Malayalam screenwriters Bobby-Sanjay remember their teacher-mentor Mary Roy

Sanjay Cherian

It was one day in January 1979 that I first set foot in this nursery. In a broader sense, it is the day when “I” began to exist. Neither that day, nor during any of my school days, did I realize that I was destined to be one of the stars that dotted a great firmament wanted by a very special person. It was much later that I read Totto-chan: The Little Girl in the Window (1981) by Japanese author Tetsuki Kuroyanagi, a captivating book about life in an ideal school of Tokyo. I had no difficulty identifying with Director Kobayashi. In our world, he was simply called Mary Roy. Or Madame Roy as she was for us. She knew each of her more than 300 students by name; knew the strengths and limitations of each of us and demonstrated by his actions his firm belief that “in order to teach John Latin, one must know John as well as Latin”.

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I was bad at studies. My ballot had more red lines than anything else. Unsurprisingly, I was pulled out and carried around considerable levels of inferiority complex. Sport was not my forte either. A childhood that could easily have been marked by the label “useless” was saved by the encouragement Mrs. Roy gave me to write and direct plays at school. She gave me absolute freedom to write, choose my cast and direct. The school hall was at our disposal for the rehearsals. Just like the time we needed for practice. When we were ready, we had the opportunity to perform it in front of the whole school. None of them were particularly good. They were mostly repurposed from the comedy films of the time and put together in my youthful way. But Madame Roy loved and appreciated them. I now understand that his approval had nothing to do with the quality of these parts. It stemmed only from his concern that without it I might drift further from a A lack of self-confidence. It was his way of watching over me. How I regret never telling her how much those days have strengthened my journey forward!

Sanjay (far right) at school with friends. (Credits Sanjay Cherian)

The heady days of directing Andrew Lloyd Webbers’ Jesus Christ Superstar were a similar exercise in strength. Studies give way to theater training. For months, young people aged 13 to 17 struggled. We had very few academics at the time. Unsurprisingly, many were troubled by this. But Ms. Roy knew that we had much more to gain in life lessons during this time than in the classrooms. We had national level talent to train us. A huge stage is set up in the school, exclusively for the show. This piece, which had become our collective emotion, was banned from performance due to objections raised by some. They thought they had won. They were wrong. It was much later that we realized how little actual performance meant compared to the wealth of experience gained during those months. It was our victory. In all those situations where life asked me to be strong, if I was able to rise to the occasion, it was thanks to Mrs. Roy who stood tall, throwing shade on the Kobayashis of the director of the world . There’s no argument anyone can make about this that I wouldn’t be prepared to counter.

Since there are space constraints and word limits to respect, there are a thousand things I must not say. Every time I refrain from casually tossing a crumpled piece of paper on the road, every time I pass up an opportunity because it would have meant the easy way out, every time I relate to the nuances of equal sexes, I owe it to Madame Roy and her army of distinguished professors.

After saying goodbye to Ms. Roy as she slept her eternal sleep on Thursday (September 1), I wandered around the Corpus Christi campus – Sorry I know it’s Pallikkoodam now but for me it will be forever Corpus Christi – and I could feel someone whispering, “You’re Mrs. Roy’s boy”. I can bet that every student who has lived their life in this school will hear this refrain today. It is a responsibility that we assume. Living up to it is all we need to make our world limitless. It’s up to us to be limitless.

“She always insisted that the children be independent”

Bobby Cherian

Get up at 5:30 in the morning. Take two buses in the early hours of the morning and reach the school at 6:30 sharp. (If you are five minutes late, you are doomed). There awaits you an hour of athletic and sports training. If you’re lucky, a cross-country race will also surprise you. At the end of it all, you’re an unsightly creature. But no worries. You can take a bath at the school itself. Transform into your uniform before the start of classes at 8:30 a.m., after assembly.

I’m not talking about a military academy here… Welcome to Corpus Christi High School.

Jesus Christ Superstar rehearsals on campus. (Source: Sanjay Cherian)

From time to time, I wondered why I had been sent to this school of all places. But the answer to this question was delayed for decades, when I looked back and realized that I had studied in one of the best schools in India. And the reason was Mrs. Mary Roy, our Founder-Principal. We all call her Madame Roy with love.

Corpus Christi (now Pallikoodam) was no ordinary school. We never “studied” there. Instead, we talked, interacted, discussed, danced and sang. Regardless of ability, we participated in all games and sports. We even performed in major school productions, musicals and operas such as Pied Piper of Hamelin, Casper, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Salome. We even had the chance to deliver our lives in Sanskrit for Bhasa’s Urubhangam, when it was staged at school.

All because of Madame Roy.

She was a visionary, not only as the founder of a school, but also as an exemplary human being. She had lofty ideologies that she would fight for until the end. India’s Supreme Court’s landmark verdict that gave Syrian Christian women an equal right to property was the result of Madame Roy’s one long battle.

Ms. Roy introduced seemingly unconventional teaching methods, which ultimately helped her students achieve their goals. She always insisted that children be independent. When confronted with a parent who was not very happy that her child got up at 5:30 a.m. to go to school (mainly linked to the practical difficulties of school), Mrs. Roy replied: “Let him get up and do a sandwich all alone. Let him scramble an egg. Let him come to school alone. Why do you always want to do these things for him?

With her team of wonderful teachers, Ms. Roy has made her school an international brand. As for me, I am eternally indebted to him for what I am today. She knew my interest in movies and drama and gave me complete freedom to write and direct plays. This has greatly contributed to shaping my career as a screenwriter. She was always proud of us (Sanjay and me) and found time to watch our movies. And as fate would have it, we were lucky enough to have Mrs. Roy’s granddaughter, Maria, in one of the lead roles in our movie Notebook (2006).

Sanjay and Bobby Cherian have written for films such as Ente Veedu Appuvinteyum, Traffic, Notebook, Mumbai, Uyare, Salute and Kannekkanne. (Credits: Sanjay Cherian)

As Madame Roy recedes into the depths of time, I bow my head in respect and gratitude. When I was in high school, there was a financial crisis at home that forced my parents to consider transferring me to another school. Ms. Roy immediately granted me a scholarship so that I could continue my studies there. I firmly believe that this decision changed my destiny. Without her and the Corpus Christi school, I would never have become a doctor. I would never have become a screenwriter.

In every bean I have today, his name is engraved. He is a person who will be with me until my last breath.

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