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)
   

4 comments:

  1. Await the continuation of a superb narrative that transported me back in time
    Thank you

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. That was so interesting. I learned quite a few things that I didn't know. Good job JJ!

    Usha

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