The one we called Mother

Somewhere, suspended in the golden past, there is a classroom VII B, with the monsoon clouds looming large outside, my light green raincoat hanging on a peg in the passage, the heart-warming smell of new books and sharpened pencils and a voice on the speaker leading us in prayer.

annes

We were many new girls that year in the mid 80’s. Funnily, all of us had names starting with S! Sarada, Simran, Sumati, Sarina and me- Suchitra. The classes were much smaller than the ones I was used to in Delhi, the corridors quieter, the bathrooms sparkling clean. There was no standing in balconies, no running up the stairs and definitely no shouting. While many may have chafed at such discipline, I thrived on it. The structure and efficiency put me on a permanent high and I enjoyed every single moment of those four years in school.

“Anne’s Aspirations” on the ground floor right by the staircase were a daily reminder of what future was hoped for us.

We inspire our girls to be women—with a strong faith in god, themselves and others.

Women of intellectual integrity, strong sense of family, simplicity.

To be poised and elegant etc etc…..

But the stand out sentence for me has always been

Women who will transform society, not just fit into it.”

That may not have quite the same ring as ‘smash the patriarchy’ but it was as open a door to that as any! Besides being a brilliant response to those who sigh when I constantly question the status quo, (well that’s what they taught us in school), I would also be inclined to say it contributed to the evolution of my feminism. I am sure that all of us Anneites scattered across the globe today, whether we are artists, film makers, home makers, doctors, engineers, architects, editors, entrepreneurs, all carry within us this spark which makes us the leaders and change makers, not just followers.

There is a long list of wonderful teachers who helped shape our personalities and for me—- a very keen interest in studies. Thank you Ms Patrao for the most vivid history lessons ever ( can you imagine that we were divided into the British troops and Indian revolutionaries standing on opposite sides of the classroom and told to RUN towards each other and eventually be bundled into the Black Hole of Calcutta. Try forgetting that chapter!) , Ms Nadkarni (with her acid wit and the most beautiful handwriting), Mrs. Radhakrishnan (a true lover of the English language), Mrs Subbarao ( with her elegant and genteel way of teaching Biology), Mrs Sheshadri ( and her amazing maths worksheets, probably two decades ahead of their time) and Ms Freny Barucha (for going out of her way to coach me in English speaking and to whom I owe my current capacity for public speaking).

But the strong force holding us all together in her iron fist, the sun in this solar system of our school lives, was undoubtedly ‘M la C’ or the woman we knew as Mother. More of a Mary Poppins that a Mrs Weasley, it took me many years after school to recognize what a strong impact she had made on me and moulded and shaped the values I held.

In the mid 80s, much before the middle classes discovered political correctness, we were addressing as ‘helpers’ those who swept and cleaned and worked in the school. We celebrated their day and thanked them. Our school captains were called Leaders. We had a Ring Ceremony during school leaving and I still have the silver ring safely tucked away in my cupboard. We had tables filled with a delightful heap of books for academic prizes and I still remember the thrill of seeing those tables in the Principal’s office every year, super excited about choosing my book. Among the books I chose and read were Rebecca and Gone with the Wind. What a wonderful way to inculcate a love of reading and give a book so much value!

It is difficult to articulate exactly what she did since we were too young to sense the dynamics or understand the workings of a school, but she was clearly the one who gave direction to the way things ran. She was the thought leader and while everyone who passed through those years in St Anne’s may not feel so strongly, I for one am eternally grateful to her for creating a school which was clean, disciplined and had a strong culture of efficiency and doing the right thing that permeated through everything we did.

All of us remember her stern expression telling us: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” Sometimes she would pop out of her office and look at us admonishingly if we had been clattering up the stairs. But there would always be a twinkle in her eye and she would tuck her wimple and give us a crooked smile and we knew that she loved us with all our imperfections (even with rolled down socks and rolled up skirts contrary to her commands….)

Despite being a convent run school, we had the most secular upbringing with no overt Catholicism imposed on us in any way. The only time we would be reminded of being in a convent was when the Catholic students would disappear to the mysterious 4th floor for one class while we did Value Ed.

We had opportunities to do everything from state level handwriting competitions to sports, from inter school essay competitions to walking down single file to Regal to see ‘Quo Vadis’ and then ‘Gandhi’. We sang, we danced (bless you Kavita Shahani for giving us the fright of our lives with your language and temper), we had inter house dramatics, Hindi and Marathi elocution, Sports day, Helpers’ day, Children’s day, Teachers’ day. We prayed, we debated, we marched around the ‘backgarden’. I know I am sounding like it was just a couple of midnight feasts and tuck boxes away from an Enid Blyton school. But that is genuinely how it was for me. I loved the school and I simply could not get enough!

Some of us visited her in Pune a couple of years ago. She looked a bit older but with the same twinkle in her eyes. She recognized me right away and we spent a good hour reminiscing about the teachers we had during my time. As we left, she reminded me that every day and every night, every Anneite is in her prayers.

with MlaC

As we hear news today that she is ailing, we hope she knows that she is in the thoughts and prayers of every Anneite who ever knew her. My batch mate just said on the school whatsapp group that she identifies herself as an ‘eternal Anneite’ and so let the last words here be our Anne’s anthem:

Come Anneites ! Gather now, with faith un- shaken, let deep integrity our hearts awaken, where in the world we go, let faith and courage show that we will always know, our Alma Mater.

 

 

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68 thoughts on “The one we called Mother

  1. What a lovely tribute, Suchitra. Teachers are the character builders of society, and every once in a while a towering personality such as M la C comes along to guide and mould amazing group of young people who become torch bearers themselves to make a freer more beautiful world……!!

    Just as it takes someone special like M la C to recognise the potential in her students, it takes a very special student like you to regard and recognise her contribution. I send my heartfelt sincere wishes for comfort and peace to Mother.

  2. Well written Suchitra. Brought back the 12 years that I spent at Anne’s.feel proud to be an Annite

  3. So touching… So true…. Beautifully expressed, Suchita! M La C will live in our hearts and through us in others we influence around us.

    She is a very special woman, always way ahead of her time. Any attempt to describe her fine qualities and her amazing personality will fall short.

    Thank you for reminding us what a wonder leader and principal we all had. We will always love and respect her!

  4. suchitra what a lovely note it just got back so.many memories got my childhood and most importantly being an Annite back….
    wishing mother a speedy recovery

  5. I am from the 90’s batch….Mother has been and will always be a great inspiration to me, for the woman I have become today…have never forgotten her teachings and values…Love you Mother.

  6. Thank you, Suchitra for a beautiful tribute to mother and all our teachers. M la C, shaped us to be the strong women we are today. She gave us the courage to stand up for what we believe in and taught us to follow our dreams.

    With her love and dedication, she unites a generation of us Annites together. The Silver ring continues to be the connection with her heart to ours.

    Will love her always!

  7. Suchitra very well written. I know I was silent and timid in my school years but contrary to that, I became a strong leader through my banking career guiding anf training my colleagues. I owe all this to the teachings of Mother who taught us to stand up in life and make a difference. Get well soon Mother. Amen

  8. Beautifully written, Suchitra. It is always a treat to read your pieces!
    Mother was a larger than life person for most – if not all – of us. Your tribute is truly worthy of her life as an exceptional leader.

  9. What a wonderful tribute, suchitra. MlaC has been a guiding force in our lives. We probably didn’t always appreciate her need for discipline and perfection, but mother is always right and now we know how important that was. She has shaped so many of our thoughts and actions. Wishing her a speedy recovery.

  10. Beautifully said Suchitra. ‘M La C’ and St. Anne’s have been a very big part of my life and that of many girls I know.

  11. Thank you Suchitra for so beautifully speaking for all us Annites. Regardless of the year we were in Annes…Mother touched us all equally!! She sent accomplished, strong value driven women into the world with every batch. Feel so blessed to have her touch my life. She was an institution by herself. Such educationists (in every sense of the word) are a rare breed!

  12. Hey I am in Pune and would love to go see Mother……please could you give me some details as to which hospital she is in?

    • Hi Ritu, as far as I know she is not in hospital but being looked after at the St Joseph home where she has been living ? Can you contact me on whatsapp at 9820630689 and I can connect you to a friend in Pune who knows the place.

  13. This is a very powerful article Suchitra. It is amazing to see the influence Mother Colombiere had on all of us. Ms Nadkarni was by far the most amazing teacher I ever had and I often speak to my kids about how blessed we were to have teachers like Ms Patrao( in her own unique style) and Mrs Sheshadri who was such a visionary. Thanks for bringing back good memories and my thoughts and prayers are with Mother

  14. What an absolutely beautiful piece on M La Columbiere and an incredibly accurate pen picture
    Suchitra!

    We are the 1967 batch and the first one to pass out under her term as Principal at St. Annes. .. way before your time but I just couldn’t hold myself back from complimenting you on the graphic, beautifully composed piece….wish she could get to hear what you’ve written about her…. she is truly one of a kind, … the kind God creates once in a while and throws the mould away

    She was a true Mover and Shaker, way ahead of her time and a Change Manager par excellent … even in her first year, young as we were, one could palpably sense the changes rapidly taking place …. there was no stopping her…. a woman with clear vision and a strong sense of purpose and determination to take the school to the soaring heights of excellence .

    For us, the oldies, it made fascinating reading to see how she impacted all her students, the teachers … just a few from our time …. so good to hear you mention my top favourite Ms Nadkarni 😊

    We had a class reunion in Mumbai in January this year, and one of the first things we did, was to visit our Alma Mater….. walk through all the classes, canteen and chapel reliving our happy times forty years ago!!

    We read Anne’s Aspirations with a sense of pride and fascination as it aptly summarises the strong values that the school has been creating in the batches that followed ours.

    I was delighted to see a photograph of her with you…. a much older, gentler version of our Princi…. the same lovely smile !!!And I loved the short habit too👏👏. She looked so happy to see you.

    And with this note comes a fervent prayer for her protection and well being. May her strong will help her to overcome this hurdle too….Amen

    • Thank you Anjum ! It is such a blessing to have had her and of course the one-of-a-kind teachers like Ms Nadkarni and Ms. Patrao and others. Thank you for sharing your memories. Perhaps we should have a multi batch reunion sometime soon ?!

      • A super idea!

        The School is trying to create an Alumni association but I live in Delhi and it doesn’t make much sense for me

        However there are a few who have enrolled

  15. Gosh awesome, I found tears rolling down.. after mom ..yes she was ‘mother’ to me and all Annites. Theres a place in our heart that she has set her impression forever, today as she is suffering we pray for her healing and if its time for her transition ..may it be peaceful.

  16. Thanks very much for writing this one. Certain virtues became ingrained, and great fun was had in the gleaming, spick and span classrooms, corridors and performance spaces of St. Anne’s! I joined in Grade VIII and thought I’d entered a wonderland. I loved Annterprise, and remember visiting the press one overcast Bombay mid-morning on a school field trip. Like you, I remember strolling to a movie show – we saw The Sound of Music. I met my best friends there. As Principal, Mother Colombiere was the gold standard, an upright and devoted professional woman whom I appreciate more and more as the years pass. Thank you, Mother, for your lifelong work, and may you stay strong.

    • Thank you Kohinoor ! For me, the feeling of being cocooned inside Anne’s while the overcast sky and rains and the world in general moved along outside somewhere over there is one of the reasons I love the monsoons in Mumbai so much ! Mother was indeed the gold standard.

  17. Lovely article suchita
    We are all because of her. Am proud to be an annite
    Always. God bless our dear Mother always

  18. My buddy annite… you have truly touched our hearts by this write up… Mother will be proud and am sure she will know that you have followed the path… light and healing to our true mentor — our mother.

  19. What lovely memories you evoked of my years in St Anne’s. I passed out in 1985 and remembered all the teachers you mentioned.

    Hope mother gets better soon. She must be well into her 80’s right? Surprised to learn she still lives in India.

    Thank you once again Suchitra.

  20. Such beautiful words, Suchitra! Mother is truly our mother, who has raised so many daughters (Annites) now scattered all over the globe. We are eternally grateful to her. She will always be a very significant part of our past. She helps us live everyday to the fullest as we are reminded of so many value of judgement lessons she taught us through the years. She continues to shape our future and makes us bold in our actions and beliefs, sincere in our work and commitments and gives us strength and wisdom in our daily lives. May you live a long and healthy life always, dear Mother! You are truly our angel on Earth! She has had a profound impact on my life and I am very blessed to have had her in my life. God Bless You, Mother!

  21. Mother La Colombiere and St. Anne’s really moulded us into women with a backbone and the ability to stand up for what’s right. Over the years, we’ve probably unlearned some of our very good manners we were taught in school but it’s just too easy to spot a typical Annite anywhere.

  22. I forgot to mention that I’ve read this about four times since yesterday and every time, it’s evoked deep emotion and brought me to tears. Very beautifully written indeed!

    • Thank you so much Anita , for your kind words. I have also been in a cloud of nostalgia for the good old days ever since I wrote it up……

  23. Such a beautiful read of a beautiful time spent. I literally went down the memory lanes… could smell the rain, new books and visualise the dark corridors during the monsoons… could again feel the anxiety and excitement of a new year in a new class. Could feel my heart beat as we would quiten our chatter while passing through her office area while going to the library on the same floor. Can hear her voice on the intercom! Rarely does anyone leave such a lasting impression! May God bless Mother and ease her pain in these difficult days…
    Thank you for writing this article and reminding all of us again of our Alma Mater!

  24. Thank Suchitra – this was a trip down nostalgia lane and for all of us who are still in touch she is that North Star that defines our years at Anne’s.
    Your writing brought it all back. Thank you!

  25. What a wonderful tribute Suchitra… Your words bought back happy memories and made me very nostalgic. Mother was a very important person in my life too. May her soul rest in peace.

  26. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel. She was an inspiration to me personally. I’ll be holding my elbows in the palms of my hands in her honour today.

  27. It was a heart warming recap of the best years of my life. Thanks Suchitra for reawkening those memories and putting to words the grateful feeling I share for all the people involved. Haven’t been able to stop the reminiscing or the tears since I heard of m la c moving on yesterday. She will always be in our hearts.

  28. This is a brilliant piece Suchitra, thank you for taking us down memory lane.
    For many of us Annites, Mother was a third parent, the strict one, the one who practised what she preached, the one who prayed for every single one of us everyday.
    There was an incident that sparked this terror in me of Mother when I was in Std 1. She was having assembly outside the main door of the school and I arrived very late somehow. I ran past the lines of senior girls in my red checks and two plaits and to my misfortune ran straight into Mother standing on the steps facing her audience. I tried to get away but she grabbed me by the nearest plait and lectured the big girls on the virtues of punctuality while I trembled in front of the lot of them. I still have anxiety about being on time, but as I got to know Mother better while working on the school magazine when I was a lot older, the terror subsided and was replaced by awe.
    She blew my mind away with her logical convictions about the love of God. This has stayed me all my life and carried me through a few rough patches.
    “This too shall pass” was her motto against suffering. Such a practical and no nonsense approach.
    I learnt from Mother to have a goal every single day and evaluate my life at the end of each day, having a daily to do list and crossing out the accomplished has got to be one of the most satisfying parts of my day.
    She is in the arms of her beloved God the Father. She used to say man could go crazily round in circles trying to understand God because we have such limited minds. She is at peace now because she has understood.

    • Thank you Megan ! You have put it so well–she was like a third parent because she really cared about each and every one of us like we were her children.

  29. Thank you for sharing. It brought back wonderful memories of our beloved school and a the strong woman we all cal mother. Who has had a profound impact on our lives.
    RIP Mother

  30. Beautifully written Suchitra! Thank you for capturing the remarkable individual that was Mother, her positive impact on our lives and her legacy! I consider myself very fortunate to have had her in my life – albeit for 2 years. I was teary eyed reading your words – they transported me back to my time at Anne’s and I could hear Mother saying “This is the first day of the rest of your life”. She is home now and at peace. Love to all of you.

    • Thank you Sonali ! I hope everyone who is in Mumbai knows that the memorial service will be held this Saturday at 4.15 pm at the Holy Name Cathedral, next to Fort Convent.

  31. Thankyou Suchitra for a beautiful tribute to mother,she was a great mentor to all us Annites which at the time most of us did not understand or appreciate,but over the passing years the values and discipline than she instilled in us will last us a lifetime,rest in peace mother,you will surely be missed and cherished.

  32. Suchitra, Thank you for putting across so well .you have got so many of us to reflect and express what each of us is feeling and thinking. Mother will live on in our hearts and we are sure to pass on this wealth of values, her legacy well inculcated ..RIP Mother, good bye..Until we meet again. Proud to be an Annite ..Batch 1981

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