Story of an 'International Lady'

Not surprisingly, her parents are from two different worlds. Besides, being an adventurist, traveler and educationist, this glorious lady runs the private Sacred Heart School in Guwahati, since those days when English medium schools in the state were quite non-existent. Now with a dream project, a research institute for studies, still in the pipeline, the lady is raring to go. Besides being preoccupied with work for most of the time, she sighs away from media publicity and when commercialization has hit hard the educational institutions in the state, she still insists that her school would have none of that. Excerpts of the interview taken with Shiela D. Hazarika, at her residence

How did you come to be associated with Assam? What was your first visit to the State like?

My association with Assam is my father, the late belong Nagendra Nath Hazarika. I should narrate here that a few years ago when I visited Sibsagar along with my mother, Natalie Isabelle, many folk asked me about myself and where I had come from. When I replied that I was from ‘right here’, they again questioned me about my ‘original place’. I said that, surprising as it may seem, I had in fact, now arrived at my ‘original place’ with the intention of trying to visit and understand my surroundings. Then I realized that I could not ‘get through’ at all, to my companions that morning, so I friendly said that I had recently arrived from England! My very British mother was standing with me, and then my companions were friendly satisfied! I may say that this anecdote of my experience that morning summarizes my international background, and also my association with Assam in Sibsagar! Though in fact I was born out in Cachar where my parents were at that time. I was carried out of Assam before I can remember. I then visited again, and then again, when I was really conscious of everything. In my early years we all visited Nazira. My father took us to the celebration of Bihu on the banks of the Dikhoo river. We took part in the burning of the ‘magi’ on the river sands and enjoyed a shivering bath in the river and then ‘peethas’ made from rice powder. We were really small children but the memories are so vivid! Many years later, my mother had taken us again to Nariza and Sibsagar. Yes, the visit was really great and for me it was momentous! Very sadly, my beloved father was no more. He was called to his heavenly abode a year earlier. My revisits to Assam in my mature years kept me charmed and fascinated with all the natural beauty, and warmth of all the people. I have said then, and now again, that arriving at the Barjhar airport is to experience one of the loveliest airports in the world. I am so glad that Barjahr is going to be an international airport. It really is one of the loveliest airports in the world, surrounded by rolling green hills and quiet green countryside!

Briefly describe your family background.

I have already alluded to my family background, which is international and even today we live in different places far and near. However I am now here in Guwahati, at Sacred Heart School, Chandmari, and my extension in the lovely Katabari/Garchuk area, with the Meghalaya hills forming a beautiful and mysterious backdrop to a wide green valley. To say something more about my family background, my father was, as you have already guessed and army man, a Grenadier officer and he left us for his heavenly reward early in our childhood years. We were taken care of by our Mother, who brought us back here to Assam.

The family traveled a great deal, and today we all travel a great deal as before. We loved adventure and retain the spirit of adventure now, in all we do. My family members are all great travelers and great readers as well. Our first love is study, whether through travel, meeting people, or through reading. Personally I have attended universities in many countries of Europe, in various capacities, sometimes visiting, at other times attending seminars, but London had been my home for many years, and everyone thought of me as a Londoner above all else. Sacred Heart School, Chandmari and Kotabari or Garchuk is as close to my heart as London. The adventure and jungles of Assam are home to me, as London has always been home to me. I suppose this is being international!

How did the idea behind Sacred Heart School come up? What was the difficult part in establishing the School?

I have always been interested in the field of education. That any child ever in an interior jungle or village should remain unlettered leaves me cold and chill. I think that very child’s mind must be opened to this beautiful enchanting and developed world. To live unlettered is to live in darkness. When Sacred Heart came into its joyous being it was to teach all children, particularly those who could not get to school anywhere else. Sacred Heart School educated everyone at a time when the only known educational institutions were St. Mary’s Convent School, and Don Bosco High School, in the English medium. Sacred Heart School was of service then, and it is still now. We always maintained a simple, happy, homely atmosphere, in the early days and still now. My mother was always or most of time present during the running of the School, while all of us did our fair share in teaching, when we were not busy educating ourselves elsewhere. Our School is liberal and universal in outlook. The teachers and children here are of the same view, no matter what their respective cultural backgrounds may be. All cultures religious and creeds are sincerely regarded and respected. We wanted a place of education to be just so!

As regards the difficulties in establishing the School, we did not consider the establishment of Sacred Heart School difficult in anyway whatever. We were little more than young children ourselves, and so loved to teach younger children and help them with drama, singing and drilling. Picnics and Parents’ Day were fun! Teaching was the real aim and we were definitely teaching with very great pleasure.

When I returned to Sacred Heart School, ten years ago, it was a pleasure to know that the idea to educate everyone was now the general opinion, and Schools were established everywhere. Today, Schools ring us round, in double rings, I may say! However, during my recent long stay here several disturbing facts have come to the foreground— commercialism in education, that is, in Schools, the mushrooming of ‘Schools’ that need not be, the mechanical system that is appreciated in general. All these issues are disturbing indeed.

Our present difficulties would be financial. Sacred Heart School, Katabari, Garchuk, remains to be developed and expended. The infrastructure of education is present, teaching is caring and careful here. Teaching is in the English medium. But building and newer furniture are required.

Also, perhaps we have never advertised ourselves and so our number of students attending, is admittedly small, and particularly so, in the younger classes. We should do better with twice as many small children in the younger classes. These would be the main difficulties faced by the School today.

Do you miss your folks sometimes? Have you ever thought of returning back to your native place?

Yes, I miss my sisters and my brother. I would like to have their company when I relax. We would understand one another, and I could be myself. However, I now live surrounded by my working staff and their families only. When I returned to Assam, it was to be with my Mother, but now she is no more, physically, and left for her heavenly reward two years ago.

I do miss London and all the folk there. I miss Europe, which was home to me.

What are your plans for the future?

I will definitely spend time in both parts of the globe. I would miss my home in Assam and my Sacred Heart School, if I settled elsewhere permanently.

My future plans focus mainly on building a well-established institution named ‘Sacred Heart Institute of Education’.

Further, travel and writing feature prominently in my future plans, as well. When I can establish farther, a viable Sacred Heart Research Institute of Education my calleagues from everywhere in the world will come to research and write, here in Assam! This was my intention ten years earlier, and it is my dream still now!

Has the government come forward with aid of my kind?

The government granted permission far Sacred School and a D B Kamrup, allowed adjacent land to what I had purchased for our buildings, some years ago. But, village falk decided to move up into this hilly jungle which I had chosen. I managed to carry electricity into this wilderness, though, and we have tried to field, in a small way. We could not a occupy all the jungle. We needed, but we retain a small partion even now! Have you approached the private companies here in Assam for aid? I understand that we would need to develop much more, before we could do this. Private companies would want to see a lot achieved already in a concrete way. May be later, we will do just this -approach the people who will help financially!

Looking back would you want to relive year life again?

Frankly, I have never looked back and wondered about reliving my life again. The question is a surprise to me. In fact, I must think of building and development in the future— of building an international place of learning in this beautiful green world. I must plan my time far writing and far travel too. Am I happy about the pattern of my life? Yes, mostly, I am happy. Life has been an adventure and is a challenge to me I would not change what have been the rich and married tapestry, that has been life for me. However, I would have added to life in some places may be. I would like to be more practical. This would be helpful. Otherwise I cannot imagine different parents to Dad and Mummy, or different sisters and brother, I grew up with. These have been and still are my gifts! I am proud of my family and I am proud and happy to be me!