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  Life   More Features  15 Mar 2018  An ode to magical Joy Micheal

An ode to magical Joy Micheal

THE ASIAN AGE. | ALKA RAGHUVANSHI
Published : Mar 15, 2018, 6:34 am IST
Updated : Mar 15, 2018, 6:34 am IST

The air of decedent genteel snobbery yielded to a neat clipped look - rather like the tones of the new principal herself.

Yatrik collaborated with many theatre personalities  including Alyque Padamsee, Ebrahim Alkazi, Barry John, Kulbhushan Kharbanda.
 Yatrik collaborated with many theatre personalities including Alyque Padamsee, Ebrahim Alkazi, Barry John, Kulbhushan Kharbanda.

My mother was the school principal of a government school. She didn’t speak good English, but she was determined to send me to a school where I could learn to communicate in correct English. After considerable thought she zeroed on to St Thomas’ School. It fulfilled my mother's rather strict parameters: It was an all-girls school close to where we lived, it was a Protestant school so no over strict nuns, it was a school that didn't believe in too much show off and if anything, looked down upon it. There was an air of decadent genteel snobbery in its pedigreed brick red bricks — the school had started in 1933 and had seen enough batches of students emerge from within its haloed portals. Its then principal Mrs Ayesha Jacob, the quintessential absentminded professor type was strict and had unbendable rules of right and wrong.  

The year was 1966.

Then some time in the mid 70s, there was a change of guard. Ms Jacob retired and a very spiffy Ms Joy Micheal (who passed away last week) joined the school. She was the exact opposite of the former principal. Like archetypal giggly school girls of that age, we could only gawp at her in awe — She was this extremely confident, bold and smart looking woman who threw back her head and laughed, she wore her hair in a stylish short cut and sported very elegant handloom sarees, and shockingly enough, wore lipstick and a very noticeable lingering perfume - in fact we would take bets to find her by merely sniffing her perfume! Later I came to know that her favourite perfume was named Joy by Jean Patou. Her sharp eyes missed nothing; she would peer from behind her small trendy reading glasses that she wore around her neck when she wanted to make certain that you were entirely thrown off balance. She would say things in such a firm manner and with a smile at the end of the royal order that there was no question of it not being adhered to in toto.

All skirts above the knees she declared — and we were not complaining!  Ours decided to go heavenwards clocking just a couple of inches beyond our blazers! I am sure she noticed, but chose not to comment! It was in her time the school uniform was changed from the grey flannel skirt with red blazer to a smart olive and burnt orange checks and burnt orange/rust blazer. A far cry from the table cloth red checks for summer!

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Like a true blue theatre person she spruced up the school with the precision of a set designer with a new lick of paint and potted plants in neat rows in strategic places and art work placed in the right spaces and showing to the best advantage. The air of decedent genteel snobbery yielded to a neat clipped look - rather like the tones of the new principal herself.

But then that was Joy Micheal who the world knew as the actress par excellence, the director of the theatre group Yatrik, which she founded in 1964, and headed for nearly 40 years, which didn't fight shy of taking up very avant garde themes was all that and more. Yatrik collaborated with many theatre personalities including Alyque Padamsee, Ebrahim Alkazi, Barry John, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Kusum Haidar, Tejeshwar Singh, Bhaskar Bhattacharya, Lola Chatterjee, Sunit Tandon, Avijit Dutt and Prakash Bhatia among others at different times. Joy worked on over 200 plays, as writer or director and prepared plays for the television and the radio.

Even though I am not much I was one of an actor, I was among the fortunate few who were chosen to act in the school annual pagent which she had directed where I had to wear a Bengali style saree. She taught me so well that even today I can wear a Bengali style saree faster than my usual saree! Years later when I started writing on the arts she would feel very proud as I was one of her  “girls”.  I definitely am one of her girls in whose backbone she poured steel.  I like to think the steel doesn’t show, but lingers like Mrs Micheal's perfume. She had a huge impact on me in many imperceptible and perceptible ways like I too have a penchant for noticeable perfume, wear only handlooms, have a special love for theatre and English literature, and still love my erstwhile school.

But then St Thomas’ holds a very special place in my heart. Interestingly for the last 53 years, someone or the other from my family has been studying in it and I have seen its principals rather closely. And I can say with great conviction that they have chosen women who are truly worthy of being ideal role models of young impressionable minds. Even the present principal Ms Anuradha Amos is one person who impressed me greatly with her gentle humour, humane approach and amazing eye for detail.

I was in class X when I gathered enough courage to suggest a school newsletter to Ms Micheal. The famous glasses came on and she said: “And how will you get the money for it?” With all the bravado of youth I blurted: “We will sell it.” Whatever she thought of the idea I don't know, but she let me have my way. For two years till I passed out as the last batch before the 10+2 system, I ran the school newsletter Sizzler, which I would write, draw some illustrations for and get it cyclostyled in the school itself, staple the pages and physically sell it in each and every class. I was its all in all: editor, printer, illustrator, peon! After seeing me do this for six months she must have taken pity on me I suspect and decided to print it and we had this rather smart, printed newsletter. I firmly believe my seeds for taking up journalism as a career were sown right then.   

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Born in Asansol West Bengal, Ms Micheal did her post graduate degree in English Literature from the St. Stephen's College, Delhi where she became the first woman secretary of the Shakespeare Society and a member of the Supreme Council of the college.  Later she went to London and did graduate studies in speech and drama at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and theatre training at the British Drama League. After working in professional theatre in London for a while, she returned to India to continue her theatre activities in Delhi.

She was a recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2009 for theatre direction. She has also received the Sahitya Kala Parishad Award, Delhi Natya Sangh Award, Rockefeller Award, Chamanlal Memorial Society Award and the Raja Ram Mohan Nation Education Award. In 2012, she was awarded the Padma Shri.

Her husband Colonel Michael was the permanent Santa Claus of our school and the most jovial one at that! Kristine her daughter was the same batch as me but in the nearby Convent of Jesus and Mary too became a sculptor and her journey in art continues.  

Mrs Micheal taught us to fight our battles with a smile yet deep conviction and devil may take the hindermost! From the veritable deluge about her in the social media, it is evident that she has many “girls” who remember her fondly for she impacted their lives permanently.

Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on alkaraghuvanshi@yahoo.com

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