Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fifty and Running

Susan Matthew 

It always seemed that crossing The Great 50th Birthday Reef would be fraught with anxiety about hopes not realized, about muscles and grey matter, slackening in tone and a yearning to live long enough and in reasonable good health, so one could complete one’s bucket list.
Surprisingly, I found myself relieved that, at last, here was a time when I didn’t have to dance to any music but my own! So here I am being thankful that I’m past 50:-

·     Because I don’t have to follow fashion trends. In fact I can throw on whatever I pull out from the innards of my cupboard (mismatched, sizes too big, not trendy or cool) and be out the door in 5 minutes flat. Sure I won’t turn any heads, but I’d be the one you want to call in an emergency.
·     Because when my hair stands up from my scalp just minutes after a comb has created order in the curly locks or what remains of the once luscious tresses, I’m happy that at least a part of my body is defying gravitational forces.
·     Because mood swings and a variety of other minor irritants to marital harmony can be attributed to menopause.
·     Because people don’t expect you to remember their birthdays and anniversaries as you once did. (I was always dismal at history and dates)
·     Because a Pinterest inspired home is only a recent phenomena. Don’t get me wrong, I love it that one doesn’t have to be an interior designer to have an aesthetically pleasing home or train as a chef to be able to turn out delicacies with foreign sounding names with such ease. I’m just thrilled I didn’t have to try!
·     Because I don’t have to lead an exciting life with a dizzying round of parties and travel and meeting people and making new friends. Instead I hang out with people who can enjoy my company even when I’m having a shlumpadinka day.
·     Because having ‘only’ 241 friends on Facebook (“That’s all the friends you have??” Question from my teenage nephew) doesn’t embarrass me.  

Of course you always run the risk of being labeled, but after 50 you’ll find none of the labels stick for very long. And then you’re left with your slightly out of shape, imperfect body - but ohhhhh! So comfortable in your skin!  Wouldn’t you, like me, choose comfortable any day?

Susan Matthew (nee Chandy) Math '80

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Defining Moments of My Life

The College Council from the left Aneeta George, Aileen Pais, Sr Margaret Mary, Gayatri Devaraj, Preetha Thomas and your truly

I joined college in the summer of ’73, not overjoyed at the prospect that I would have to study in these backwoods, while almost all of my cousins went away to glamourous city colleges.
Despite my apprehensions, college turned out to be fun. Since I am not a person for half measures, I threw myself into college life; made more friends, discovered new skills and generally had a whale of a time.  But all along was this niggling fear that I would be left far behind in the race of life.
I got clarity on this, the fear, I mean, when one bright morning, we sat on the green grass under the `stately evergreen’ half listening to Ms Lux’s lecture on Queen Anne’s England- of Addison, Pope and Swift. It was an ideal Nilgiri day; days like that is the stuff of dreams now.
The sky was a brilliant blue dotted with tiny lamb clouds, a bumble bee hummed among the ox-eye daisies and the nasturtiums. The lotus in the tiny pond bloomed and in a distance the Nilgiri thrush called. If life was to stand still that was a good moment to do so.
Suddenly the idyllic scene before me paled. Wasn’t there more to life?
Would I be content to pass my days watching the seasons? Yes, I would.
Would that be enough? No.
That was indeed the first defining moment in my life.

BL days

The second defining moment, as it were, happened many years later; after marriage and two children. I was in the reception on the first floor of Kasturi & Sons, waiting to be called in for an interview with the editor of a newspaper which was to be launched shortly. It was very quiet; smart young men in blue (MIB) buzzed officiously about. Life size portraits of Editors Past adorned the walls staring down at the lowlife that dared to sit. As if that relentless stare was not enough to unnerve, I made the mistake of picking up a copy of Frontline.  To my great alarm I found that I could not understand a word that was written there. (It is only later I came to know, that nobody understands Frontline, including the people who write for it. Later I also realized that the MIB generally buzz around when the female of the species is sighted.)
I panicked and was on the point of scooting down the stairs, when the MIB went into a flurry of activity. Then the lift door opened and a lady emerged from it. She glared at me, sitting on the sofa with a copy of Frontline in hand and then stalked off. That stare really shook me; I thought I would just run away. But a little voice at the back of my head said, “Stay, see this through. At the most what is the worst thing that will happen…? You won’t get the job!”
So I stayed and got the job. Many years later, Viji, one of the two men who interviewed me said, “You were one of my best recruits.” Sadly, Viji is no more. As a reporter and desk man he had much to impart. Everyone who has worked with him has his or her favourite Viji story.  But that is for another day.  
The other man who interviewed me was Mr. K Venugopal the Executive Editor of the newspaper, which was to be called The Hindu Business Line (BL).  All he asked me was if I could type, what arrangements I had made for my kids when they come back from school and whether I could work late.
I worked in BL during the crucial years when the economy opened up. Suddenly there were a lot of financial reporters on the scene, the general reporters, especially the ones from The Hindu treated us with disdain and were very unpleasant at times. But we didn’t care, we were different and we were going to change the world.
BL reporters were handpicked from backgrounds as varied as insurance, advertising, teaching, public relations, banking and a few housewives like me. We even had a former Catholic priest among us. We were a breed apart and we looked it. The fashionably attired women created quite a stir in the canteen and caused many a heart attack for the security. The men were also well turned out. For the first time, male journalists strolled into the office looking like they had walked off the set of a fashion shoot for Allen Solly.
On the work front, we attended innumerable press conferences as company after company went into initial public offerings (IPOs).At every press conference; financial journalists were offered cash and other gifts to write well about the companies. Some took and some didn’t. Those of us who didn’t earned the derision of the others.    
In the February of 2007, I resigned my job in BL and moved to Mysore. A quixotic decision at best! A few months into the quiet life, I decided I needed a job. So I posted my resume on one of the job sites; then one fine morning I got a call from Dubai asking me if I was interested to work on a newspaper. I said ‘yes’ thinking that it was a prank played by my friends. The calls continued and I kept up the joke. Until finally the man at the other end, said that the visa and appointment letter would reach me after Ramadan.  I was shell shocked.
After I gathered my wits about me, I realized that I was ill equipped to work in a foreign country. Everybody reassured me and said, “Dubai is like Kerala”.  But I was scared shitless. Imagine me, well past my prime embarking on this mad cap chakkar. However, my husband put some perspective into this and said, “Look at this as an adventure and what is the worst thing that can happen?” 
In the September of 2008, I landed in Dubai.  Dubai, the boom town, was hiring. Every day, plane loads of people looking for a new life landed in this Arab Emirate. Construction workers, engineers, software techies, chefs, waiters, drivers, maids, you name it, they were all there.   Little did we know that the great banking crisis of 2008 was about to turn the world upside down.
My Indian Airlines flight was three hours late. After I had retrieved my baggage I followed the signs to the counters where I could pick up the original visa. The holding space in front of these counters was jammed. Two other airlines had just landed bringing more labour into this city of dreams. The one from Indonesia was a maid special. As I waited in queue I watched the agent walk down the line handing back the passports to these young aspiring maids.  Every now and then there would be an outburst as a girl was denied entry. The other aircraft was from Pakistan carrying tall, ruggedly handsome muleteers; at least, they smelled like that. But observing them, I was convinced that many of them were actually Army officers; such was their bearing. They were quiet and tense, if any of them were denied entry, we didn't know about it.  I was dead beat but had to wait for quite a bit for the iris scan and that all important paper- the original visa.   
So it was well past mid night, when I emerged from the Terminal; there was no sign of the taxi which was supposed to meet me. There was nobody at the Dubai Tourism booth also. I walked up and down, wondering what to do. I thought to myself, should I just go back inside and take a flight home. It was very tempting. ‘One last try!’ I told myself, at that precise moment, a defining one at that, I noticed that someone was at the tourism counter. I told the Arab gentleman my problem. He called the hotel and asked them to send a cab immediately.
The cab arrived half an hour later. I then went on a midnight tour of the city. I realized that the cabbie was going around in circles as I spotted the Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic building, at least three times, during the ride.  It was only much later I was told that this was one of the illegal cabs and the cabbie, a Pakistani at that, was avoiding paying salik at the toll plazas en route.

On a press trip to Paris


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Oasis of Memories - Part 2

The stream below  Shakuntala,Usha and Jayashree. 1973. 
The next time I was in Providence College was when I enrolled for B.A. Literature. Noeline (Tina) Fernandez and I skipped Pre University since we had done the Indian School Certificate in school. By then the college hostel and refectory were built. 

We had great nuns and lecturers; like Sr. Margaret Mary the Principal who was firm and friendly, with an endearing smile. Then there was Sr. Francisca and Sr. Christopher whose stamp collection, we replenished.  Sr. Magdalene was the garden sister who allowed Geeta Gangadhar nee Borlingiah and me to sit on the branches of a tree in the nun’s garden to study, since we were her pets!

The three lecturers who made our English classes bubbly and lively were Miss Becky, Miss Lakshmi Nambiar and Miss Jessie Verghese. Mrs. Bagavathi tutored me in Tamil and I still admire her patience. I would also like to mention Mrs. Shakunthala, and Miss Sarma.
Miss Sarma, also an artist, once showed me her painting of a leopard reclining on a tree limb. Awesome! It was for her forth coming art exhibition. She looked at some of my paintings and encouraged me to pursue my hobby. We often discussed Andrew Wyeth’s art and work, from books on loan from the American Library which used to come periodically to our college library.

Sr. Margaret Mary picked some of us artistically inclined ones to participate in the Mardi Gras, hosted by IIT Madras, where we won prizes. My first stint in acting was in Provy. I thought I could do wonders on stage, but it ended as a total fiasco. It was an Inter- Class competition and I started off well enough but midway I went totally blank. All the prompting from Geetha and Mini Isaac (also acting in the play) was of no use. The curtain had to come dolefully down upon an unfinished play. Geetha gave me a good dose since it cost us the trophy. 

We loved the literature classes beneath the enormous pine trees on the grassy slopes which slid into the small, swampy reedy pond, off the driveway. We have even had classes in the Cyclops, the old college bus. In 2009 when I visited Sr. Louisa Marie in Providence there were no traces of the pond or the grassy slope. A substantial part of the place has given way to new buildings.

Those were the wonderful days when the only disaster in life was an English or Tamil test. We would plan strategies to bunk and disappear into the tea bushes and play in the stream at the base of the hill.

Ten rupees, in the 70s went a long way: which was all we needed on most weekends when we would visit Ooty. It would cover lunch at Shinkows; stick-jaws and chocolates from King Star for my sister Rajeshree and other friends.

We often walked to Bandishola where we treated ourselves to freshly baked buns. We bought bread there and ate it in our rooms with jam or honey or with pickle and jam.  The bread was also eaten with the chunky pieces of mango pickle, which were dynamite. When we were starved for home food, Usha Ramani invited a few of us; Padmini from Sri Lanka and Sarojini for lunch in her estate house in Kotagiri. Usha, Sarojini and I were roomies.

On the fashion scene, those were the bell bottom, waist coats, maxis and hot pants days. Tina Fernadez would sport hot pants from time to time and nobody could disagree she had the gorgeous figure and the legs for it! Some of the Malaysian and Singapore girls even wore very colourful batik lungies with fancy tops which was in fashion then. I met one of the Malaysian girls, Annarani Kanagarajah a few years back.
Geetha and I had our first fag in room number 8 or 9, where we puffed, and coughed so much making it our first and last experience.

The Log Cabin, our canteen, was known for its aromatic coffee. Jayashree Padmanaban nee Rao and I had a regular cuppa in the evenings before she took the bus home to Kotagiri. The canteen also served yummy masala dosas.  If orders were placed in advance, parathas and chicken curry were available. 

When we went for short walks outside the college, we would meet up with Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw’s Gurkha orderlies with two Labradors on the leash.  His house was quite close to Providence, situated in a strategic spot from where, towards evening, the lights of Wellington shone like a bowl of jewels. Once, we even had a tour of his lovely house with the Field Marshall himself, as the tour guide. 

The year I joined, there was a contest for the Freshie Queen. It’s an event for the freshers where after the mild ragging by seniors, everyone got to know each other. The girls were all decked in elegant saris as they walked the ramp to Ananda Shankar’s melodious instrumentals. Sheila Joseph was the Freshie Queen that year and Jayashree Rao the runner up. 

Those were the times when actors like Amol Palekar,Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Amithab Bachchan, Jaya Bhadhuri, Vidhya Sinha, Reena Roy and Zeenat Aman were in their prime. Our room walls were filled with posters of them and other popular bands like the Bee Gees, David Cassidy, the Carpenters, the Osmond Brothers and the Jackson 5. 

I spent just two years in Providence as my marriage was arranged. I did visit Providence when my boys, Hemanth and Jaswanth were in the boarding in the Convent. Things were still much the same. 

A few years back when I visited Provy, I found the landscape completely changed. So many buildings had sprouted and I felt happy to see the progress but saddened by the disappearance of all the familiar sights I knew.

I walked up to ‘my’ room in the hostel where three girls sat chatting. I introduced myself and said I was here many years ago....could even be years before they were born! I felt like a relic from the past. They were rather shy and didn’t talk much. 

Dramatic transformations have occurred in the kitchen, dining, lab and class room areas. The old garden today has changed completely; there are many new buildings. The ‘tin shed’ has been replaced by a beautiful auditorium named Mother Marie Theresa Auditorium – one of the pioneering French sisters of St Joseph of Tarbes. 

I realize that the visions of the early Sisters have come to fruition when I hear of the students from tribal, rural and the backward communities getting a chance to graduate and find good jobs.

Providence College, today, offers courses in not only graduate and post graduate courses, but also M.Phil, PhD programmes in various subjects.  

Kudos to Providence College for its overall progress - especially the academic strides, it has made.
I do believe each one of us passing out from Providence excelled in our own spheres of life, whether doctors, lecturers, teachers, or home makers. Thank you, Sisters and lecturers, for what we are today!
The English Literature class picnic to Ooty. Boat House. Noeline Fernandez, Usha Pillai, Rebecca Matthews, Lakshmi Sadanand , Liz Jacob,, Annie Oommen. Freeda ipe, Usha Gopinath 1973

Jayashree Jayapaul (Enlgish Literatrue)

Monday, August 17, 2015

My Oasis of Memories

Usha and Jayashree- on their favourite rock outside the college gates.

Each time I watch a flight of migrating birds in the vastness of the skies I breathe a prayer of praise to God. It is His goodness, which guides, programmes, preserves, protects, provides and rules over us and the various kingdoms of the insects, birds, animals and the creatures of the seas.

Last fortnight, my husband and I joined a Thomas Cook tour to South Africa and Kenya. I watched flocks of Egyptian geese cawing and squawking as they sailed beautifully across the azure skies of Africa. It reminded me of our days flitting away into the horizons of the past. (Perhaps it was the fact that I turned 60 this July which resulted in such thought.) Anyway, we can always recall the bygone moments of our lives by reminiscing over events residing in our memories.

My memories of Providence College go far back to the 60s, when Springfield Palace was yet to be bought by the Sisters of St Joseph of Tarbes. The palace was the summer retreat of the Kochi royalty. Negotiations were on between the Kochi royal family and the Sisters. I was probably in my 7th or 8th class, studying in St. Joseph’s Convent, Coonoor. I remember we joined Mother Miriam in the special prayers each night when negotiations were afoot. When Springfield Palace was eventually bought we were quite excited when we boarders were taken to see the place with a picnic tea. 

Scurrying down from the school bus our first view of Springfield Palace was of an ornate but thoroughly rusty gate, which creaked open into a really over grown garden, very unkempt with undergrowths and thick shrubs, wild vines, weeds and plants everywhere. At the time, the hostels, auditorium (tin shed made of aluminum sheets) and the refectory (as we knew it in1972) did not exist. 

The beautiful French windowed class room which was said to be the room where the Maharaja received visitors was the most fascinating structure there. The other buildings such as the community building, the principal’s office, the library and the staff quarters were slightly dilapidated buildings, roofed in red brown tiles, standing desolately amidst the thick, savage foliage which surrounded it. Some of the buildings had furniture lying around in disarray. There was some talk that Mr. Lopez, the father of Hyacinth and Lynette Lopez had bought all the palace furniture and donated it back to the nuns. 

It was an adventure exploring the surroundings. I remember we took a stroll down the driveway and came upon a lone, squat building. We peeped through the dusty glass window panes. There was a beautiful, white, ceramic bath tub sunk into the floor of the room and a few pieces of antique furniture scattered about. We were told it was the queen’s bathing room where she probably had her therapeutic, aromatic, luxury baths. This room was later to become our Tamil class room, and an inner room was where sports equipments were stored.

Right below the room with the French windows, which later became one of the class rooms – and so convenient for us to bunk, slipping out the French windows, the ground was in two levels. One had a lovely stone fountain. When we were in College in the 70s the fountain was still there and the wild growth had given way to shuttle and tennikoit courts. The grounds around the college gave way to extensive areas of lush, green tea gardens.

In the initial years, the hostellers of Providence were housed in our school’s staff quarters. They would travel to college by the school van dressed in their beautiful saris and pants. Looking at them, we Convent girls thought our uniforms drab.

I remember our girls even took part in an Inter- collegiate play competition at Anna Stadium Ooty, representing the Providence College. It was Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado with Susan Thomas playing lead as the Mikado. Christine Jamal (Kitty Fernandez) and the rest of the cast turned out a splendid performance, which won a prize. 

My next visit to Providence College was in 1970.  Springfield Palace was now was Providence College, having started humbly with a handful of local and foreign students, many of them from the Convent. Providence was celebrating the centenary of Charles Dickens. We Convent girls were invited. Dress code: Victorian era and we had to come as couples. 

We in the 10th and 11th class raided the costume room behind the stage. The costume room was a treasury of every conceivable type of clothing from some bygone era. Those of us dressing as women were fitted in bright lengthy gowns with hoops, done with saris. Sleeves were flouncy and puffed with plenty of lace and silk flower trimmings. We had no crinolines so we used extra chemises and petticoats to give our dresses the bounce. Some of us had the tight bodices which was wound around and tied behind. Some of the more daring seniors wore ‘off the shoulders’ dresses, and tossed a light modest shawl or scarf over them! 

Hats ranged in lovely shades and sizes. There were flowery bonnets and broad brimmed hats with coloured feathers and flowers to choose from. We wore our slip-ons or heels. Some girls decorated their umbrellas with trimmings and twirled it around which looked very fancy.

Those who dressed as men wore tail coats or calf length frock coats of wool or velvet, over dark long pants or breeches. They wore white shirts with wide cravats, neck ties or bows. The hats were bowlers or top hats. I’m not sure if anyone wore wigs. The shoes were our everyday naughty boy shoes, brushed to a shine.

So thus attired we strolled around in Providence where everyone was decked up in Victorian era clothing. I think it was a sort of fete. There were stalls themed on Dickens, with displays, write ups and cut outs of information about Dickensian times. I think there were short talks on Dickens and his works. There might have been a play but we didn’t stay long enough.

My next visit to Providence College was in 1970.  Springfield Palace was now was Providence College, having started humbly with a handful of local and foreign students, many of them from the Convent. Providence was celebrating the centenary of Charles Dickens. We Convent girls were invited. Dress code: Victorian era and we had to come as couples. 

We in the 10th and 11th class raided the costume room behind the stage. The costume room was a treasury of every conceivable type of clothing from some bygone era. Those of us dressing as women were fitted in bright lengthy gowns with hoops, done with saris. Sleeves were flouncy and puffed with plenty of lace and silk flower trimmings. We had no crinolines so we used extra chemises and petticoats to give our dresses the bounce. Some of us had the tight bodices which was wound around and tied behind. Some of the more daring seniors wore ‘off the shoulders’ dresses, and tossed a light modest shawl or scarf over them! 

Hats ranged in lovely shades and sizes. There were flowery bonnets and broad brimmed hats with coloured feathers and flowers to choose from. We wore our slip-ons or heels. Some girls decorated their umbrellas with trimmings and twirled it around which looked very fancy.

Those who dressed as men wore tail coats or calf length frock coats of wool or velvet, over dark long pants or breeches. They wore white shirts with wide cravats, neck ties or bows. The hats were bowlers or top hats. I’m not sure if anyone wore wigs. The shoes were our everyday naughty boy shoes, brushed to a shine.

So thus attired we strolled around in Providence where everyone was decked up in Victorian era clothing. I think it was a sort of fete. There were stalls themed on Dickens, with displays, write ups and cut outs of information about Dickensian times. I think there were short talks on Dickens and his works. There might have been a play but we didn’t stay long enough.

Padmini, Jayashree, Usha and Sarojini on the fountain rim (below room 1.) Providence College - 1973.
to be continued
Jayashree Jayapaul (nee Johnson)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015



I entered the portals of college,
gauche, gangly, giggly, unsure, tense…
What lies within the hallowed walls
of this college called Providence?

Pleasant lawns, tall trees, quaint old buildings
nestled softly in the arms of Nature.
The songs of birds filled my ears,
painting a calm and quiet picture.       

Fairytale pathways and cobblestone steps,
Under branches filled with fragrant flowers.
And wherever I looked, dotting the scene,
colourful clusters in little bowers.

Gracious sisters, attired in white or black
moved across my bemused vision.
Gentle voices as they direct and guide,
as they went about their God-given mission.

Soon the place rang with joyous young voices
Solemn lessons, dramas, contests and friends!
Of Laughter and fun there was no lack,
no want of style and high fashion trends!

Four years - too short, too fast they fled!
Four halcyon years in that paradise
gave me wings, polished my rough edges,
gladdened my heart; made me wise!

I left that pristine and lovely place,
with the high principles, courage, enlightened mind
gleaned from the guiding lights that moulded me.
But I left a big piece of my heart behind!

Minnie Isaac T 
English Literature Class of 1975 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Chase your dream with passion

This is an excerpt from the keynote address of Dr Susan Punnen Grandy at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Providence College. She spoke about her journey from small town Coonoor to the higher echelons of the global Pharma industry 

Dr Susan Grandy in the centre with Sr Principal on her left and Sr Assumpta on the right

"Start with a dream and pursue it relentlessly…with passion. The path that you take to reach your dream may not be easy. But the road will be scenic and interesting.

Ø The road to success is not a path sprinkled with rose petals.

Ø The road to success will have detours and some potholes too.

Ø The speed of your journey will vary along the way.

Ø You may have to slow down due to traffic congestion and accidents. At other times you can cruise along or race at 100 miles an hour as if you were on an  autobahn  
Ø On the road to success you stop at different places and have different experience, some good and some bad.

Ø On the road to success you meet people who can impact the direction you take in your journey. Some people are with you for a short time while some others are there throughout the journey.

Ø A sense of achievement will be the signal that you have attained your goal.

Ø  Don’t stop dreaming then. Continue to strive for new heights and newer dreams.

Susan’s story

This is the story of the journey I made; today, I stand on this stage in disbelief. The last time I was on a stage at Providence College; I was playing the lead role in William Shakespeare’s Othello. The auditorium was a tin shed.  Never in my wildest dreams did I envision this moment, that I would be back on the Providence College stage as a chief guest, after 40 years.

I have stood on many stages and at podiums around the world giving my research lectures at international scientific meetings. But being invited to this stage, to speak to you and participate in the Golden Jubilee celebration of Providence College, my old alma mater, is truly an honor…It seems I have made a full circle to come back to where it all started 

A door closed

I left Coonoor and India as a teenager. After completing my Pre-University Degree from Providence College, my dream was to attend medical school and become a doctor. However, I was met with hurdles. While applying for a medical seat in Kerala, I was told the Pre-University course I had undergone was not recognized. I would have to get a two year Pre-Degree course or apply after my Bachelors degree. This, of course, was very disappointing and needless to say frustrating for a young 17 year old.

I did not let this deter me from my dream.

I decided to pursue my Bachelors Degree and kept my options open to other possibilities.  I applied to Universities in Kerala, and at the same time I also applied to Universities in the US for the Pre-Med Program.
My determination paid off as I not only got admission to Upsala University in New Jersey, US, but I also received a full 4-year scholarship.  

How did I get the scholarship? 

The University Admissions office was so impressed with my Pre-University grades from my education at Providence, and my TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores. They said that they had never seen such a high English test score from a foreign student. Little did the University in US know that English was the language that I was most familiar with; and I owed that to my education at St. Josephs’ and Providence.

When one door closed God opened another

I started chasing my dream with the university admission letter in hand and $8 in my purse, (that was all a student was allowed to carry at that time). I boarded an aircraft for the first time in my life. The flight was from Cochin via Bombay and Saudi Arabia; it made a detour to Paris for an emergency landing (because of a fire on the plane) and finally to New York. I landed in New York about 18 hours late.

There was a person waiting at the airport holding a placard with my name on it. He was sent by Upsala University to welcome me. He helped me with my luggage and to make a call to the folks who were supposed to pick me up, who were not at the airport because all roads were temporarily closed in New York due to torrential rain which lashed the city. The roads would open again only at 7 am. It was four in the morning; everyone had left the airport even the janitors who clean the airport. I sat there alone waiting for daylight. You can imagine how scared I was, a 17-year old alone at the John F Kennedy International Airport.

But things got better; and I started my student life and education in America. I had joined Upsala University a month late due to visa delays, so I had some catching up to do.  A student counselor had enrolled me into courses that I had never even heard of or could even spell like Calculus. But I was in good hands. All the professors were very helpful, especially my Math Professor who took me under his wing and coached me so that I caught with the rest of the class.

The Pre Med Program

I soon realized that the “Pre-Med Program” was actually four years of college to earn a Bachelors in Science . This was not the 6 month pre-med Program that I had envisioned where I would move automatically into a full- fledged medical education. In the US, the minimum degree you need to apply for medical school was a Bachelor’s degree. So now, I realized that becoming a doctor would take a little longer.

I worked hard for the next few years. I was on the Dean’s list every semester, and graduated with distinction in three and half years instead of the mandatory four. Once again I was excited that I could now apply to medical school in the US. I took my MCATs (Medical Aptitude Test) and proceeded to apply to medical schools and was told that since I was not a US citizen admission would be very difficult.

Another door closed

I had come this far and I must not give up my dream now. So I applied for a Masters Program and received admission in the prestigious Seton Hall University in New Jersey. While studying at the University one of my professors introduced me to one of his old students’ who had graduated with a Master’s and then enrolled into a PhD Program in Pharmacology at the Rutgers University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ. I had never thought about going for a doctorate degree. As I learned more about the PhD Program it occurred to me that Pharmacology was all about Medicine. You had to study everything a medical doctor studied and then you had to do original research and discover new science.

This intrigued me. So I decided to apply for the PhD Program in Pharmacology at Rutgers University of Medicine and Dentistry. Only three students are selected each year into the program. Well, I was selected and I started my PhD Program.

Another setback

Two months after I joined the PhD program I was in a very bad car accident. My car was destroyed and I almost lost my life. With the help of highly trained doctors in the Emergency room I was patched up and then spent the next few weeks in the hospital intensive care unit. My face was completely smashed. I had temporary paralysis and could not walk. I thought my life and my academic pursuits were over. With medical care from doctors, nurses, and rehabilitation with physical therapy and friends I slowly recovered my ability to walk. I spent the next few months gaining my strength and recovering back to health. I was now afraid to drive…

But I picked myself up and went back to the University…I had missed a few months of my first semester classes. The University Professors and my classmates worked with me and I caught up on all the courses and exams I had missed and I was back in full force pursuing my PhD.

The first two years was all course work for the PhD Program. When that was complete I had to go through an oral exam with a panel of professors who would decide if I can proceed to become a candidate for the PhD. I passed. So the next phase was to pick a professor and select an area of research that you want to pursue.

I picked Dr. Hreday Sapru, a Neuro-pharmacologist in the Neuroscience Department. He was a terrific mentor and guided my research in his laboratory the next two and half years. My research was mapping out the neural pathway and neurotransmitters that controlled blood pressure. My Professor was very disciplined and strict. He wanted me to present my research findings at International Scientific Meetings and publish in scientific journals. By the time I stood in front of my Defense Committee to defend my PhD thesis, all work was published and there were no questions left un-answered.

Donald Rice, Professor and leading neuroscientist at Cornell University in New York was on my defense committee. He was very impressed. Right after, he shook my hand and congratulated me on my research; he offered me a post-doctoral fellowship in his laboratory.

Two weeks after I got my PhD, I got married. I had met my husband John Paul Grandy, MD when we were both at the medical school. I then did my post-doctoral fellowship with a National Institutes of Health Federal Grant.

I took a year off after my postdoctoral fellowship to have my daughter Samantha and stayed home a few months be a mom.


I guess I was destined to be an Army brat – I was born in Kashmir in a pretty little mission hospital surrounded by cherry trees, in a beautiful little town nestled in the Himalayas, called Anantnag. My first home was a houseboat on the Dal Lake, and my second was a tent on the banks of the beautiful Basanta River. My dad was in the Army, and posted in Kashmir at the time of my birth.

The camp where we lived was surrounded by cherry orchards, and according to my mum, was as pretty as a picture. My mother told me stories about how clear the water was, teeming with trout which they used to enjoy just cooked in butter with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. There was always a basket of plump, sweet, red cherries on our makeshift dining table.
Growing up the daughter of an Army Officer is something only another army brat will understand – an Army Cantonment is a world unto itself – complete with schools, hospitals, canteens, temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras. We learnt from a very early age to respect all religions, celebrate all festivals, and speak many languages. We shared a deep bond with all the other families, meeting often in the Officer’s Mess to celebrate Holi, Diwali and Christmas. Thinking back on those days fills me with nostalgia.
Of course, the uncertainty and constant state of flux is something that an army brat has to contend with.  I knew what it was like to constantly move schools, to have to make new friends, to pack and move like nomads every few years, not to have your dad with you at crucial junctures of your life, and all the other stuff which is part and parcel of life in the Armed Forces.
Having known no other life, it seemed only natural then that I ended up marrying an Army Officer! My father was thrilled when I announced that I wanted to marry an Army pilot – in his eyes a helicopter pilot was the crème de la crème of the Army! All within the space of three months, I was engaged, married and on my way to Devlali to face life as the wife of an Air OP (now Army Aviation) pilot.
Initially, it was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim – life as the Commandant’s daughter was as different from life as a Captain’s wife, as chalk is different from cheese! I had to learn very quickly how to swim – the alternative was to sink like a stone! However, my resilience and adaptability kicked in, and soon enough I learnt how to cope with both the joys and rigours of being a soldier’s wife.
For the next thirty years my life was a continuous circle of joy, adventure, fear, loneliness, and the ever pervading feeling of never being able to put down roots. Our homes consisted of tents, bashas,(thatched huts) old dhobi’s lines with ‘FOR DEMOLITION’ painted on the walls, and of course the good old MES Inspection Bungalows and Army Messes, where we spent many a night waiting for our temporary accommodation. I always found that amusing – by the time we were eventually allotted permanent accommodation, within a matter of months came the transfer orders! So we had to pack up and move again……………to a new city/town, the mess, temporary accommodation, permanent accommodation and another transfer – in that order!

Looking back on my life however, I realize I wouldn’t have had it any other way – my life was filled with adventure and excitement few others would have experienced.  I have the blood of a warrior flowing in my veins, and I am proud to call myself an Army brat!

Valerie Lamoury (nee Suares)

English Literature Class of 1978 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Our Joys Our Sorrows

Fifty years ago, the Sisters of the Order of St Joseph of Tarbes, set up a women’s college in Coonoor.  This college, Providence College for Women, has since been in the forefront of women’s higher education in the Nilgiris.
photo: Samantha Iyanna

Many girls, especially from backward and tribal communities were able to get themselves a college education and thereby spread the light of learning into their houses, villages and their communities at large. A great majority of the students who have passed through this college come from economically weaker sections of society.
Over the years, the college has grown from strength to strength and today offers many more disciplines than it did when I was a student there in the mid 1970s. The college also offers PhD programmes in many disciplines.
Today, the college has not just grown it has changed in so many ways. The students have uniforms on certain days, they wear blazers and of course there are many more buildings. The ethereal charm of Provy of the old days is no longer there. Today it is bustling and very alive.
I was fortunate to attend the final day of the four-day celebrations which marked the beginning of the Golden Jubilee year. As soon as Samantha Iyanna informed me about the Golden Jubilee celebrations I thought of Dr Susan Punnen Grandy as a chief guest; after all she was our very own success story. Though Susan did just one year of Pre University in Provy before she left for higher studies in the US, we would like to think that Susan is, at heart, a Coonoor girl.  Imagine my surprise when Susan told me that she would definitely come to Coonoor and participate in the Golden Jubilee celebrations.
Susan, incidentally, is a corporate honcho and a high flying one at that. She is a Director with one of the world’s pharma giants. She travels the world on business and is very much a world citizen.
Most of the girls who passed out of Provy did not become hot shot corporate honchos or influential bureaucrats, though we have our share of those too. The majority of old students became teachers, bankers and lawyers, balancing their lives as wives, mothers and daughters.   

This blog is to celebrate their lives as they relive old memories and talk about their lives, their joys and sorrows.