I must have been all of 14 when Mrs Joy Michael, who died on Friday night, joined our all-girls school, St Thomas, as the principal in the 1970s. Like typical giggly school girls of that age, we could only gape at her in wonder: She was this smiling happy person who threw back her head and laughed, she wore her hair in a stylish short cut and elegant handloom saris, wore lipstick and a very lingering perfume -- in fact we could virtually smell her scent long after she had gone elsewhere.
Later I came to know that her favourite perfume too was named Joy. Her sharp eyes missed nothing; she would peer from behind her small trendy reading glasses that she wore around her neck when she wanted to ensure that you were completely disconcerted.
In short, Mrs Michael was the exact opposite of our earlier principal, Mrs Ayesha Jacob, who was the quintessential absentminded professor type. Mrs Micheal would never scold but she would say things in such a firm manner and with a smile at the end of the royal firman that there was no question of it not being followed.
Like a true-blue theatre person, she spruced up the school with the precision of a set designer with a new lick of paint and potted plants in neat rows in strategic places and art work placed in the right spaces and showing to the best advantage. Instead of the air of genteel snobbery that was its hallmark, the school began to look as spiffy as the principal!
No skirts beyond the knees she declared -- exactly the cue we girls were looking for -- ours went just a couple of inches beyond our blazers! I am sure she noticed, but chose not to comment! It was in her time the school uniform was changed from the grey flannel skirt with red blazer to a smart olive and burnt orange checks and burnt orange/rust blazer.
I was in class X when I gathered enough courage to suggest a school newsletter to her. The famous glasses came on and she said: "And how will you get the money for it?" With all the bravado of youth I blurted: "We will sell it." Whatever she thought of the idea I don't know, but she let me have my way. For two years till I passed out as the last batch before the 10+2 system, I ran the school newsletter "Sizzler", that I would write, draw some illustrations for and get it cyclostyled in the school itself, staple the pages and physically sell it in each and every class. I was its all in all: editor, printer, illustrator, peon! After seeing me do this for six months she must have taken pity on me I suspect and decided to print it and we had this rather trendy, printed newsletter. I firmly believe my seeds for taking up journalism as a career were sown right then.
I was one of the fortunate few who were chosen to act in the school annual pageant which she had directed where I had to wear a Bengali style sari. She taught me so well that even today I can wear a Bengali style sari faster than my usual sari. It was much later that we realised that she was the moving spirit behind the theatre group Yatrik that was known for its important plays.
Years later when I started writing on the arts she would feel very proud as I was one of her "girls". I definitely am one of her girls in whose backbone she poured steel. The steel doesn't show, but lingers like Mrs Michael's perfume
(Alka Raghuvvanshi is a multi-faceted personality with interests in journalism, art and the performing arts. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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