Some of them were 68 years old, graying in the bun and propped up by walking canes. Others were in haute couture with even higher heels to match. But no matter what their age, they were giggling like “giddy goats” as Nina Sethna used* to put it. These were the alumni of St Joseph’s Convent High School who greeted each other with whoops of laughter, cries of glee and kisses that left striking shades of rouge on each other’s cheeks.
“Girls!” cried Principal Naseema Kapadia, unaware perhaps of the irony in her command. “Come on, please move to the hall!” It was time to get this party started.
The 150-year school in Saddar that was started by five Daughters of the Cross from Belgium in 1862 has grown from a mere 10 students to 2,000 today. But as Archbishop Joseph Coutts put it in the morning mass for the school’s Feast Day, if you totalled it up, thousands of thousands of young women have passed through its portals in the 15 decades.
Thus, Monday’s gathering spent a great deal of time remembering those who have passed on, including Shafiqa Fikree, the headmistress of the Cambridge section, who was a pillar for half a century. Happily, though, present was Aileen Soares who has taught Math at the school for one-third of its existence. After her speech, detailing some of the accomplishments of the institution, Kapadia announced that one ex-Josephine had donated 150 trees to be planted and three special Neem trees would be in the names of Shafiqa Fikree, long-time principal and once Mother Superior Sr Zinia Pinto and Urdu teacher Sabra Siddiqi. Shahnaz Wazir Ali donated her 1952 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica of which only 800 copies exist in the world.
A plaque was unveiled, there was a fashion show of the uniform through the ages and the school choir put on a rousing performance of songs, some modern and some old, after practicing with Mr William and Sr Margaret. There was even some impromptu dancing that broke out at the front of the hall by the steps when they launched into Abba’s Dancing Queen.
Mementos were handed out to the women present of the list of 150 including, Nafisa Shah, Durriya Kazi, Shehnaz Ismail, Nasreen Haque, Parveen Kassim, Seemi Kamal, Maheen Khan, Sadia Rasheed, Batool Kazmi, Dr Hamida Khuhro, Shireen Gaya, Dr Saadiah Ahsan Pal, Tayyaba Habib, Lynette Viccaji, Dolores Almeida, Rehana Hakim, Shanaz Ramzi, Dr Ghazala Aziz, Niilofer Farrukh, Bella Vellozo.
“We all got our Oscars today,” remarked Shahnaz Wazir Ali, who was the chief guest. She recalled her farewell in 1959, pausing to remark, “You can gauge how old I am” to which someone in the audience cried out, “17!”
“We are all, forever, 17,” she responded with a smile. But no matter what the age, the memories flowed thick and fast for everyone. For Ali, it was the tram that went from Somerset Street to Preedy for four annas. For Nafisa Shah, who dashed off to Mrs Velloz’s canteen to buy some at the first chance, it was “milk toffee, imli, and candy”. “I have it in a potla back there,” she declared with a mixture of mischief and glee later on.
For Zubeida Mustafa, it was the memory of one teacher, when she was perhaps in IX Matric, who put up one of her essays on the notice board in the hall for everyone to admire and learn from. That is what made her realise that perhaps she could actually write. Imagine, she told The Express Tribune, what if that teacher had not done that small thing. Perhaps she would not have been given that little extra push.
And Sr Zinia Pinto was still inspirational, bringing tears to many eyes, as she addressed the women to ask them, “How many new ideas will you have by next year?”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2012.
*NOTE: Dear readers, just to clarify, in this piece, I was forced to write Nina Sethna “used” to say because she used to say it when I was in school in 1990-1993. I could not quote her as currently saying it because I could not vouch for that. The use of the past tense in no way was meant to signify that she was ‘past’ tense herself. She was very much at the event and looked beautiful. Mahim Maher, city editor