“Stomachs in, bottoms in, chests out.” We would all tighten our muscles and hold our breath.
“Left, left, right, left, right… Now don’t balloon out like the back of a bus.” I was glad I could escape the marching and be on the basketball court instead.
Those who studied at Baldwin Girls’ High School in the 1970s and 1980s would find these lines echoing in their ears. This could be only Mrs Jeanne Roby, getting the girls to perfect their marching in preparation for sports day. The school annual sports day is still held with such precision and finesse that I dare say few other schools in this world would even come close.
As a sportsgirl, one couldn’t have asked for more support from a games teacher than what was given by Mrs Roby. Whatever the sport facilitated by the school – athletics, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, throwball, kho-kho… whistle around her neck, floppy cap to shield herself from the sun, she’d be there to train, guide, referee, advise.
Judy, Mrs Roby’s daughter (who had played basketball for Karnataka) was my first basketball coach when I made the school team in Std 6. We always looked forward to the inter-school basketball matches. We had some of the best players in the city, making our team one of the favourites at all the tournaments held in Bangalore. At the matches, Judy would be calling us “cows” when we dropped a pass, and we’d get blasted with a battery of other words when a layup wasn’t basket-ted, but we’d have Mrs Roby on the sideline consoling us and urging us to forget the misses.
Sometimes, some of us would go to her house on Hayes Road to drop back the keys of the games room, or some such small errand, and her dogs would run out to welcome us. Once she asked me to solve one real-life mathematical issue she was unable to crack, which I did!
Mrs Roby retired from Baldwins sometime in 1985, but we would still see her around during our last year at school, when Ms Nathan took over as games teacher. We were all invited to Judy’s and Prasad’s wedding in August 1985 and soon after, she gave each of us a picture of ourselves with the newly married couple. She was there at our graduation ceremony and after it was over I pulled her aside to stand for this picture.
Living in Richmond Town, I’d see Mrs Roby now and then. She would tell me about her arthritic limbs and how she found it difficult to drive. Even after I moved from Bangalore, my mom would bump into her at the bank or post office, but not after she moved away from Sukhi Apartments and the problems of old age set in.
Teachers impact the lives of their students in various ways. I feel fortunate to have had Mrs Roby in my life during those growing up years, making me believe that I could be an asset to any team I became a part of in life ahead.
Mrs Roby was laid to rest today, and as I write this sitting in Mumbai I know she will live on in our hearts till our memories are with us. She will be sorely missed by family and friends. Sincere condolences.