he once came rushing out of the Lab with his beard aflame!! Miss Hannah- oh, our dear Miss Hannah, who taught us the ‘English Language’- whatever I pen now can be credited to her- she used to live on the school premises. When we gave in our essays for correction it was always a tense moment – her glasses delicately balancing on the tip of her nose, her pencil tapping on the table- she would make us stand while she passed critical judgement on it.”And you Miss Pomita, how could you come up with such an awful essay?” She hated the word ‘nice’. “Nice? It conveys nothing!”. Miss, please note I have not used it even once!
Miss Virk – our English Literature teacher. She wore salwaar kameezes – Patiala salwars- hey, they were fashionable then too! She used to cycle to school, we always wondered how it never got caught in the cycle wheel. We knew it was a Monday when she changed her outfit! How she managed to wash n wear it for a week I am still at a loss to figure out- I mean there were no washing machines and dryers way back then. (She wore her hair in two little headlights on top of her head and a small bun at the back.) She could cry while reading Macbeth to us! That’s how intense Literature was.
Sister Imelda- the oldest nun in school, I think she was probably eighty years old back then, taught us for just a couple of months and then retired. Every time she used the alphabet ‘s’ there was a kind of whistle with it. It seemed extremely funny to us at the time, now I think I am going to be doing the same soon! Life catches up with one, be careful whom you laugh at!
And I just have to devote an entire paragraph to our Geography teacher- Miss Banerjee. For us, she was Miss Ambala, Miss India, Miss Universe all rolled into one! She was tall, slim, beautiful. We adored her. She wore crisp cotton saris with three fourth sleeved blouses, usually contrasting ones. It is not her looks I am talking about- maybe she was not beautiful in the true sense of the word, but the dignity and grace with which she carried herself in a sari, her back always so straight and her held held high. A little bit of her seeps into me every time I wear a sari, and I wonder if I am doing it right, with the same grace. It was an honour and privilege just to carry books to her room, which was also on the campus. Sadly, all too soon, we heard she was getting married and moving to some exotic foreign land!! It was like going to the ends of the earth back then! I think she was the only one for whom I went to the library to write an article on volcanoes. Can you imagine how I felt when she praised me and read it out loud in class? I think nothing has since or can ever give me the pleasure and joy matching that- and I feel the same happiness even today as I think back to that day. Do students feel the same nowadays - I hope so, from the very bottom of my heart!
Whatever and however those wonderful teachers taught us, I don’t know- but there were no tuitions and for some of us our parents did not even know which class we were studying in. That says a lot for those fabulous teachers. They taught us so much more than just our textbooks- they taught us about life, and that’s how, I suppose, we are so well equipped to deal with it today.
These memories always bring a smile to my lips and a tear to my eye! If only one could reverse the years. I miss each of them dearly and hope to catch them all in Heaven, and I’ll still be the same schoolgirl, looking up to them with all the reverence they deserve.
(add something here).......I became a teacher too!! And I love it with a passion! Only they could have inculcated it in me.
I would like to convey my adoration for these wonderful teachers and this great school and I wish the school, faculty, administration and the students all the very, very best for the coming centuries! May all you students have the same schooling, and love for your teachers and school always. I am proud to have been a student there.
Pomita Harmandar Singh (Billy)