A re-union in Lonavala last week with school friends,some of whom I had not met for 45 years,brought back memories of my school days.
We were products of a Bombay school in the early years of India’s independence,and the learning experience was very different from the education imparted in Mumbai schools today. In a class of some two dozen I can recall only one Maharashtrian. Not that we were even remotely conscious of what class,community,caste or region are fellow pupils belonged. It is to the credit of the 150-year-old Convent of Jesus and Mary (Fort),that the parents ranged from film producers and industrialists to clerical staff and press supervisors,but few were conscious of the different income levels. The only distinction among the students was whether you were a Catholic or not. The former studied Catechism and were hopeful of their place in heaven. We studied moral science and the salvation of our souls was in serious doubt. There was no thought of proportionate representation and quotas in those days. The Catholics predominated and there were almost as many Parsees and Jews in the class as there were Hindus.
The school curriculum was not just politically incorrect it was appallingly inappropriate. Rudimentary Marathi was taught,but we never took it seriously,preferring to read Scarlet Pimpernel novels under the desk or pass chits to our neighbours. Similarly,Hindi was given short shrift,since we were comfortable in the knowledge that it need not be counted among your six best subjects when you appeared for the Senior Cambridge O level exam. In the choice between scripture,geography and history,most opted for scripture which was the most scoring. Half the geography syllabus was on the British Isles,so you mugged up that strawberries were grown in the Carse of Gowrie in Scotland,though you might not know that Punjab was the wheat granary of India. Instead of physics and chemistry,the essential text in science was “Health Science for Tropical Schools.”
In the drill period we were taught the Maypole dance and English country jigs. Sewing classes consisted of embroidering elaborate non absorbent face towels and tea cozies,which our mothers did not know what to do with. We had a superb choir and during music periods sang church music and folk songs from Great Britain,but almost no Indian music.
When we left school we seemed extraordinarily ill equipped to face the real world. The nuns were more concerned with inculcating good character,than offering career guidance. The few avenues open to us appeared to be marriage,the airlines or a secretarial job. In college it was a culture shock to come in contact with our contemporaries brimming with self confidence and a pushy “me first” attitude. We had been taught to be self effacing,modest and considerate of our neighbour’s feelings.
To my surprise,I now discover that today most of my classmates,although past 60,are still active in their professions and have done remarkably well in their chosen fields. The class includes a professor of architecture at a leading US university,an author and playwright,a sociologist and development consultant and a society queen who raises funds for charities and figures prominently in the page 3 columns.
There is also an opera singer,a conductor,a piano teacher,an impresario who organises South Indian musical concerts in Europe,a lawyer and appeals officer in the United States Internal Revenue Service,an accountant,a gifted teacher of the deaf,the head of her family run jewellery business in New York,a yoga teacher,a healer through alternative medicine,the wife of one of the country’s most prominent diplomats and a journalist. Clearly the nuns must have done something right in our education.