Miss Vania, more a friend than a teacher

Mira Purohit

Mira Purohit had her early education in Delhi and Jaipur. She is a pediatrician, having pursued her medical studies in Jaipur. She served in the Rajasthan Government, devoting her working career to treating children and teaching budding doctors to treat kids. She retired as Professor, and now leads a retired life in Jaipur.

At various stages of learning, students do have favorite teachers. There are some they like, others they tolerate and yet others they dread. But for senior citizens like me, remembering school and college days is nostalgic. It is difficult to choose one favorite teacher from so many one has come across and who have not only taught but also moulded us into being what we later became. In this, perhaps, it is school teachers who play the most vital role.

Today school teachers are supposed to have teacher training degrees. But in our days this was not a prerequisite. With the exception of a short stint at Maharani Gayatri Devi School, Jaipur, at about age eight to nine years, I had most of my schooling in Delhi’s Presentation Convent.

Situated between Old Delhi Railway Station and the Red Fort, Presentation Convent was run by Irish nuns of the Presentation Congregation. Set up in the British period, it had initially catered to British children and the children of Railway employees.

Mira Purohit attended Presentation Convent School, New Delhi.

I entered school soon after Independence and partition of India, consequent to which my family shifted to Delhi from Karachi, which went to Pakistan. By then all the British children had left, and there were mostly Indian students, some of whom were Christians. In the early years our teachers were either nuns, Anglo-Indians or Christians. Hindi, of course was taught by an Indian lady. Later on, in senior classes we did have some Indian teachers. I am sure none of these had a B.Ed. or M.Ed. degree but all of them were good at what they did. Some were strict, others were not, but all of them were hard working and dedicated.

We were perhaps in Junior Cambridge (equivalent to 9th class, since Senior Cambridge was 11th and equivalent to then Higher Secondary), when a young lady Miss Vania joined as a PT and games teacher. Dressed in simple skirts and blouses, she didn't seem to be much older than us senior girls. Ever smiling and soft spoken, she was more a friend than a teacher, and games periods became so much more fun, even on days when there was only PT. Gradually, we came to know that she had passed out from our school a couple of years earlier and then did Pre-medical. She couldn't get into Medical College, and had now joined her Alma Mater.

Next year, as our batch of girls entered Pre SC (10th) Biology was introduced in our school for the first time. (Physics and Chemistry were already there). There was no Bio lab. A human skeleton did hang in an unlocked glass cupboard in the multi-purpose lab. This, Mr. Billy Bones, as I called him, had been befriended by me years ago, and shaking hands with him was a ritual whenever an opportunity arose.

Biology was made compulsory for our whole batch of thirty-plus girls. But there was no Bio teacher in the school! So Miss Vania who had studied Biology for her Pre-medical course was made to take over the responsibility till someone suitable was found for the post. That never did happen during our stay for the next two years, and the credit of teaching us botany and zoology goes to her alone.

It must have been really difficult for a young woman to teach a subject never before touched, to a group of teenagers only slightly younger in age to her. So far we had just considered her a friend who played net ball (very akin to basket ball), rounders, and later hockey with us. We even joked and played the fool with her.

And now she had to teach us a very serious subject. I wonder if teaching is an inborn art, a talent which probably needs practice in order to shine. Miss Vania managed to teach as well as control us very well. There was only one chapter when we girls felt that she had a problem. She had told us that we would be dealing with earthworms reproduction the next day and we were all excited (considering this to be similar to birds and bees--a stand in for sex education in our days).

Next day Miss Vania didn't come. There might have been some valid reason for this, but we were all sure that she was shying off. But she did manage to get through the subject the next day in spite of all the oohs and aahs from the class (I am sure we were all over acting as by the age of 14 or 15 years we must have learnt the fundamentals from other sources!).

The rabbit, which was the mammal we studied, was better handled. She must have taught really well, because much much later in an exam in medical college, I wrote an answer on the anatomy of the human gastro-intestinal tract (which chapter I had failed to revise) just by remembering what I had learnt in school. Miss Vania's voice and her drawing on the black board came back to me as I wrote the answer!

I did not stay in touch with my school teachers as, after doing my pre-medical I shifted to Jaipur. But Miss Vania remains in my memory even today and I wish all the best to this wonderful and talented teacher, wherever she might be.


Amazing that she could teach (and you could learn bio) even though she had no experience, and there was no lab!

We didn't have practical exams in Senior Cambridge at that time so the absencr of a lab didn't matter much.But next year in Pte medical I'm Hindu college I had a tough time as I had to cover quite a lot in dissections,-+ but that is another story.

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