Muslim Girls' School used to be synonymous with the name Ms Qamar Jehan, always addressed as 'Sister-ji'. She was the Principal of that school from the late 1950's and held that position for a long, long time. In fact she was instrumental in the development of this institution for the education of girls from all communities, races and religions. Although, at first, the school was meant for girls only; later, it opened up even for boys up to the primary level. A secondary section was was also opened with the vision, wisdom and hard work put in by Sister-ji. She played a key role in bringing improvement in the lives of millions of girls in Kenya.
I remember her as a small lady covered from head to toe with the traditional 'saree' and a long sleeved blouse. She had a long plait, a receding hair line, thick brows on an authoritative face without a trace of make-up. She was a conservative, simple, humble, highly educated woman. She had a double Master's degree in Education and was known for her courage in facing the challenges of life and standing up for her rights with integrity and dignity.
When I joined Muslim Girls' School in Standard 2, I was about 6 years old. My first teacher was Ms. Amina and I still have memories of that time. I was shy at first but one day during 'class-time' before assembly, she asked me to perform anything that I knew in front of the whole class. I had just come back from a trip to Pakistan so I remembered a song from a movie I had watched there. I heartily sang 'Aaye mausam rangilay suhanay, jiya nahin manay, to shooti le ke aaja balamaa...'
That was the beginning of a fanatastic time in primary school. My sisters were also in the same school. We were all lucky to be academically bright, thanks to our father who always made sure that we studied hard in the evenings at home. He never objected to his girls taking part in extra curricular activities so we all participated in school plays, concerts, 'naat' recitations, singing sprees, debates, speeches and even dancing. Saying the school prayers during assembly time was no problem for us.
At annual school speech days, we used to bag most of the prizes to the chagrin of our rivals but to the glee of our parents, who were struggling and striving to educate all their children. The teachers were always encouraging and inspiring. I still remember some of them vividly.
There was Mrs. Shaad in the nursery - a large lady with a beautiful face and green eyes. She had a booming, loud voice and the kids were always in awe of her.
Mrs Mussarat was also in the nursery - a kind, docile, lovely lady with a flawless complexion and jet black hair. We used to see her a lot as all the school functions used to be in the nursery school hall.
Mrs Zakia Magre and Razia Magre were always admired for their 'rupanzel' long hair.
Ms Rafia Deen was a tall, slim, beautiful lady who was often given the role of a king or prince in the school plays, put up by the highly energetic and talented teachers. I had a chance twice to act as her child in the dramas that used to be a tradition at the end of the year celebrations.
Mrs. Rashida Asghar was an outstanding, beautiful person with a pleasant demeanour and smart sense of dressing up. She used to accompany her father, Nawab Din and Sisterji, to go from house to house, convincing parents to send thier children, especially girls, to school. Her husband, Asghar Sadiq, was also an active community member, President of Sir Ali Sports Club and Chairman of Sigona Golf Club. They had two small kids and life was blissful until one day when tragedy struck and both husband and wife left this mortal world after a fatal road accident on the Nakuru-Nairobi Highway. All friends, teachers and students went into shock.
Just that morning (1st June,1972), Mrs Rashida and her students had won prizes at the Kenya Music Festival. At lunch time she had collected her mother and attended the funeral of a friend at Pangani Mosque. On the request of Mr. Mohamed Amin, Rashida and Asghar started their journey to Nakuru to get a deal on a fleet of trucks but never came back! They had left their family, friends and children to the mercy of this cruel world.
The children are till now saddened by the fact that they had to hear all about their parents from teachers and friends - they were so young and innocent when both their parents were snatched away in the prime of their lives.
Mrs Rashida Asghar will always be remembered for the legacy she left behind and the remarkable things she did for Muslim Girls' School. She was the Mathematics and Hisory teacher for Classes 5 - 7. She introduced the 'Osmoroid' pen in her classes to improve the handwriting of students. Thanks to her, many of us discovered and developed the beautiful calligraphic writing. She used to teach the pupils knitting, crochetting and stitching, which was her passion, too. She had a golden voice and used to lead the chorus of teachers and students reciting 'naats' during school assemblies.
With her friendly personality she won the heart of one and all. She became the Head of the Primary section in the school and among her colleagues were Ms Asfa, Mrs Sakina, Ms Sheikh, Ms Shaila, Mrs Safdar Qureshi, Mrs Abdulla, Mrs Hashmi, Mrs Safia Lone, Mrs Sadqa Malik, Mrs Anwar Sethi, Mrs Saeeda Asghar and the unforgettable Mrs (Appaji) Zohra, the religion teacher, known for her ruler hitting on the knuckles of students who did not learn their lessons properly. Luckily I used to escape her wrath but I still remember the wincing of my class mates who got her 'treatment'.
Mrs Cardoso was another formidable teacher, notorious for her merciless sharp tongue and ruthless punishments.
The students took their own back by giving atrocious knick names to the teachers like - 5 shilling note, 10 shilling note, 'kahin nazar kahin ishara', 'maalai chor' etc. One student also had the audacity to slap the head teacher in front of other people. Insolence and indiscipline has always been present in all generations!
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My all time favourite teacher was Ms Sanobar Malik Khan, the Class teacher in Standard 5. She was a beautiful, petite lady with long, naturally red hair, a fiery temper when provoked and a charming personality. She knew how to bring out the best in her students by sometime being strict and at other times showing great understanding and care.
I can still recall her teaching us about the Greek gods and the Spartan-Athenian life-styles. She liked my hand writing and she kept my copies to show the neatly written notes to other children. Often I used to stand on a stool and write the working of some Math problems on the black-board. She used to give me a chance to explain some solutions to the rest of the class. It was at one of these ocassions that Sister-ji walked in and after I had finished the explanation, she commended me and said I was a 'born' teacher. I think it was then that subconsciously I decided to be a teacher and ended up following that career for 35 years.
Once Ms Sanobar appointed me the leader of a group to catch some class pilferers and saved me from being lured into the trap of those petty thieves in the school. She always encouraged us to participate in all the extra-curricular activities in the school. I remember how painstakingly she used to prepare our costumes as fairies or elves in various school dramas and variety shows.
That year she got married. We, students, also attended her wedding, sang songs and wept our eyes out when she left the school to join her husband some time later. She left an indelible mark on my thinking and I never forgot her. As I grew up, I saw little of her but whenever I met her she would heartily embrace me, praise and pray for me. She even attended my marriage.
She used to go to England a lot as her children were studying there and later they even got married there. Whenever she came to Nairobi she would always remember to invite us and our parents for the lavish get togethers in her luxurious house. When her grand-son was born she threw a huge party at the Thai restaurant in the Zen Gardens in Nairobi.
She had a lot of style and etiquette. She was a good orator and often gave speeches at religous functions. She loved singing, poetry and music. Now in her old age, she is often ill but as graceful and attractive as ever. She has the same elating spirit of a strong, social woman of exemplary character. She is still sensible, sensitive, dignified and aware of her responsibilities and rights. Whenever I meet her she has the same love for me in her eyes and is all praises for me. I, too, admire and respect her from the bottom of my heart.
I always felt sorry for the students who feared but did not show respect for their elders, especially the teachers who were like their parents in school. When in primary, I used to be shocked when children would spread gossip, mimic and joke about some short-coming or defect in the teachers' body like an extra digit on the hand, a squint, sullen face or obesity. They would also bully other students who were slower than the rest.
Sisterji had a ward, a distant relative, Fozia, who was in my class. She had a slight limp and she was often alone. Sisterji asked me to befriend her and come to play with her in her house as they both used to live in the small house in the compound of the school. I enjoyed the privilege of going into the Principal's house! Fozia and I used to play, sing and dance together in the house. Sometimes Sister-ji's son also used to be there but most of the time he used to be in Uganda with his father. After a year or so Fozia was sent back to Pakistan and I never saw her again.
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After finishing Class 7 (C.P.E.), I joined the renowned Duchess of Gloucester Secondary School (now, Pangani Girls' School), and did my 'O' and 'A' levels there. Some teachers left a mark - Ms Narona, the harsh but excellent Math teacher; Ms Patel, a sweet French lady with her typical chignon, who taught us French; Ms Sedan, a British old lady, a fantastic teacher of Shorthand, Typing and Commerce - I used to love her lessons and excelled in her subjects. Then there was the unforgettable Ms Glover who was known for her terrorising ways of instilling discipline and high standards of perfection. We had to wear aprons before entering her laboratory and more time was spent in punishment than in studying Biology. She set up a "Soup" kitchen with the left over fresh vegetables from the school canteen. Any student could have a plate of the soup free at break-time! Ms Fonseca was the Chemistry teacher, in whose practical demonstration, one day, nitric acid fell on my arm, the scar of which I have till today. Then there was Mr D'Souza, the Physics teacher, who was an ardent fitness person wanting everyone to have a proper posture - so 'pait undder,shaati bahaar' was his favourite line.
Ms Evans, the Principal, was a most pleasant, elegant, understanding lady with golden hair and a charming smile. When I topped my 'O' Level class, she offered me a job as school secretary while waiting to go for the 'A' levels. I was thrilled and worked there for 4 months. The salary was little but I learnt a lot under her jurisdiction. I came to know the practical advantage of being organised and efficient. I was just 16 years old but I felt so grown-up and tried to groom myself, look presentable and smart so that I could handle visitors with confidence. It was then that I also learnt to paint my nails and wear high heels!
Time went on. After my 'A' levels, I went to study in Lahore for almost 3 years. After coming back with a B.Sc. degree, I was immediately offered a job as a Science and Math teacher at Muslim Girls' School. Ms Qamar Jehan was still the Principal and now there was a secondary section for the girls, so I was teaching the bigger girls. Most of my child-hood teachers had left, the remaning were now my colleagues. There were many new faces - Nahida, Sajda, Usha, Parvin, Kausar and Sabarwal.
Teaching was second nature to me so I enjoyed my classes. The teachers were a friendly lot; they all had a good sense of humour and used to have fun at school functions. Sometimes, during our 'free' lessons, we used to go shopping together to Ngara which was 5 minutes drive from the school on Park Road. Parvin used to joke that the unmarried teachers should start collecting their 'dowry' now and buy 'sarees' every month to 'keep' for our wedding!
Sisterji was still very active inspite of her age. She ran the school with a hawk's eye. Often she would walk into our classes and watch our lessons. She always had kind words for me and reiterated that I was a 'born' teacher. I think she had a soft spot for me and loved me unconditionally.
One day, she called me into her office, asked me to be seated and told me that she wished me to agree to become her daughter-in-law. I was stunned. I knew she had a son living in Kampala with his father, her estranged husband, who was a business tycoon in Uganda. She had spent almost whole of her life struggling alone in Nairobi. She told me if I complied I would be surrounded by factories, houses and a lavish life style.
I was young, just 22, naive and a romantic at heart. I told her that my parents had already arranged my engagement with a relative in Kuwait and there was no way that I would break their heart for any amount of riches. She said she would talk to my parents again but the answer was the same. The next year, I was married off as arranged by my parents. Sisterji attended my wedding, blessed me and never changed her loving attitude towards me. I left Muslim Girls' the following year as I had to stay in Pakistan with my in-laws for some time. When I returned to Nairobi I got a job at another school.
After many years, I came in close contact with Sisterji in the 1990's when I came to live in the Wood Avenue, Kilimani, near the Ya Ya Centre. I was working at St Austins School at that time. My son was five years old and my daughter was studying at Loreto Convent, Msongari. My husband was working for a Road Construction Company.
To my amazement, I discovered that Sisterji was living in the next street near my house.
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I visited her - she looked even smaller than before but as alert as ever. She ws now in her 80's. Of course she had retired from the Headship of Muslim Girls' School but still worked for the Examination Council to assist in making and marking Religion subject papers. She was using a stick to walk as she had hurt her foot after a fall in her house. She lived alone in her big house. She seemed to have everything for her comfort - servants, loads of money - but a lot of loneliness. Her son, daughter-in-law and grand-sons came to see her very rarely. She was indeed a brave lady to be living alone, indepentendly, without ever complaining to anybody. I felt it was her faith and piety that kept her going on with so much peace of mind.
She still wanted to help needy people in the community and was the Chair-lady of the Muslim Women's Association. She encouraged me to become a member. Once a month, on Saturday afternoons, we used to go for the meetings at the Women's Hall behind the Muslim Girls' School. Sisterji always impressed me by her speeches that she gave without use of any notes. She still had a fantastic memory. She was out spoken and sometimes seemed harsh when she criticised openly. She loved reading and assisted in setting up an "Urdu" Library in the Muslim Hall.
The activities of the women were connected to collect funds and distribute them to the less priveleged people. We used to have bake-sales, auctions, concerts, dramas and fun fetes to raise money. The dormant talents of all the women members, including me, resurfaced. We would forget the pressures of married life and children and participate enthusiastically in acting, singing and organising the functions we held for the women of our community.
I often used to pick Sisterji from her house to take her to the Muslim Hall for the meetings. Whenever I went to take her she would say 'Oh my beautiful driver has come!' She really loved me a lot and I, too respected her. Once when she came to my house she gave me an Egyptian Art plate which I still have. She even commended me for my neat and organised little home. She always had kind words for my parents and admired them for bringing up and educating all their children under hard conditions. There was a time when due to some family misuderstanding, my sister was barred by her in-laws from seeing her relatives for several years. Sisterji was devastated. She tried to talk to all concerned but nobody listened to the frail old lady.
One day, I was told that she had suddenly fallen very sick and her son had come and taken her away to Kampala,where later she died. I was heart broken as I had lost a mentor, a friend and a guide. Well wishers in Nairobi had prayer meetings for her. She had spent almost her whole life in Nairobi and when she passed away in Kampala, none of her friends, colleagues or students were near her. But at least she had been re-united with her own family even if it was for a short time before her death.
Sisterji will always be remembered for the sensible, compassionate and courageous lady that she was. She indeed was the inspiration and role model for the thousands of girls whose life was tranformed by the education that they received under her guidance in the Muslim Girls' School.
" Achaa hai kooch lai janay se, dey kar hi kooch janaa
Chal uurda rey panchi, kai aab ye desh hua beganaa "
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Thank you Shama we might know each other Mrs Abdulla was my teacher in the final year,she taught us class in the last final year GCH ,The Merchant of Vanice she took us to National Theatre to watch
Thanks dear arfa. Check out other pages on the menu. You will enjoy. God bless.
Thanks parveen. Do check other pages on menu. Enjoy. God bless
I left muslim girls school in standard 7 in 1974.
Shama you have taken me back in time wonderful memories best years of my life
Check out other pages on menu. Thanks for appreciating.
Dear nails. If you send me the full names I can certainly try to locate them. God bless.
Sorry we are looking for photos of the school and teachers at that time.
Hi Shama My sisters went to the Muslim Girls School 1960-66 and the Duchess of Gloucester school 1966-67. Do you or anyone else know where I can get them. They would be so happy to see them. Thanks.
Oh I am so glad.send me mums photo on my email. God bless. Do see other pages. Luv
Hi Shama, enjoyed reading your post. My mother- Gurbachan K Sabharwal was a teacher in Muslim Girls high school, shes 79 yrs now. would love to see more pictures if you could share
Dear Rifat and friends,glad you are enjoying the past, do check out other pages too...have fun....God bless.