It is with sadness that we share with you the news of yet another one of Welham’s old guard passing on. Mrs. John passed away quietly on Friday 26th April, 2019. She was in her late eighties and is survived by a loving family.
Mrs. John joined School in 1965 and retired in 1996 after over 30 years of being one of the best-loved Matrons of Junior School. Equally loved by teachers and students alike.
A warm and gentle soul, she was surrogate mother to literally hundreds of girls that passed through her care. Weepy first-termers, naughty second-termers, and confident juniors that she had nurtured and cared for as they made their way from Junior to Senior School imbued with the quiet confidence that all would be well.
Hers was a quiet yet solid presence at School and many felt her nurturing touch when in bed with fever and on ‘dorm-rest’, when she would encourage a spoonful of soup into an unwilling mouth or put her soothing hand on a fevered brow.
The Lord’s prayer “Our Father who art in Heaven…” was her favourite bedtime one and it put many little aching hearts at rest. As did her words to those who couldn’t sleep sometimes… “Turn to your right and close your eyes…sleep will come…” and it did.
You will be well remembered Mrs. John. Goodnight and may you rest in peace.
THE WGAA TEAM 2019
A deeply touching piece written by Mandira Khaitan, batch of 1985 for the commemorative 60th Anniversary Coffee table book SOARING HIGH is reproduced here as her special request. Nothing could say it better...
Teachers nurture you, inspire you….in gratitude.
Mrs John…nurtured me.
I began my life at Welhams on a cold January day in 1974, even today when recalling those memories as I write, I feel those butterflies of fear and excitement fluttering down to my toes.
As I stood on the threshold of a new chapter in my life it was a bitterly cold Dehradun evening, there was a hive of activity in No:6 forecourt, the gong began ringing, teachers and girls were filing up for dinner and of course the clattering of cutlery, bearers bustling about preparing dinner, so much so that the twinge of leaving my parents and of stepping into a new life did not hit home at that instant.
Mrs John was going to be my matron in No 2 dorm, a steady and tall saree clad lady with a gentle demeanour, kind face and twinkling eyes. Earlier having conducted the handover for my ‘stuff’ now came to my parents and said it was dinner time, I would have to say bye-bye to them and go with her into the dining hall, our farewell was short and sweet, she intended it to be this way, quickly she took her hand in mine it was a warm and comforting grip around my tightly clenched fingers, she led me to into the caverns of the junior school dining hall. She did this efficiently in order not to give either my parents or me an opportunity to savour or suffer the separation. She talked to me constantly and kept pointing to things ahead to distract me and made sure I did not look back at my parents. She made me sit next to her at what later I came to know as the teachers table. I was too nervous to eat (thank goodness I missed that dinner it was the infamous junior school ‘stew’ on the menu), whilst speedily eating her stew she would keep looking down at me and insisted I ate biscuit pudding that was placed in front of me which was delicious and asked if I liked another one, I was too nervous to respond, (months later I always regretted I never took seconds of pudding).
Hand firmly held, Mrs John then took me up to the No2 dorm past the classrooms, past the water cooler with ‘pinky water’, past a flurry of girls in tadpole frocks, up the grim stairs to my new home… No.2 dormitory, and told me to find my bed, it would have my roll number on one its legs, open my attaché case, unpack and to change into my night suit which was kept in a bundle on my bed. Everything was so alien to me that instead of doing what I was told, I stared at the new faces, sights and surroundings. The ceiling was too high, sheets were different from home, bedding was not the same, my night suit was made of flannel, my blue and white hawai chappals were new and hard, by now the only thing familiar was dear Mrs John, I felt a bit sick.
As other girls began pouring into the dorm, I did notice most of them were like me looking lost and bewildered, others bordering on tears. The new girls clearly stood out as we all wore ‘home clothes’. The others in uniform seemed to have an envious edge over us of already having fitted in. Probably knowing how we were feeling Mrs John kept up the routine going to distract us, “Chalo bacchhon change kar lo aur kapde peg pe taang do, and get ready for prayers, sit on your bed.”
Never having to have supervised my life on my own before, it took me and everyone ages to get these simple chores done. It was the first time in all of my 7 years that had I heard the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ in Mrs John’s comforting voice
”Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come”.
I opened one eye to glance around every one had their hands squeezed tightly together, sitting cross legged in their night suits on their respective beds, probably feeling exactly what I was, homesick, teary and hoping the prayers would transport us back home.
“Goodnight Mrs John” and we all had to scrambled into our cold, unfamiliar bed. Lights went off. I am claustrophobic in the dark so I shut my eyes tight hoping that sleep would come immediately and I wouldn’t have to stare into that black abyss, but I was too wound up, sleep was a long time coming, with great trepidation I slowly opened my eyes and……. to my utmost relief it wasn’t dark, behind the screen that enclosed Mrs John’s bed was the glow of her lamp and her rather large shadow was reflected on the screen around her bed. That welcoming, warm image is what carried me through that first night. With my heart in my mouth, on the brink of tears, starting out on a new chapter in life, Mrs John and her lamp kept me from breaking down.
There was a lot of tossing and turning and muffled cries that night and Mrs John would often walk up to the sounds and reassure the child it was coming from, I remember she came up to me patted me on the shoulder, when I had been tossing around for a while and said, “Turn to your right bacche, sleep will come, I turned to my right and kept staring at the warm glow of her lamp and her shadow as I long as I could, comforted in the knowledge she was there if I needed her, and finally drifted off to asleep.
That night and many others I spent staring at the warm glow and Mrs John’s shadow, when I was completely alone with my worst thoughts and the most homesick it’s what kept me going. Going back to the dorm and seeing her kind face and presence was balm to my churning insides.
When I met Mrs John on our 25th year reunion, that kind face was now wrinkled, the twinkle in the be-spectacled eyes still there, her teeth were the worse for wear, she looked more frail then I remembered. Most of us who were in No. 2 dormitory stood with a lump in our throat, we couldn’t speak to her because in our minds and hearts most of us were reliving that first night and days of school and how she carried us through.
She probably didn’t recognize most of us and asked “Mujhe pehchana?” none of us could speak finally one of us overcame the flood of emotion that was washing through us and said “Mrs John aap nahi hotein to hum school ke pehle din kaaise gujaar te. You were the reason that we survived those first days in school.”
I wanted to go and hug her and weep my heart out and say ’thank you, thank you’ but all I did was stand rooted to the spot and stare, knowing that I would crumble in a heap if I so moved a finger. I looked at the gift-wrapped shawl we had carried as a present for her, it was woefully inadequate but then what would be fitting, everything would pale in comparison to what she gave us a…. secure start a helping hand to a new life…. a life that shaped us, made us what we are today.
When I collected myself, I walked upto her and held her hand and silently said thank you. She looked at me and smiled, for a second I felt I was 7 years old standing in No2 dorm.
44 years on and many a times when sleep eludes me, I mentally tell myself turn onto your right and sleep will come. It inevitably does.
Thank you, Mrs John for being that comforting presence in some the most difficult days of my childhood.
Mandira Khaitan (batch of 1985)