It is not possible to pack twelve most glorious years into a few paragraphs. But Ms Barton would say, “What rubbish! Nothing is impossible!”, so here goes…
Bound by fir trees is a little cocoon where scrawny caterpillars are groomed into ladies who are separated by communities, separated by oceans, separated by generations, but bound by deeply rooted values that make them a Loreto (Mumbai) Girl first and forever.
That’s basically what I am – a Loreto Girl. At 41, that is still the most overpowering aspect of my persona. (You are allowed to entertain the thought that she never learnt much in life, but only so long as you meet me because Loreto Girls demolish thought processes for amusement.) Mother Ursula, whose towering personality kept bursting out of her petite frame, pretty much wrote our destiny – she established a school where girls get wrought with a strength that cannot be detracted by manipulation or circumstance. “Speak to Gandhiji” she’d say pointing to the framed picture at the end of our technology deprived hall, and no Loreto Girl has ever needed a microphone to be heard. The unstated mantra of our school was that fine ladies are a perfect balance of grace and strength, so in the same breath we sang “Make me a channel of your peace” and “God give us…. courage to fight for honesty, goodness, justice and truth”.
The most incomparable aspect of school was the relaxed view of academics, worldly success and competitiveness – our teachers just took the wind out of the “life is a race” theory, letting each one of us move ahead at our own pace. Stalwarts, each in their own right, they knew where they were leading us and did not need to shift the onus of the educator onto the student, as is the norm today. So we languidly sauntered though hours of linking and unlinking fir leaves, playing in the rockery (impressed in our minds as a large adventurous place, it is in fact a diminutive landscape feature), playing four columns, overfeeding Brownie the school dog (who was envied for his audacious rights to sleep through any class and walk in & out at will), whilst the theorems, formulae, figures of speech, world chronology, syntax, and so much more suffused our minds.
“Loreto’s standard bearers we
In girlhood springtime gay
O may we e’er be loyal and true,
To the school friends of today.”
Of those 12 years I cherish most my friendships – chaste, unbiased and fun. And while some friends got distanced by spaces, the warmth persists, as does a predisposition for stable, wholesome relationships and a healthy regard for humanity at large, despite living in a world that seems to keel us over with antagonism. Today, I cannot run to the humble chapel that filled me with awe and strength, but I carry the Loreto Chapel deep inside me. It gives me the right answers, the ability to distinguish right from wrong, the strength to persevere and the strength to win without letting others lose. (Though I have to admit, since you may have noticed, I did give the humility class a miss.)
But the truth is that words cannot express my gratitude for all those who made my life glorious, the quintessential nuns of the Loreto Mission, the consummate teachers, the meticulous staff, and the diaspora of students who will perpetually be part my consciousness. May the good Lord bless and keep you, whether near or far away…
Preeti Sharma Menon
June 1973 – April 1985