Faishon
 Profiles
 QAs
 Events
 Issues/Controversy
 Style
 Flash
Music
 Interviews
 Musician Profile
 Album Reviews
 Musical Notes
 Charts(Bytes)
Entertainment
 Reviews
 TV / Films
 Features
 Star Bytes
Lifestyle
 Profile
 Shop Review
 Restaurant Review
Society
 Profile
 Events
 Features
Columnists
 Fasi Zaka
 Nadeem F Paracha
Regulars
 In The Picture
 Vibes Charts
 Style Watch
 Musical Notes
 Starbytes
 Flash

 
 

nostalgia
Benazir as a Convent girl
The Convent of Jesus and Mary was the alma mater of the two time Prime Minister of Pakistan and her untimely death has caused other Conventarians to reflect on what her legacy was and how CJM helped shape it.

By Maria Tirmizi

 
Benazir Bhutto was sent to CJM, Murree in 1964. It was in this boarding school where she perhaps romanticized about the future, tucked in a warm bed under the racket of a hailstorm clanking against the tin roof. It was in this colonial brick building where fear of the nuns may have frozen her whispered conversations in the corridors, and it was here that during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, she practiced against raids and blackouts with fellow boarders.

When the shocking news of Benazir Bhutto's assassination had reached every Pakistani home, it was only a matter of time till the eulogies started pouring in, almost as if there had never been any speck of dust on her iconic white scarf. For a while, everyone was content to set aside prejudices and allow their heartstrings to be tugged by old photographs of a very slender, 19-year-old girl standing with her father and Indira Gandhi at Simla, and much later, at age 35, in a Voguish 80s makeover, taking oath as the first female leader of a modern Muslim nation. Every humane individual, whether jaundiced towards her or conveniently apolitical, condemned an unwarranted end to the inexhaustible ball of energy that was Benazir.
 
Three days were set aside to mourn her, and it was hard not to abide by them, without much conscious effort, as constant replays of her life's soap opera-like narrative eclipsed everything else on television.
It was somewhere in between the countless flashbacks of her political trips around the world and meetings with foreign dignitaries in that signature shoulder-padded jacket of hers that a snippet of the news anchor's commentary swooped up and tugged at something intensely familiar. He was saying, "She attended Lady Jennings Nursery School and then Convent of Jesus and Mary in Karachi. After two years of schooling at the Rawalpindi Presentation Convent, she was sent to the Convent of Jesus and Mary at Murree..."
 
The Convent of Jesus and Mary, Murree…
What are those blue remembered hills, what spires, what farms are those…
Memory slowly seeped in. A narrow winding drive through pine-covered hills. A red roofed Victorian building, managing to appear snug and imposing at the same time, peaking through the last nauseous turn. Flanked by a modest gate, a sanctuary of around 250 girls. Of forbidden late night chitchats and misty home-sick mornings. Of dreamy hilltop breezes drifting through classroom windows, distracting thoughts from Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man. Of mashed potatoes lunches over rumbling tummies and the warm scent of Sister Marie Rose's freshly made school toffee. Of the faraway glitter of Islamabad's nightlife accompanying a group of friend's after-supper walk. Home, to many of us, and also to the first and only female prime minister of our country.
 

The Convent of Jesus and Mary, Murree, was considered one of the best boarding schools for girls in Pakistan. It was first built in 1876, initially only for orphan girls. The original building was burnt to the ground in a great fire in 1904 and the new structure was completed by 1913. According to a comprehensive CJM website constructed by class of '92 alumnus Sonia Farooq, "the aim of the school was to train women to have high moral values so that they could become good housewives and mothers."
An excerpt from Lala Shah's book Mystique of Murree mentions that guiding philosophy in the words of Saint Claudine Thevenet, founder of the congregation of Jesus and Mary:

"Let us so form these children that they may become serious minded, well balanced, home-loving women that they may cast their blessing in every home they enter."

 
Such a philosophy was a product of its time and may now sound anachronistic. But it did remain appropriate and relevant for the longest period of time, starting from the era of the British Raj and continuing till decades after it. Affluent families of the Frontier found Murree Convent to be the ideal institution where their daughters could acquire quality education while adhering to the strictest codes of moral conduct.

Tehmina Durrani, also an ex-pupil of Murree Convent, writes about the school in her book My Feudal Lord, "Khans and Sardars of the Frontier had over the years sent their daughters to study at this conservative and strict institution. Field Marshal Ayub Khan's granddaughter, Benazir and Sanam Bhutto, daughters of landed families from the Punjab were all here, but the Pathans dominated."
 
In 2006, however, to the utmost disappointment of many, the boarding school was shut down. Dorms were converted into day nurseries and a long beautiful chapter in the history of Murree officially, and unnecessarily, ended.

Benazir Bhutto was sent to CJM, Murree in 1964. It was in this boarding school where she perhaps romanticized about the future, tucked in a warm bed under the racket of a hailstorm clanking against the tin roof, typical of Murree's monsoon summers. It was in this colonial brick building where fear of the nuns may have frozen her whispered conversations in the corridors, and it was here that during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, she practiced against raids and blackouts with fellow boarders. It is no oddity then, that the tragic closure of the final chapter in Benazir's Shakespearean saga makes us journey back to the legacy of that great institution, gather the tiny imprints left behind by her, and try to discover how the school's torchbearers reminisce its most famous pupil.
 
The Convent legacy
"When I was ten and Sanam seven," writes Benazir in her book Daughter of the East, "we were sent north to a boarding school in the pine covered former British hill station of Murree. Our governess had given very short notice and was returning to England. Boarding school seemed the quick solution and my father was in favour of it, thinking the experience would toughen us up. For the first time, I had to make my own bed, polish my shoes, carry water for bathing and tooth brushing back and forth from the water taps in the corridors.

'Treat my children like the others,' my father had told the nuns. And they certainly did, laying the brush on Sunny and me for any infringement of the strict rules."
The boarding school certainly did have a rigid routine which was upheld almost sacredly. Starting from a 6 am morning bell till the lights being switched off at night with a stern "No talking" warning, adherence to rules was vital
 
Now that one looks back, it was only to foster a sense of duty, respect and discipline in our lives, which is still being instilled in the Convent girls whether they are studying at Murree, Lahore or Karachi Convent.
"You can't be a true Conventarian and not wake up having Sister Clotilda's 6 am bell ring in your ears many years after graduating from CJM," Sonia writes on her website. "It's not easy to put those memories behind. The convent was not an experience. It was a life. A life which you despise while you're living it but miss when the real world engulfs you."
 
"It was a very wise decision taken by my parents to send me to CJM," says Fasiha Talal, class of '94, "Now when I look back, I feel that the values my parents taught us were reinforced by the nuns. They did that not through any specific subject, but through their daily interactions with each and every student. I have taught in one of the schools in Islamabad and one thing that lacks in the schools of this generation is Character Building. Emphasis these days is more on the financial side of schooling, which in the end overlooks the emotional and psychological development,"

And despite the high standards of discipline at the boarding school, life did not ever get laborious. Fun was continuously sought and attained through harmless mischief and lifetime friendships were formed. As Tehmina Durrani mentions in her book, "I developed a close relationship with the nuns at school and often in times of despair during my marriage, I would find myself crying for them. Mother Andrews and Mother Berchmans were often in my thoughts. I knew why they were called 'mothers'...."
 

The little girl's imprints on the sands of time…
Benazir also shared a part of that CJM legacy. Stories about her convent days were shared as legend, and she was generally remembered in very fond terms.

Sister Berchmans, who has been the Principal of Murree Convent and is currently at Karachi Convent told Instep, "I remember Benazir and Sanam as two delightful, highly intelligent, fun loving little girls whose gentle temperament endeared them to all those who dealt with them. At the boarding school of Murree, their parents visited them regularly. Their father was then the Foreign Minister of Pakistan and took keen interest in their all-round progress and shared with them many interesting facts regarding his own work and travels."

"Benazir was a lovely, quiet, gentle, serious child, but also very fun loving," Sister Berchmans continued. "I also remember her mother coming as chief guest to the Parents' Day. Benazir received various academic prizes because she was very intelligent."

Sumaya Ali, class of 96, remembers interviewing the dining room 'bairas' at the school for the school magazine. According to that interview, one of the 'baira' called Sharif had said, "I do remember Benazir. She was a very serious child. Whenever Mr Bhutto came to see her and Sanam, he would give all the workers 5 rupees, which was quite a lot of money in those days."

Another worker called Chaudhary Baira said, "Oh Pinky! I remember her as a serious child. She would finish all her food. It was Sanam who was naughty and made a great fuss over her food."
Faiza Ghaffar, class of '99, remembers her aunty, who studied at the convent at the same time Benazir did, telling her that Benazir would take the girls out for drives in her limousine!
Then there was Sister Clotilda, who had remained at CJM Murree for over 50 years and was famous for remembering each girl who had ever been to the institution, particularly Pinky. Sister Clotilda recently passed away.

"I remember Sister Clotilda telling me that Pinky was a naughty and humorous child," Zainab Akram, class of 97, recalls. "A part of Benazir that I as a common Pakistani never got to see. One of the reasons for sending me to Murree Convent was because such a prominent Pakistani leader had studied there. This wasn't the only reason of course. I was always a J&M girl from the very start at Islamabad Convent."
Benazir remembered as a Conventarian

Although Benazir Bhutto went to Murree Convent for a little over a year, the fact that she did resonates very strongly with many CJM girls. Still, even paying homage to a twice-elected and assassinated leader of our country wasn't easy for some. A few Conventarians declined to comment on her, because they were shocked by what they called her double standards in politics. But those who did want to pay their respects had quite a lot to say.

"Benazir's leadership qualities were honed to perfection by the nuns in the convent," said Maggie Mukhtar, class of '90. "Later, this proved to be instrumental in spearheading the campaign for democracy and being elected the first woman prime minister in the Muslim world twice."
Zainab Akram said, "Somebody once said to me that he hoped that I too would not be like BB because he disagreed with her politics. I often disagreed with her politics as well, but part of honouring a person's memory, like Fatima Bhutto wrote, is accepting their flaws. Despite Benazir's mistakes, Pakistan loved her. We did so because of her courage, her being bold enough to stand alongside the sleaziest of men and hold her own; she was the only woman Prime Minister of Pakistan who gave us international recognition and a sense of pride."

"CJM must have touched Benazir in a way it touches all its students," she continued. "It must have enhanced that sense of fierce independence and bravery in her the way its teachers instilled in all its girls. I am proud that I was under the same roof amongst the same people and surroundings where such a great leader once was".

Maimuna Mukhar, class of '95, added, "Whether we loved to hate her or hated to love her, Benazir Bhutto's tragic death shocked us all. The first female elected to lead a conservative Muslim State, Benazir was intelligent, beautiful, charismatic and articulate. Yet, she was deeply flawed too. We all are, but Benazir's failings affected a whole nation and deprived us of a female role model that we could have had. Thus, she leaves behind a very mixed legacy. I think the Convent will remember its most famous daughter as a courageous and fearless woman. Benazir Bhutto's courage will be her most lasting and undisputed legacy."

– Photographs:
Sonia Farooq's website 'www.geocites.com/soniafarooq/cjm/html