Mira Phailbus has remained at the helm of Kinnaird for the longest, and this makes her account a compelling read
There are instances when an institution and its leader are synonymous in public perception. Usually it happens in the case of founders. Mira Phailbus is an exception, owing to her almost uninterrupted association for the second 50 years of Kinnaird’s hundred. As Hafeez Jalandhary had put it so succinctly, Yeh nisf sadi ka qissa hai (On five decades spans this legend). And out of this she remained at the helm for 35 years in Kinnaird at a most eventful, most challenging period in its history, and this makes her account a compelling read.
‘Kinnaird Remembered’ was written and published to coincide with the college’s centenary in 2013 – as was the twin tome ‘Kinnaird, 1913-2013’, and ‘Light, Courage, Love: A Century of Empowering Women’. The two books however are different in style. While the latter was more official, presented in a chronicler’s manner, the former is a sort of broad brush recap, in a lively storyteller’s style, the medium of expression recounting of vignettes in language that is racy, drawing its strength from its anecdotal value, and essays .
“I did not know where to begin my book, so I have restricted myself to my 35 years as the principal of Kinnaird, the exciting, heart-breaking times and funny incidents that took place”, says Ms. Phailbus about the book in her author’s note. She also avers to the fact that ‘unfortunately’ she has not been able to recount ‘every episode’. That really is a blessing though, for the randomness, casual repartee descriptive mode makes it all the more interesting, and a light, engaging read. And it is also in keeping with its tasteful but coffee table glossy presentation.
For the Kinnairdites the book definitely will have value far beyond the formal occasion of the Centenary for through it they can relive those moments that they may not have been privy to but which were still part of the legend of Kinnaird.
Kinnaird Remembered’s worth is much enhanced because apart from the big ticket events like visits of celebrities (Not necessarily in this order: Mother Teresa, Muhammad Ali, Princess Diana, and that monster Zia ul Haq who otherwise was a benefactor for liberating it from the government’s clutches) or major happenings, the author has not neglected various characters that have been part of the college over the years doing jobs big and small. For instance, Chaudhry Sahib, who had started off selling eatables at break time out of a tin trunk (not an uncommon site in the Lahore of 1950s and 1960s) but who eventually became ‘a legend’ – ‘the Nawab of the Tuck Shop’, ‘an institution in himself’ who ‘used foul language with his staff but was polite and respectful to the students, always addressing them as beti. He was a father figure to them, especially to those in the hostel. It was a sad day when he passed away. The entire college went into mourning’.
There are many other vignettes – both happy and sad, but most reliving Kinnaird with great poignancy.
Bapsi Sidhwa, Kinnaird alumni of great distinction, writes in her most lovingly penned foreword: “This is an informally written collection meant primarily for the pleasure and information of Kinnairdites – old and new – and it contains a treasure trove of memories garnered by a woman who is loved and admired by so many.”
While the texture of this ‘collection of memories’ is generally light but the portion about nationalization predictably bears a grim but dispassionate tone, with understated pride over how the staff dealt with it in those difficult years.
Let the final word be Bapsi Sidhwa’s: “She has been an exceptionally effective and popular principal of the college. On reading this collection of her experiences during her long tenure, it is easy to see why. The essays, in turn humorous, poignant or fearful, illustrate the caring and courage she brought to her office.
“Much of Dr Phailbus’ writing bears witness to her skill and tact in navigating some very difficult terrain. The College went through a nerve-wracking phase when it was nationalized in 1972. It took her and her colleagues an herculean effort to finally convince the powers that be that the exemplary performance of Kinnaird College as an autonomous body was too valuable to be damaged by the constant meddling of petty government officials. Despite her gentle demeanor she boldly spoke up when truth was required. It is remarkable that she managed to do so without offending anyone; and this is a testimony to her innate tact and graciousness.”
By Mira Phailbus
Available at: Kinnaird Book Shop;
Sole Distributor: Readings, Lahore.
Pages: 193; Price: Rs3,000/-