On this Women’s Day rather than contemplating on the dreary situation of the woman in the society, I would rather reminiscence about one of the women who left a deep impression on me, the woman who more or less had a hand in molding me the woman I’m today.
Every woman is somehow or other influenced by her mother. She may either end up being like her mother or exactly the opposite of her. And ironically even if she turns away from her deep down, she in some way, ends up emulating her. But apart from her own mother she meets or reads about several women who influences in her to become the woman she is. For me one of the first women to leave such a strong impression was my primary school principal Ms Annie Jacob.
I met Ms Annie Jacob while my father was doing his mandatory rural posting in Kosamba, a small village on the edge of the rich district of Surat, Gujarat. Ms Jacob had been working as the principal of the only English medium in the village. From the very first meeting, her starched and stiff light colored Organdy and stiffer personality inspired a fear and reverence in me (as it was supposed to). She was a strict no nonsense lady who insisted the school to be run in a stringent doctrine. I had rarely seen her smile, yet she would be the first one to come running if ever the students in the school ran into any issues. She would collect random reports of the teachers from the students even as she kept tabs on the students from the teachers. Even though the school was in a village, she was adamant to give the students the education at par with the best school of the city, and for that she would go to any lengths.
Out of all the policies, one thing she was very much insistent was about speaking English. She had a clear and strict policy in her school that all the students must speak in English while they are in the school campus. In fact she even tried to pursue the parents to speak English at home so that the students will get good in the language. But being in a village, the parents of the students resented this rule. They felt uncomfortable when the students talked in the ‘foreign language’.
Ms Jacob however was adamant in her beliefs and she continued to inspire (rather than teach) confidence in her students. Her favorite doctrine was that good education along with decent behavior inspires respect among your peers. She lived by this principle and refused to bow to any person who demanded respect merely for their social or economic stature. For her the person has to earn respect, rather than demand them.
Very soon she found herself in the center of several conflicts initiated from the patriarchal revering egotistical men who found her too “proud”. They criticized her for not respecting them for their superior stature in the society. They censured her for hiring too many female teachers in the establishment. Their list of censure were long; but what I learnt later on was that they were merely a cover for their displeasure in not bowing to their male ego.
Anyways, she quit the school when the management tried to force her to apologize for the things that she refused to consider wrong. But soon after a major chunk of teacher too quit after her to show their support for her. Eventually, these teachers, along with her established a new school in the nearby village and most of us students followed her there.
She was the first woman to teach me the importance of confidence in the woman. She gave me the precious life lesson on standing to one’s ground and principles even if the world (in her case management) stands against you. One particular episode that stands out is when I overheard one of the men who hated her guts saying that woman are supposed to stand when a man enters, even if she is the queen. Now, this incident was way back in early nineties when such male chauvinistic comments especially in rural India was deemed acceptable, even quite right. But Ms Jacob never stood up in respect for him as she saw him as an ignorant (a he was only passed till 8th grade) brash man with who was lucky in business and had inclination for liquor and women.
When I became a teacher I found myself subconsciously emulate her in more than in one ways. She still inspires confident in me and makes me work hard to earn respect rather than demand it. I’m forever conscious that mere education does not make you a good individual but decent behavior and understanding others do. Most of all she taught me to be unapologetically woman.