Sister Zinia tamed us with imagination and fired us with our dreams
I first met Sister Zinia Pinto under duress. My father had been posted to Karachi and wanted to enroll me in St. Joseph’s, the same school where my sister had studied nine years earlier. I was dragged to the principal’s office, kicking and screaming, threatening to run away the first chance I got.
We were in mid-October and the academic semester was well under way. The chances of non-admission, due to timing and my mutiny, were high. Therefore, I sat in cheerful expectation of rejection when in walked Sister Zinia, wearing a grey wimple and simple dress. She instantly recognised my father.
"Oh hello Admiral! It’s the last one’s turn is it?" My dad beamed and my heart sank as I wondered what kind of woman would remember us after all this time? Arrangements were made; I was to start the next day. Sister put her hand on my shoulder and said to my mother, "She has come to her home." I was about to retort, "Not for long!" but a thwack on the head prevented that particular outburst.
We were a troublesome lot. A few months later in grade six, my classmates and I rejoiced in the absence of our math teacher, who was on wedding leave. "May she get pregnant as soon as possible and have morning sickness so we can have a math free month!" I prayed aloud and received a chorus of amens. We roared and laughed and hooted to our heart’s content, holding the school hostage with our rambunctiousness. Teachers threatened us with negative marking (we didn’t care) and suspension (seemed more reward than punishment.)
Once again, Sister Zinia glided into class and stood, elbow on podium, beaming at our roomful of shrill hooligans. When no scolding came, we piped down to find out what the deal with her was.
She said, simply, "Tell me your dreams."
This was not what we were expecting. After some coaxing, I raised my arm and said, "Yesterday, I dreamed that it had rained and the smell of the earth was so wonderful, it made me dance."
"I’ve had that dream too," she said. "Do you know that dreams are your subconscious, telling you your innermost desires? For example, if you like rain, then it represents creative force. Isn’t rain wonderful? It brings forth abundance. Perhaps one day you’ll be a teacher and the joy your students will bring you will make you dance in celebration? Or a writer of books, rejoicing upon being read?"
After that, an army of raised hands. Everyone wanted their dream interpreted. What did it mean to fall down endlessly? To fly? Could dreams foreshadow death? Did the dead actually visit us in our sleep? Sister Zinia answered our questions softly and we listened, rapt. When the bell rang, we didn’t want her to go. She left us, a group of loud, silly girls, in deep thought. All in twenty minutes.
Also read: She challenged us, kept us on our toes
That was Sister Zinia. She tamed us with imagination and fired us with our dreams. She was principal of St.Jospeh’s Convent from 1966 to 1999 -- and under her gentle but firm touch, the institution and its students flourished. A Daughter of the Cross, one would expect her to be minimally involved with the temporal world. Not so.
She was an educationist who was deeply interested in the lives of her students and remembered them and their families years after they graduated. It is a testament to her charisma that whenever Teacher’s Day approaches, I think of this frail, soft woman who in a few short moments saw that I, too, was destined to teach and to write.
The last time I met her, Sister was in a wheelchair. Even then, her spirit was strong. Now, on Teacher’s Day, I want to think of her power, her silent confidence and her command of our souls. Thank you Sister, for helping us dream.