Meet some of the former students of the class of 1959, Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram, who celebrated the 50th year of their graduation recently.
All of them are 70-plus years old – wives, mothers, grandmothers and even a great-grandmother, in one case. But for a few precious hours last week, these 25 women became their giggly teenage selves as they recalled their “golden years” as students of the Government College for Women. The occasion was the reunion of the class of 1959, celebrating the 50th year of their graduation….and for a few of them more than 65 years of friendship too.
“It was an informal gathering, an opportunity to catch up with each others lives,” says Sudha Thampy, “de facto leader and conspirator-in-chief” of the group, who along with batch-mate Leela Kaimal came up with the idea for the get-together. “I had kept in touch with a few of them over the years, meeting up with them once in a while, living as they are across the country. We decided that the time was right for a real reunion of the 1955-59 batch. A few of the women got to hear of it from others and called me up, wanting to be part of it. It's extra special because a few of us (around 10) have been classmates since we were tiny tots at Cotton Hill Girls High School. So we are actually celebrating life-long friendships,” adds Sudha.
And what a joyous occasion it was! By 9.30 a.m. all of them had assembled at a hall in Trivandrum Club, effusive hugs, laughter and tears aplenty. Soon the feisty women got down to the business of formally ‘introducing' themselves (in pro-pah English). It turned out that most, if not all of them, were achievers and trendsetters in their own right.
For instance, Dr. Vijayalakshmi Nair was a top scientist at the Indian Institute of Oceanography while Dr. Vishalakshi is retired professor of Agriculture. Dr. Elizabeth ‘Elsie' Leela George retired as the deputy director of the Marine Products Exports Development Authority and Gomathy Muralidharan is Kerala's first woman Electrical Engineer.
Then there is Dr. Jameela Beevi, a former Principal of the Government College for Women, who is the first Muslim postgraduate in chemistry in Kerala. Dr. Mariamma Alexander is a Harvard and Oxford-trained anaesthetist who along with her husband, Dr. Philip Alexander, performed the first open-heart surgery in South India, and more famously she was one of those specialists invited to operate on Amitabh Bachchan!
Leela Kaimal retired as a deputy registrar of the University of Kerala, Radha Devi was a social scientist with the International Institute for Population Science, Mumbai, Dr. Leela Roy, a paediatrician with ISRO…Likewise each of the 25 women (even the “professional” homemakers) had simply amazing stories to tell; stories of breaking moulds, of jumping barriers, of scaling heights and what not.
But throughout the day, it was recollections that kept popping up more, each aiming for the most laughs with ‘Do you remember…' “When some Russian delegates came to visit the college in 1959, we put up a mock wedding. Our teachers Parukutty Amma and Leela Pandala were the bride and the groom, respectively, and we students divided up into the brides' party and the grooms' party and made merry,” recalled Leela Kaimal.
Dr. Elsie recalled another incident thus: “We were gossiping and tucking into green mangoes that we had plucked off an old tree on the campus, when we spotted our teacher Dr. Molly Thomas in the distance. We ran helter-skelter, leaving the mangoes behind. Lo and behold! When we came back to get our mangoes, we found a goat was happily gulping down our treats!” The friends also got to spend time with their teachers – Professors Hridayakumari, Sulochana and Shantakumari on the occasion.
Out of curiosity, we can't help but ask what exactly did the friends ‘gossip' about back in the days.
“The davani–pavada was in vogue then. So we would ogle at lovely tissue wraps that our college-mates wore. There were no ‘love affairs' or the gizmos that young people cart around these days. But there was never any dearth of conversation topics…clothes, engagements/marriages, teachers, food...” says Sudha. As Rema Nair puts it: “In short, those were truly the best years of our lives!”