A group of spirited septuagenarians, students of the 1951-52 batch of Holy Angels’ Convent, make it a point to meet every month
Time seemed to stand still at ‘Usha Kiran’ in PTP Nagar when 11 lively women gathered there on a Thursday. Dressed elegantly in saris, the women gracefully walked into the house and were transformed into spirited youngsters in an instance.
The magic began when Shankari Sooryanarayanan visited the capital city 12 years ago. She decided to track down some of her schoolmates. Hoping, at least, to get the address of one of her friends she visited Esperanca at Vanchiyoor, as she remembered that it was the residence of one of her friends. She was pleasantly surprised to find her friend and classmate June Lopes still living there.
“Then we decided to trace the whereabouts of our other classmates. One person led the way to another girl and we managed to locate four of our former classmates in the city,” recalled a feisty June. They met at Komalam S. Nair’s house on Mathrubhumi Road. The next time they gathered together was when another classmate Sarala Kukiliyar came visiting.
That is when the ‘girls’, all of them former students of Holy Angels’ Convent, decided to make it a point to meet each other every month at one of their houses.
“We are all students of the class of 1951-52. Although many of us stayed in many places in India and abroad, a good many of us eventually came back to the city,” explained Komalam. Four of them (Celine Christian, June, Lakshmikutty and Glory Thomas) worked in different capacities in various government organisations while some of them like Komalam, Lalitha Nayar and Shantha Nair worked as teachers and research assistants in prestigious schools and colleges.
Their monthly gathering made news and during the 125th anniversary of their school, they were the cynosure of all eyes when they felicitated Gertrude Lean, their 90-plus former teacher of world history. “Last year, on Teachers’ Day (on September 5), we went to her house with a bouquet of flowers to greet her. She was so pleased to meet all of us,” added Ramani Mathai. Lakshmikutty was in Chennai when she read about this gathering in a Malayalam daily and that is how she got in touch with her former classmates.
“For us, it is a continuation of our school days. The subjects we discuss may have changed but the spirit remains the same. Now we talk about our children and grand children, our aches and pains, the domestic help….everything under the sun, even politics,” said Ramani with a broad smile.
Poised and confident, the septuagenarians eagerly talked about their school days when they gathered at Usha Menon’s house this month. Nicknames were bandied about and old stories dusted and narrated again amidst much laughter and camaraderie. June rides a two-wheeler while Usha is the only one who still drives a car, they said pride writ large on their faces. All of them wanted to ensure that we had the names of Mangala and Shantha on the list. “Mangala is unwell and could not make it to this gathering while Shantha, one of the bubbliest of the lot, is in the United Kingdom. Nora Simon was also an active member of our group till she moved to Bangalore,” explained Komalam.
“Two or three of us could not complete our schooling and had to drop out as we got married. For instance, I got married when I was 14. But we stayed in touch and when we meet the years just fall off,” said Yamuna Parmeswaran.
As they pose for our photographer, the great-grandmothers were teased by the grandmothers who offered to give them chairs to sit on. Vimala Padmanabhan and Ramani, the great-grandmothers, took the banter in their stride and had no hesitation in replying in the same coin.
When did they meet? “Oh a long time ago. Some of us have been together since kindergarten, much before Independence… We had very strict nuns who taught us but that did not prevent us from having fun,” remembered June laughing.
Vimala immediately recollected an incident when some of them, all of nine years old, opened a tap and almost flooded the grounds of the school. “The sisters used to close the tap which was inside a box-like contraption that was kept locked. Once, one of them forgot to remove the key. We managed to open it and open the tap. But then we forgot to close it! Sister was furious and threatened to punish all of us. But Bhawani, whose father was a senior official in the department of education, was amongst us. They did not want to punish her and tried to send her back to class. But she boldly refused and told them that she was also equally guilty. In that way, we escaped with a scolding,” she reminisced.
Some of them recounted how they used to travel in a kind of open school bus that had a horn with a stentorian sound. “Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma, the then prince of the royal family of erstwhile Travancore, was very fond of horse riding and sometimes he would follow the bus on horseback… He was quite a prince charming,” they recollected amidst giggles and laughter.
Lalitha remembered how Rajalakshmi Nair was called the ‘girl in blue’ as she was always dressed in blue. “That was because my father used to go to the shop and buy bales of the same coloured cloth for all three of us sisters. The tailor used to come home, take our measurements and stitch our dresses. For a year, we had to wear those to school,” said Rajalakshmi with a smile.
Ramani laughed when she recalled an incident in lower primary. “Most of the nuns did not speak Malayalam and so we had to speak in English. Half the time, I could never understand what they were talking. One day, I missed the bus and could not go to school. The next day, I was petrified as I wondered how I could explain why I was absent the previous day. My mother told me to tell her ‘I missed the bus’. I did that and I remember the sister remarking to another nun ‘Oh, finally she is picking up English!’”
June talked about how she was punished in school because she wore a frock that did no quite cover her knees. And so the banter continued, well after we left, with a promise to meet next at Lakshmikutty’s house. The fun never ends for these young-at-heart yesteryear ‘girls’ of Holy Angels’ Convent.