Miss Jean Fritchley

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I mentioned earlier that the circumstances in 1976 surrounding the first time I saw The Fiddler on The Roof could make for another post. A letter to a beloved teacher decades later, and her reply will suffice to describe what happened. This teacher, Miss Fritchley had been a teacher in Baldwin Girls High School in Bangalore, where I studied from 1974 to 1977. After retirement, she taught in another school called Bethany.

Miss Jean Fritchley in the mid 1970s

Chennai
28 January 2000

Dear Miss Fritchly,
. . . We were standing in the pouring rain under a tree next to a smelly pile of cow dung. We had just seen the film, ‘The Fiddler On the Roof’ in Lido theatre in Ulsoor. Those of us who were in the Russian folk dance had been asked to see the film because it had some dancing in it. After the film, I was supposed to go home on my own but you would not let me. With us were Daphne David, my dance partner, and some other boarders. It was fast becoming dark and we were trying in vain to get some transport to get to the school.

While we waited, between prospective autos, you were telling us about the film. You did not feel that we were old enough to understand the film. Daphne said that she understood it. I had been too distracted by the theatre, the seats, the huge and intimidating screen and the sound that was all very unfamiliar to me. You told us about God’s curse on His people, the Jews, and the subsequent dispersion. You explained that the film tried to show how they continued to maintain their identity over 2000 years because of their traditions. You explained how they adjusted and settled down so fully wherever they went and yet maintained their distinct identity. It was pitch dark by then and still raining hard. We had waited, what seemed to me like, over an hour.

Suddenly a car pulled up next to us and a man called out your name.

He wanted to know if he could be of help to us in any way. We answered him by getting into the car and telling him to take us to school. On the way you tried to find out who he was. All we could gather was that he knew you from church. At the school’s side gate we all got out, and even before we could thank him, he left. You told us that perhaps he was an angel sent for our protection. ‘The Fiddler On the Roof’ is my all-time favorite film.

My dance partner Daphne David (right) and myself doing the Russian folk dance

The other incident that is so special to me happened two days after this during our dance practice when you and your sister, Mrs. Hicks, were playing the piano for us. Even while we had been standing in the rain the other evening, my father had been searching for me. He had purchased a ticket for the next show of the film and had combed the theatre hall. After much effort he had finally contacted the pastor and found me at the school close to midnight. But I did not want to go home with him. I had always wanted to see what it was like in a school hostel. So I begged my father to let me spend the rest of the night in the dorm and to join them for worship in Cooke Town the next day, being Sunday. Daddy allowed me to stay probably because he was still in a daze with relief at finding me, his only child, alive and safe. Perhaps he did not know how he himself would get home at that late hour. He gave me 25 paise for the bus and left.

The next day, just as I was about to leave for church, my class teacher sent word that I had to stay to make the headwear for our costumes. I was in a dilemma. I waited for 45 minutes, but when she did not come, I left for church. On Monday morning, during the dance practice, I was told that I had been taken out of the dance because of my disobedience and that one of the substitutes had been put in my place.

You and Mrs. Hicks began to play the accompaniment as usual. But suddenly both of you stopped and Mrs. Hicks asked where I was. When the class teacher explained, both of you refused to play till I was put back in the dance. You said that after so many weeks of practice, this was very unfair. You also explained how worried my father had been in the night and how he had given me instruction to be in church. You said that you knew my father and that our family was very strict about church attendance. Wow! That was the first time someone had spoken up for me. You had actually noticed that I was not in the dance that day. It was amazing.

There are many more incidents I remember, but these two are really important to me and I have spoken about these to many people. My children love the ‘angel’ story. For a long time I have felt that I needed to somehow convey my gratitude to you. I have had some very awful teachers—people who did not love or understand children and who should not have been allowed to teach at all. But having had the privilege of knowing a wonderful teacher like you made up for everything.

I pray that the Lord will continue to use you in the years to come to do that special work that only you can do in the lives of students. I for one would have lost something very important if I had not been your student. I have thanked the Lord for you and I am glad for this opportunity to thank you. Thank you Miss. Fritchley.

With love and prayers,

Nahomi Dhinakar, nee Selvi Bhaktamitran

Bangalore
4 February 2000

Dearest Nahomi (Selvi – the name I well remember!)

Thank you so very much for the sweet, encouraging letter—I believe the Lord made it come when I was feeling rather down-hearted and ‘blue’. After reading it, I felt life was worth living again.

I remember the first incident you mentioned so clearly. We were in a soggy dripping group near a pushcart vendor and were contemplating crawling under his cart to escape the pouring rain! I had on a nylon sari which, instead of shrinking got longer and longer!! Yes, I recall the “angel in disguise” who appeared out of the teeming rain and offered us a lift. In desperation we got in after apologizing for dripping all over his car seats and foot rug. Then only did I start having some misgivings as to who he was and what we had got ourselves into, but was reassured when he said he was related to Mrs. Thomas who lived across the road from the school. After making the girls change quickly after we got back to school, I dried their hair with my hair dryer. Incidents such as these, I know, make lasting memories.

The second incident I remember vaguely—but I know you were so enthusiastic and such a bouncy cheerful personality that you couldn’t but be noticed. I remember you always had a big smile. . .

I’m glad you remembered my sister. She passed away of cancer on March 12th last year. She had been working in Bethany with me and we were so happy together—Bethany has been very good to us. Last year at this time, we were getting ready for the Valedictory Function. In spite of her increasing weakness she insisted on going to school for the practices when suddenly, a week before the function, she got jaundice which was really the last stages of liver cancer. Someone else had to play the piano. About ten days after she went to hospital, she passed away in St. John’s Hospital. Her funeral service in the Methodist church was one of the most inspiring ever experienced by those who were present—the music and tributes all struck a note of victory. She was remembered for her cheerful courage all through her year-long sickness, her dedicated service, her selfless concern for others and her wonderful talent for music. I am alone now in the Senior Citizens Home where we had lived together for 19 years since the passing away of Mr. Hicks in 1980.

I leave for school at 8 a.m. and return at 4:30 p.m. when household chores have to be done. I fill my lonely hours listening to music and reading. I take singing classes from the Pre-Nursery to Std V, look after the Assemblies, help with the School Choir and of course, in all the school programmes. I now have a lady to help me with the music classes—but I miss my sister terribly. We were of one mind and no one can play like she did with such sensitivity and finesse. I’m praying much for guidance—and patience!

. . . Thank you for remembering me and saying such sweet encouraging things. I’ll keep on trying to be of some use as long as the Lord gives me health and strength. I cannot bear to think of an old age of idleness!

Once again. Thank you & God bless you, dear.

With much love

Jean Fritchley

Sadly, Miss Fritchley passed away two years ago after living a full life that was anything but idle.

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6 responses »

  1. Hello,
    I graduated from BGHS a long time ago(I am 45 now!) and some of the many good memories from school include Miss Fritchley. In a reminiscent mood, I was searching for anything on Baldwins and her name popped into my head. I Googled it and your site came up. I am sorry to hear that she is no more in this world.
    I loved her singing classes and her stories during RME classes.She was the sweetest person, a terrific human being.
    May she rest in peace.
    Ameen.

  2. sad to hear about the passing away of miss fritchley. one somehow hopes that these pillars from our past will continue on and on. her english classes in middle school provided the grounding for the other teachers in the later years. rme in the fifth grade was interspersed with mowgli stories! to date i associate rudyard kipling and ruskin bond with her… and the choir and the singing in the assemblies- she got all of us to strike the right note and with gusto….. my kids have studied in some of the best schools thanks to a transferable job but somehow there is just no matching our lot of teachers. and miss fritchley was definitely one amongst them.
    miss fritchley you live on.

  3. yes, Ms. Fritchely indeed was an inspiration. The songh the choir sang during chapel services, yes, the RME classes and great stories she told us. I agree with Afshan. Yes, we can live we fond memories of having graduated out of a fine school and with a faculty of great teachers, who are etched on our hearts.

  4. I was moved to tears reading Miss Fritchely’s letter to you. I still remember Miss Fritchely’s loved dogs and one little dog which always followed her in school. I always felt she resembled the Queen of England. Miss Fritchely, Mrs. Gadadhar and Mrs. Sargunaraj were my English teachers at school. I fondly remember each one of them. I teach English at the PU level and these stalwarts have been my inspiration. Love you all dear teachers. As for Miss Fritchely, she has always been my Queen of English.

  5. Dear Nahomi (Selvi)
    A random find with your blog entry has taken many of us on a profound walk back in time, for some, from 35 years ago. I found this a couple of days ago & posted on my FB page. So many of us who were boarders have personal memories such as yours. You say it very well – awful teachers & special ones like her….’people who did not love or understand children and who should not have been allowed to teach at all. But having had the privilege of knowing a wonderful teacher like you made up for everything.’
    We all remember also the wonderful Russian dance – who could forget magic before our eyes….! Also Daphne David & that wonderful spin she did on the floor. The picture you have included in above post kind of places you too. I guess we will know for sure if/when we ever meet.
    Thank you for posting this – it’s just lovely to give her a value. I think we should have a collection of memories just dedicated to her. If only we could have shown more while she was alive…. Thanks again & take care.
    Madhu (I finished my ICSE in Dec. 1976, so am your senior)
    p.s. you will find me on FaceBook along with your post linked to my page. And you can read other Baldwinian friends’ comments. Many thanks again.

  6. I came upon this site while searching for my old school Baldwins. Ms. Fritchley was my English and drama teacher from 1965 to 1968. I am so heartbroken that I did not see this in 2000 for I would have loved to have reminisced the glorious days at Baldwins with graceful Ms. Fritchley. Truly, Ms. Fritchley was a gifted teacher who kindled the fire to learn and act in me. Mrs. Hicks always encouraged me to sing. I still remember our play where I played a dorky poet and rehearsals with Ms. Fritchley was so fulfilling. Also wonder about my classmates/drama actors Sharon Mitchell, Sujatha Bulusu, Kamalini Dawson, and Mridula Berry. I will always have fond memories of these two sweet teachers who lived with dignity and we’re gifted teachers.

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