Schools don’t die, or do they? They may close down, and then get a shot in the arm and get a new lease of life. But mine died and without even a whimper or saying a proper goodbye. Two months back, Esena Foundation, an all girls’ school in a huge bungalow on main Zahoor Ilahi Road, next to F.C. College, closed down after more than five decades. I was not sure how I felt; it just brought back a flood of memories that even took me by surprise as I didn’t know I could remember so far back.
Among the earliest memories are of a lamp shade (probably for a doll house) my Class 2 teacher taught me to make. She helped me stitch together the fronts of old Eid cards with yarn. And it was in Class 2 when we first started using lead pencils and I was also fascinated by my friend Humera Bano’s handwriting which was light and waiflike as herself. She had the best sharpener in the class that could make the longest and sharpest pencil tips!
I hated that we had no canteen and that we had to have milk in small blue and red plastic mugs and a couple of biscuits. But some girls, who had written permission from their parents, were exempted. I did not understand why my mother would not write a simple letter saying I could have a cold drink instead!
I hated being different but mom made sure I did…starting with my name. Why couldn’t my name be like the other girls — Hina, Samina, Farah. But it was only after my friend Fareeha Mushtaq convinced me on my 11th birthday that I pulled off the name well that I reconciled to it.
Another thing I hated to wear was the red blazer in winter. It was not because it was my sister’s hand me down, but because all the other girls wore coats that were different and more womanly!
I remember many of us would bring flasks full of chilled Rooh Afza or some squashes (I preferred mango squash) to school in summer but I didn’t like sharing it with anyone. If somebody in class asked if they could drink some water from the flask, I’d apologetically say I only had sherbat, relieved that they only wanted water. But this was usually short-lived as more often than not they wanted the sweet chilled drink as well. I’d stingily measure half the cup and reluctantly give it as if it were something most precious!
And had it not been for our history teacher in class 7 and 8, Mrs Noorani, we would not have learnt how to spell and pronounce the word ‘sovereignty’ so early in life. It did not matter if we knew what it truly meant, but all hell would break loose if she heard us mispronounce the word like most of our politicians do today…a hundred lines in break, straight away!
Come to think of it, writing a 100 lines as a punishment during break sitting on the cool steps was not a very creative way of teaching a child to remember something and what a waste of good paper. It did not help with handwriting nor did it make us any less forgetful; it just took away some hard earned playtime. We also got lines if any teacher overheard us speaking among ourselves in Urdu. We all thought that was taking the English language a bit too seriously and continuously defied it and so many of us were seen sitting on the steps writing lines.
As with most kids, I loved being asked by Mrs Hussain, our geography teacher, to help her take the piles of copies to her cupboard or to the staff room, or distribute the copies she’d checked. The idea of being selected to do this task gave me a certain importance that I had been noticed, at least I thought that was the case.
She was perhaps the one teacher who could draw a perfect circle and a perfect map of Pakistan on the blackboard. I loved her nails — long and always painted. She’d clutch and tighten the ‘pallu’ of her cotton sari (often worn over a sleeveless blouse), as she’d turn her back towards us to draw the diagrams, her hair would be tied in a loose bun with not a hair out of place. I think I loved geography because of her.
And so when my friend Rukhsana Iqbal said, “It’s very rare to be taught by forward-looking ladies of the time,” I thought she had actually said what I have been wanting to say for years to describe the teachers of yore.
The other subject I loved was English. Part of the reason could be because of Mrs Neena Cheema, who spoke softly and smiled a lot. She tried in vain to teach us the rules of English grammar and to develop a love for literature in us. We did abridged versions of many of Shakespeare’s plays by the time we were in Class 7; and by Class 8 we were ready to do the original — Merchant of Venice. I loved reading passages aloud in class.
One of the punishments for something I must have done back in Class 6 or 7 was to learn William Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ and, for which I was for years to come, eternally grateful to her, as that poem seemed to be a favourite with all the English literature teachers both in school and college.
At home, we had a daily contest of who had more playgrounds in school and of course I’d always lose as my brother studying at the Aitchison College never tired of boasting the cricket and hockey fields and the sports his school offered from swimming classes to horse-riding. Instead we still had a whale of a time playing hopscotch, creating games hopping on tall steps leading to the main building, skipping with really long rope to allow 7 to 8 girls to skip at one go, kho-kho, seven tiles, running-catching etc.
All these games carried on all through my school days, as did my transition from reading Enid Blyton to Hardy Boys and James Hadley Chase to Mills&Boon, a pleasant transition of a bookworm of a child to a teenager at Esena Foundation.
My school may not be there anymore, but it lives on through the hundreds of stories that remain buried in the inner recesses of my mind and come alive every time I meet my school friends and we relive those moments.