Miss Grace Linnell joined Mahbubia Girls’ School, Hyderabad, in 1922, giving it her energy; strength and,
above all, her time to set systems in place to encourage women’s education in Hyderahad in pre Independence days. In 1956, Miss Linnell joined Women’s College and
put it firmly on its feet. Soon she joined forces with Miss Oliphant, principal of Welham Boys’ School, Dehradun, and established Welham Girls’ School, a premier education institute in India.
Miss Linnell had made India her home and education her mission, touching and impacting many people’s lives. In this heart-warming book, Khatija Akbar revives Miss Linnell’s memory through conversations with her students who remember her fondly, teachers who worked with her and to whom she was a constant source of inspiration, and her letters to her family and friends.
A fitting tribute to an indomitable spirit and a very fine human being.
Khatija Akbar completed her graduation from women’s College, Hyderabad, and then mastered in English Literature from Osmania University, Hyderabad. She worked as a lecturer of English Literature at Women’s College but gave up teaching a few years later. She has also pursued a course in art appreciation from the National Museum, Delhi. She worked with the blind for sometime at the Blind School, Delhi. She is also the author of Madhubala – Her Life, Her Films.
My earliest memories of Miss Linnell go back to 1959, when first met her in the ‘drawing room’ of her house at 19, Municipal Road, Dehradun — the house in which she had started Welham Girls’ School just two years earlier. I was a little girl and impression was of a very tall lady in a long, straight gown, a string of pearls around her neck, with a deep and cordial voice. Through my childhood years, I got to know her a bit as a person. She was never ‘preachy’ or given to the sort of moralizing that puts children off. She simply lived her values and worked with complete commitment to her task. She listened carefully and understood people well. Her presence was impressive but daunting — inspiring, rather.
Today, when I read from her prayer book, or talk to those who knew her intimately, I often marvel at the courage and optimism that brought her, after retirement, without funds or even contacts, far from Hyderabad (where she had been a personage some eminence), to the then quiet, leafy town of Dehradun, to up a new school. But then, it was the same courage and faith in herself that had brought her to India when she was barely in her twenties and had kept her here after Independence, when her countrymen were returning to England.
Khatija Akbar’s book comes at a most felicitous time to salute the spirit of this indomitable woman, who made India her home and the education of Indian girls her mission. Mahbubia Girls School, Hyderabad, celebrates its centenary as Welham Girls’ School celebrates its Golden Jubilee in 2007.
Khatija, who studied under Miss Linnell at Mahbubia School in Hyderabad, has spanned the life and times of Grace Mary Linnell with quiet respect. But her obvious admiration for a great teacher and very fine human being has culminated in a book that has great clarity of thought and very few unnecessary frills. What emerges in the pages of A Teacher Tale is the picture of a woman who was unique for her time and place, and a life that touched countless others, impacting them in remarkable ways. Through the recounting of one person’s story, Khatija Akbar has showcased a time in Indian history when huge and sometimes unpredictable changes were taking place — women’s education and the place given to it was not the least of those changes.
Along with Miss Linnell, the reader too travels through time, starting the journey in the nizam’s Hyderabad and ending it at the foothills of the Himalayas in one of the most progressive girls’ schools of its time. The sheer breadth of Miss Linnell’s life and Khatija’s sensitive yet honest portrayal of it cannot fail to touch and impress. Here is a tale every teacher should read, and every parent too.
This is Khatija’s second attempt at biography, an acclaimed biography of Madhubala being the first. But it is clear that in the eyes of the author, Miss Linnell is as much of a star personality the former actress. Over the years, all those who have known Miss Linnell have reminisced about her. Now we can all be grateful that Khatija has articulated the admiration and gratitude of all those who came in contact with Grace Mary Linnell.
Completely timeless, they said of her. An extraordinary person. Grace Mary Linnell was a teacher whom two generations of girls have saluted and given a place in their hearts. Principal of two schools and a college, she gave the better part of her life to these institutes in India, beginning with Mahbubia Girls’ School, moving on to Osmania University College for Women and then Welham Girls’ School — from 1922 to 1970 — in Hyderabad and Dehradun.
Across the board — in two cities and among two generations — certain sentiments were in common and consistently repeated.
‘You wanted to do your best for her.’ ‘You couldn’t let her down. When someone trusts you, you
can’t let them down.’
‘We all felt that she loved us the most. If I thought I was her favourite, you felt it was you.’ ‘She was very fair. Punishments were not resented because we felt they were only fair.’
Being impartial is the most elusive and the hardest of qualities to acquire, as children are quick to perceive an injustice. Yet Miss Linnell’s students and staff have no hesitation in attributing this quality to her. ‘No one could ever say that she was not fair.’ How did she walk that tightrope so successfully? What made people so emotional about her?
It was all about values. Values being imparted and imbibed, not because they were ‘taught’ and lectured upon, but because they were lived, and seen first-hand. When fellow teachers spoke of the thrill and excitement of teaching, when they talked of satisfaction, they were not equating it with pay packets or perks, for there was not very much of that.
A tremendous and unconscious tribute to Miss Linnell was the fact that she was never looked upon as a foreigner (she being a Briton), the ‘other’, the white woman. It was simply a non-issue and, therefore, was never commented on, neither pre independence, nor in the post-independence days.
On her part, she made no overt or deliberate effort to Indianize. She was herself, in floral, printed frocks and tweed suits, with permed hair. She ate with fork and spoon and spoke with her British accent. But being herself also meant a deep respect for India and Indians. It was being at home in this country.
This was a woman who had the vision and capacity to allow everyone their own space and identity. It was this that drew people and bound them to her. She had no desire to hammer identities out of shape as most of her compatriots were doing at that time, leaving the educated Indian belonging neither here nor there.
When freedom came to India and droves of Britons from all walks of life left for ‘home’, it never occurred to Grace Linnell to do so. Even Jim Corbett, so passionate about Indian jungles and hill people and so accepted by Indians, chose to bid farewell and depart. Mahbubia’s British staff departed. They may have had their compulsions, but Miss Linnell was among the few who just carried on and never faced the dilemma, ‘Go or stay?’
She gave and she received. She respected the milieu she found herself in and she was respected in return. She commanded tremendous loyalty and, in addition, was regarded with a fondness that one reserves for one’s own people. She was accepted with an open heart in Hyderabad, the home of the nizams, and in the foothill town of Dehradun, which she enriched with a school which did not bear her name but still resounds with it.
Grace Mary Linnell continues to be the heart and soul of Welham Girls’ School, and a much-loved memory for the girls of an earlier generation, the girls of Mahbubia, her first school.
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