Loreto Convent Shillong: Hundred years of excellence
My friend Shoma Dasgupta Nandy forwarded a text message from Glanys Suting, which said that Loreto centenary celebrations would be held on May. I, at once made up my mind that I wouldn't miss it for the world. I forwarded the message to other Loreto Shillong girls that I knew.
Loreto Convent started in Shillong on 8 May 1909 by five Loreto sisters. They initially had twenty-three day scholars and three boarders.
I went to Loreto Convent, Shillong in 1973 and studied there for four years. I passed Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) in 1976. After that I lost touch with almost all my friends except two. Thanks to Facebook, I got in touch with a lot of my buddies and contemporaries from school. I managed to convince at least one friend, Rekha Subba Mirchandani, to come to Shillong. And, yes, I persuaded my boppai (paternal aunt), Zeba Rasheed Choudhury, to come along too. She was a student of Loreto Shillong from 1939 to 1943.
D-day finally arrived and we drove off to Shillong. We had actually missed the inaugural session on 18 May. We went to school on 20 May, which was the alumni day. I had to collect my identity card and boppai had to register.
We went to the little Hindi room where young members of the alumni association were handing out ID cards and passes for the dinners. I was told that the principal had my ID card. Now why on earth should the principal have my ID card?
I should mention here that in our time the Mother Superior was the principal. Times have changed and a Khasi lady was the principal now. I went looking for her. Her office is where our dormitory used to be. I didn't find her there. I went to the classes and all over the place and kept on asking, “Have you seen the principal?” The reply was, “She was here a moment ago”.
Finally as I was asking a group of uniformed students, I heard someone call out, “Is that you, Fahmeena?” I looked and guessed who it was? My good friend, Catherine Nongrum! What a surprise! She is the principal and had my ID card in her office closet. She wanted to see me as soon as I got to school.
We went to the hall where the alumni were gathered. There were past pupils from all over India as well as the rest of the world. There were other Bangladeshi ladies who studied during the sixties. Among them, Ameerah Haq is the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan.
I met my friends, Rekha and Ibada. Rekha had come all the way from the UK and she kept saying, “I came because of Fahmeena!” She had tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show but I had managed to convince her that this was much better. I went around to meet the nuns. None of them were from my time. I found out, Mother John Francis, my favourite teacher and hero, had passed away a couple of years back.
The nuns' attire was different from what used to be. They didn't have the familiar habit and veil on. Some of them were clad in plain cream or blue saris, a few were wearing the Khasi jainsem and the European nuns were wearing skirts and blouses. They looked more down to earth. We waited for Sujata to come but she didn't turn up. Later we found out that she had very high fever.
The programme started with a beautiful hymn. The words were displayed with the help of a multimedia projector so that all of us could sing along with the tune of the piano. It was soon evident that Boppai was the oldest ex-student present. She was called to give out gifts to the nuns. More gifts were given out from the Loreto Alumni Association to the ex-students as well as the office bearers of the association.
Then the speeches started by the committee members of the alumni association and the nuns. After the speeches, Sister Celine, the previous mother superior, who was the last principal from the order of the nuns, cut the centenary cake.
Then we went off to various classrooms for decade-wise group interaction. We found the room where the ladies of the seventies were assembled. We looked around and found people we knew and hugged one another. Oh! It was so good to see old friends! We had to choose two speakers who would represent the whole group. My classmates suggested my name and all the others seconded it. Glanys Suting was the other speaker. We went around to check out our old classrooms.
We got back to the hall and began the walk down memory lane! The speakers from each decade started talking about their Loreto experience starting with my boppai. Boppai was the only ex-student from her decade. All of us speakers had one thing in common….
Whatever we did in life, it was because of what we had learnt at Loreto. What we are today is because of our Loreto upbringing. The Loreto nuns had shaped and moulded us. The motto of the centenary celebration was aptly titled: “embracing the past, shaping the future”!
Later in the evening we went to a dinner party with our family members organised by the Alumni Association. Over the centenary week, each day had some programme or the other. The all India Loreto dance programme had participants from the other Loreto schools of India. There was a food festival and a cultural programme by the students of nursery to class X. And of course games...basketball matches between the present students and the alumni and Danish rounders matches between the different batches.
The centenary celebration was concluded with a dinner at school for only the past pupils. My friend, Sujata Khaitan, with whom I have been in touch for the last thirty-three years, finally was well enough to attend. So were a lot of others that I failed to recognise on the alumni day. As we danced to the tunes of a local group called the Straight Brothers, we promised to keep in touch with one another.