Margaret’s eyes crinkle with joy as she remembers her first Math class with Aileen Soares in 1961. “She walked into class and start solving problems on the board whether we were paying attention or not. After working out the entire sum, she started erasing the board. So if you hadn’t been paying attention, boy, you were in big trouble.”
The subject of Margaret’s fond memory was one of eight teachers honoured by the school, St Joseph’s Convent, at a ceremony on Thursday, postponed by a day or so because of the rains. Miss Soares turned up in her finest — a flamingo silk blouse, black skirt and signature broach from her famous collection. She was ambushed by former students and colleagues who had come to celebrate her golden jubilee.
At her side was the legendary Sabra Siddiqi who chose a calm, purple floral print for the day. Her brilliant white hair, as always, was neatly parted and tied in a loose plait. They were joined by the teachers celebrating their silver jubilees: Nilofer Minhas, Seema Yousuf, Qaseem Fatima, Shireen Afzal, Zaibunissa Sikandar, Nuzhat Sattar and Gulnaz Mondegarian.
Art teacher Ambreen Qureshi recalled her first class with Miss Siddiqi. “She was so smart, pretty and articulate – unlike other Urdu teachers who always have a stern look on their face,” she said. “Miss Siddiqi always had time to explain meanings and was a wonderful teacher.”
Miss Siddiqi’s voice started to tremble as she remembered the first class she taught. “I wasn’t nervous you know, if you ask the class they would tell you that they enjoyed it more than I did,” she told The Express Tribune on the sidelines of the ceremony. “Urdu used to be such a problematic subject and now everybody loves it. Teachers from other schools and colleges always tell me that girls from our school are the best. It always warms my heart.”
The celebrations began at 10am, an hour after mass. Parents and former and current students, dressed in their finest and brightest, were led inside the main hall by teachers and prefects in blue gowns. The sound system was being tested while everyone found a seat in the rows of chairs draped in red velvet and spotted with flowers lined in glittery gold. The former school headmistresses, Sister Zinia Pinto, Sister Dolores Anne and Sister Dias, were seated in the front row followed by their colleagues. The nuns hovered around the hall, asking the younger girls to remain quiet. English Literature teacher Faiza Kazi’s crisp voice brought the activity in the room to a halt as she began the morning by congratulating the domestic and teaching staff for their extraordinary contribution to the school.
The Cambridge section headmistress, Naseema Kapadia, welcomed everyone to the event and asked them to observe a moment of silence for her predecessor, Shafiqa Fikree, who passed away in 2009. She then proceeded to rhetorically ask how the outstanding women produced by the school had reached the top. Her answer was simple. It was the institution. “Dedicated teachers like Aileen Soares and Miss Siddiqi are not ordinary people. They have unparalleled communication and teaching skills which keep the school going.”
The eight teaching staff members were presented with white hydrangeas and marigold flowers, small awards and a folder of messages from former students.
A video presentation tribute produced by the senior Cambridge class 11 was shown after the awards were distributed. The video was filled with old photographs, messages from former students and interviews of the teachers – tears of joy and nostalgia left no eye dry in the hall.
Sister Julie Pacheco presented awards and garlands of roses to the domestic staff who had completed 25 years of service as well. An excited Sadiq, who has worked for the school since 1972, said that it was special as he was being honoured by the school on the same day he had joined its service, a Thursday. Indeed, the Daughters of the Cross, students and teachers hope that many more Thursdays will come.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2011.
View a slideshow of pictures from the ceremony here.