The best part of our life in Pondicherry was the children Raji, Bala and Viji’s chance to attend the best school – the convent, St. Joseph de Cluny High School. The school had different sections, English medium and French medium. Our children attended the English medium, where French was taught as second language. Mother Peter, as we started calling her, once we came to know each other well, was the Principal of the English school.
The Rev. Mother Peter Claver, to give her full name, was a very distinguished person, very friendly, and with a smile and good word for every one. She in return was loved and respected by all the students, and by all the parents. She had the capacity to make every child of the school to do their best to the extent possible. She goaded the not so good ones to do well (in studies), the good ones to do better, the better ones to do their best, and the best ones to excel themselves. And the students did not let her down.
Viji and Raja at breakfast before school
Raji, who was a very good student, excelled herself and did both Mother Peter and us her parents proud by passing the school leaving Matriculation with first class marks. She was ranked first in Pondicherry, and second in the whole of Madras State, as Tamilnadu was then known. Were we proud of her! The school presented her with a gold medal. Raji is not the only one in the family to have got a gold medal. Babuji was also a gold medallist - for topping in English, when he passed his B. A. The next gold medallist in the family is Gowri, when she topped in her M. A. (English Litt) some 20 years after Raji. Raji became eligible for a Govt. Merit cum Means scholarship, when she joined Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi to do Eng. Litt. But her father’s earnings exceeded Rs.1,000, and she was denied that scholarship.
Mother Peter was very, very fond of Raji, and Raji always insists, even today, that she was Mother Peter’s pet. She even visited Raji in Madras, when she settled down there after marriage. They stayed in touch with each other till Mother Peter died. Mother Peter saw to it that Raji took part in all the activities in school like sports (she was House- Captain, even) and variety programmes. Not only Raji, Bala, Viji and Raja, once he joined the school, took part in all these activities which helped them to be more self-possessed and confident about themselves.
Raja, once he joined school became Mother Peter’s ‘sweetheart’. She became very fond of Raja, who was very adorable, even though I say it myself. While at school, Raja once got injured when a cyclist hit him and knocked him down, as he was crossing the street. Mother Peter herself escorted Raja home, after giving him first aid.
Raja is at the extreme right, near the little girl, in this playtime picture
When Raja joined school his education was free. The rule was that every fourth child of a family was not charged fees, if all four children were studying in the school at the same time. Next year Bala (fourth from the bottom in this line-up at Cluny) had to move to another school, Petit Seminaire for his middle school, as boys were not allowed in High School - the school was co-ed only till Std. VII. In Petit Seminaire also Bala took part in many school activities, and won prizes too. Here you see Bala as a gypsy in the fancy dress competition at the Petit Seminaire.
After passing Std. VIII, he joined Madrasi School in New Delhi to do High School, before joining IIT.
Viji started attending Bharata Natyam classes privately and even performed on stage when Tara Cherian, then Governor of Madras, visited Pondicherry. Viji was the pet of Uncle and Aunty, our dear friends Krishnaswamy and Indira. At that time their son was not yet born, and Viji was thoroughly spoilt by them.
All told the children too, in their own way had a very good and enjoyable time in Pondicherry.
Babuji started feeling he had spent enough time in the south, and that it was time to be back in Delhi. So as not to disrupt the children’s education, Raji was sent to Trivandrum to my parents’ place to do P-U. C, a one year course. Bala was sent to be with Chippachi to do his High School. And I was not at all happy – Raji just 15, and Bala just 13.
Raji came back after doing her P-U. C. do you know what she did? Mother Peter was in need of someone to take the place of a teacher who was on leave. Raji took up the challenge and taught Maths to students of classes 5, 6 and 7 – and she was only 16 then – and Viji was one of her students
Gowri’s second daughter Swati also followed Raji’s footsteps after passing out of school last year. She helped in a friend’s school by teaching Biology for three months, where the students were just a couple of years younger than she was. She was so good , that the students begged her not to leave when she had to go to Delhi LSR College for further studies.
Once at a party, M. Bertho of the French government told me that he had seen my husband gallivanting with a young lovely girl, many a time, and that I should be more careful and more strict with him. You should have seen his expression when I told him that the young girl he referred to was none other than our eldest daughter! He could not believe it saying “You both do not look old enough to have such a grown up daughter.”
What a compliment.
Raji with the medal, and (right) at one of the programmes. (She is in the centre, left row ).