KARACHI: It has been a year since the former headmistress of St Joseph’s Convent High School, Shafiqa Fikree – better known as ‘senior Fikree’ – passed away. Her death came as a shock to the school and hundreds of her former students who are scattered across the globe.
On Tuesday, Ms Fikree’s 50 years of excellence in education were remembered at a simple ceremony. Her picture adorned a white table, with white flowers and a white candle in the Cambridge section’s corridor. “Pure, just like her,” remarked longtime English General and Literature teacher Faiza Kazi as soon as the candle was lit.
The students and staff then observed two minutes of silence in her memory.
This is the same corridor Ms Fikree would walk down, passing classes VI and VII, to arrive at her Literature and Economics classroom. The tall bay windows open into this green-tiled corridor. It was here that Ms Fikree would leave books by the window sills with a little chit of paper inside bearing your name. She used to pick books for individual students and literally deliver them to their classroom, just to encourage them to read.
“Now girls,” she would say while removing her spectacles, folding them over and laying them to rest by their lanyard. “Was the dog black because it was hot? Or was the dog black because it was its colour…” This was a discussion on the rabid dog Atticus shoots in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. This was her way perhaps of making the girls pay attention to this particular detail, dissect it; a black dog in literature can be read as a symbol for the devil coming in to town or as an omen.
Ms Fikree was never judgemental. When the girls, forced to come for Saturday makeup classes, took advantage of the window of opportunity and added colourful dupattas and earrings to their uniform, there were some rumblings from the principal’s office. But Ms Fikree supported them: “I’m more interested in how you think,” she told them after the battle was won, “not in what you wear”.
The women who came to the memorial were full or memories. The former students included journalist Zubeida Mustafa, Farhana Mowjee and MNA Marvi Memon. “Ms Fikree was the embodiment of the perfect teacher,” said Mowjee in her address. “She was a perfectionist and detail-oriented, but not boring. She welcomed all opinions, even dissenting ones.”
Naseema Kapadia, the current headmistress, recalled how Ms Fikree made her feel introspective. “While I was working in the male-dominated corporate world, I thought I was efficient and very professional. But when I joined St Joseph’s, I realised my competency and efficiency was nothing in comparison to Miss Fikree’s,” she said with a smile.
Shafiqa Fikree Award for Academic Excellence
For the first time in the school’s history, prizes were distributed to excelling students of classes VI to XI. The Shafiqa Fikree Award for Academic Excellence was conferred upon outgoing student Rija Ghazanffar – not only for her academic achievements in her O’ Levels but also for voluntarily looking after Ms Fikree’s library after she was gone.
The prizes were distributed to students who not only came first, second or third, explained Kapadia. “But it is also for students who have progressed in their studies.”
Zubeida Mustafa, in her address after the prize-distribution ceremony, said that St Joseph’s Convent continued to be a rock of stability in the lives of generations of women. “The school inspires confidence, admiration and respect. And with this, it maintains that delicate balance of continuity and change.”
She said Ms Fikree was the best teacher she had ever known. “She understood all the girls so well. She knew what education was all about.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2010.