Pakistan’s eminent educationist, Presidential Pride of Performance recipient and former Principal of Karachi’s second oldest school, BVS Parsi High School, Mrs. Deena Mistry passed away on Thursday, January 27, 2011. Known for her strict disciplinarian ways, she will be fondly remembered as ‘Iron Lady’ by her former students.
She was the grand daughter of Seth Shapurji Soparivala who founded the ‘Bai Virbaijee Soparivala Parsi High School’ in 1859. The school was initially a co-education school for Parsi population of Karachi. In 1919, BVS became a boys only school with Mama Parsi School being separated for girls. With the independence of Pakistan and upon Quaid-e-Azam’s request, BVS began accepting Muslim students, a trait of openness always displayed by the small but industrious Parsi community. Mrs. Mistry began teaching at BVS in 1950 and became the principal in 1972. Her time was the golden period for the school, which churned out future leaders in their fields like medicine, engineering, business and politics. Situated on prime property in the middle of Saddar, Mrs. Mistry turned down many an offer to move the school away to areas like Clifton and Defence. She also stayed away from overly commercializing BVS, keeping the school morning shift only and retaining only the matriculation system instead of having dual standards of matriculation and Cambridge. She simply used to respond to demands of parents to the need of Cambridge system by saying “I can’t have class difference within one boundary wall”. I am a proud graduate of BVS staying there from 1986 to 1996. One can also imagine the middle-class friendly nature of the school as my monthly fee started from Rs. 150 and ended at Rs. 520 in 1996. until last year, the school’s fee was around Rs. 1800, which is far less than majority of the “leading school systems”.
Being a strict disciplinarian, her focus was on being punctual to school, involvement of parents by checking the report cards and signing them for weekly tests and monthly report cards. Being an excellent teacher herself, she always emphasized on being grammatically correct than speaking wrong English with an accent. There would be occasional caning for students while a tight slap was easy to receive. Such was her fear that even after having graduated, I would dare not pass in front of her room when visiting BVS.
She was funny too. Once there was a full solar eclipse in Karachi in 1996. A number of students stayed at home that day as it was a first for many of them while the occasional superstition of our people gave some an excuse to skip school. Next day she asked one of the students “Kya tum pregnant ho jo ghar par rahay solar eclipse mayn?”. Things she truly hated was students who wouldn’t shave (in case they were getting facial hair) or those who would come in front of her wearing a Shalwar Kameez. She had very strong reasons why Shalwar Kameez shouldn’t be worn by men and those need not be explained here. She retired from BVS in 2004.
She had been diagnosed with cancer in 1992 and one could see her will power that she continued to be in school even though her health had deteriorated. She would tell absent students “I get sick from 1.15 pm till 7.45 am the next day, but never between 7.45 am to 1.15 pm.”
Mrs. Deena Mistry liked Benazir Bhutto as well. Though apolitical always, I remember the 1998 rally that MBB led against the retrenchment of employees under the Nawaz Sharif heavy mandate. She was a resident of an apartment on main MA Jinnah Road opposite to Rimpa Plaza. When MBB’s truck passed her building, she would excitedly wave at her and I am sure, MBB must have waved back too.
Mrs. Deena Mistry was an Iron Lady and an icon for the education system in Pakistan. May Allah rest her soul in peace and give her two sons (Farhad and Afshad) and thousands of students the strength to mourn her. All of us, whatever we have achieved, Mrs. Mistry’s contribution can never be forgotten.
Update: I found these amazing last words of Mrs. Mistry on youtube. Are we going to get such committed people again in Pakistan?