Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Rati Framroze Cooper: In Memorarium

On Friday March 8, 2019 Rati Framroze Cooper passed away in Lahore, Pakistan. It may be coincidence or not, that one of the most amazing women educators of the Indian sub-continent, passed away on International Women’s Day.

I had the opportunity to meet Rati Aunty only for a few days on my trip to Lahore in January 2016. I was introduced to her and her sister Perin Aunty, through several contacts and I first met up with them in the lobby of the Avari Lahore. Rati Aunty has to have been the most energetic octogenarian I have ever known in my life. Over the next three days I got to know more about her and Perin aunty having spent most of those days as they showed me around the city of Lahore with a sense of pride that only comes from those who have lived in a place for generations. However in Rati Aunty’s case that was not necessarily so.

Rati Aunty was a lifelong educator and academician at one of India’s greatest private schools….the Rajkumar College of Rajkot, Gujarat, India. She spoke of her students who today are all over the world having achieved great success professionally. She had an amazing memory and could recall details about students from decades ago. She was also a veritable encyclopedia of all things Parsi in Lahore and that was so evident when she and Perin Aunty took me to see the Cooper Agiary that their parents had built in Lahore.

The stories of pre-Partition India, of Rajkumar College, of Parsis in Lahore and of Pakistan as a society today was what we spoke about over the next three days. On the last day that I was in Lahore, Rati Aunty asked me if I could take a book for a student of hers who lives in New York. And in the “its such a small world after all” way, this ex-student of hers happened to be my first boss in NYC where I had interned as a student of architecture years ago.

I never got a chance to meet Rati Aunty again. I am told that she was planning on being present at the opening of the Houston Atash Kadeh in a few days from now, and I would’ve got a chance to have met her again. Alas, it is not to be.

Garothman Behest Rati Aunty, and deep deep condolences to Perin Aunty.

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This picture was taken at the home of Sajida and Pervaiz Vandal in Lahore. Rati Aunty is second from right.

Below is an article that appeared in the alumni pages of the Rajkumar College archives.

A reluctant young lady from a sophisticated and elite Zoroastrian family in her twenties was persuaded by the British Council to just visit a school in Rajkot. She was received at the airport by a member of the well known Wadia family and escorted to the Rajkumar College at about 11 am that fateful day in March 1958. And the rest is history. What attracted her to immediately decide to accept the invitation to serve the Rajkumar College is anybody’s guess. Was it the aesthetic beauty of the campus, the prevailing ethical environment, the cheerful atmosphere, the wry humor of the Principal or his persuasive ways?

Miss Rati F. Cooper

Whatever it was, Miss Rati F. Cooper was a great catch for the Rajkumar College! Young though she was, she was both highly qualified and experienced – Bachelor’s degree in English, French and Philosophy from the Sacred Heart College, Master in Philosophy of Education from New York State College, Albany, USA, and a summer course in English language from Oriel College, Dept. of Extramural Studies, Oxford. She was a recipient of the Fulbright Award for Travel and Study in USA and the British Council Visitorship Award for summer courses that included one on Shakespeare, another on Marlowe and yet another at the Visual Aids Training Center in London. She had also done several courses in Western Classical Music – Pianoforte and the Art of Teaching from Trinity College of Music, Rochester USA, and another course from Aspen Institute, Colorado, and the Western House College, Warwickshire.

Before joining the Rajkumar College she had already taught in the Cathedral School, Lahore, the Lawrence College in Murree, and the Green Mountain College in Vermont. USA, and had been the Director of Child Development Department of the College of Home & Social Sciences. Lahore. Whew! All these qualifications and experience while she was only in her twenties!

But more importantly, Miss Cooper brought with her a passion for education, unadulterated affection for children, devotion to duty, and commitment to her chosen vocation and respect for her seniors and rules and regulations of the College. She was so different from both Mr. Wynter Blyth and Mr. Rogerson and yet the three of them formed a formidable trinity to guide the destiny of the institution which was dearer to them than their Own lives. Mr. Wynter Blyth and Mr. Peter Rogerson served the school till their last breath. Thankfully, Miss Cooper is getting younger as the days go by and as Principal Emeritus, is ever ready to guide us.

While Mr. Rogerson befriended anyone and everyone who met him for a short time, Miss Cooper “suffers from a malady’ that makes her restless and in great discomfort until she has found a way of helping everyone she has met. Be it in terms of doling out vast sums of personal money to those in need of a house or seriously ill, or moving heaven and earth to get a deserving person admission into a good institution, or persuading those in power to do their best for the needy, or even giving away her own fan or cooler so someone’s elderly mother may sleep more comfortably, Miss Cooper’s compassion flows out towards all.

As Head Mistress of the Junior School, her sterling example, innovative ideas, and ability to create a team of dedicated educators brought about a sea change. She began working with the dynamic and saintly Mother Maria Teresa Unzu as Joint Head Mistress of the Junior School. Although they were of different dispositions, they worked together with mutual respect for each other and continue to be lifelong friends. They had a way with colleagues and created a culture of sincerity, good work and cheer without ever compromising on effort expended. As a teacher in class, she brought along with her an impeccable command over English, a wealth of knowledge about innumerable subjects and an ability to interest the students in more than just academic learning process.

Because she could be trusted to give her total commitment to any assignment given to her, she was loaded with multiple responsibilities. Apart from being the Headmistress of the Junior School, an onerous task in itself, she also became the House Mistress of the Preparatory House, a duty that. I believe, she enjoyed immensely and of course, she left her unique imprint on the delicate task of nurturing the youngest lads of the school and made the job of the House Masters of Junior and Senior Houses easier. She developed a beautiful yard for the Prep boys to assemble for multifarious activities. The Prep Yard had a tree house, a pond and a little zoo with rabbits, deer, pigeons, sheep and a clutch of peacocks and peahens. She inculcated an interest in looking after birds and animals in many children, who wore the tags of peacock boys, pigeon boys and the deer man with pride. All the three Principals have been nature lovers and have made Rajkumar College the greenest spot in this area. Miss Cooper continued to conscientiously add and protect trees in the institution.

Evidence of her aesthetic input can be seen in the functional and attractive construction of the Jam Shri Digvijaysinh Memorial Wing as well as in the renovation of the Dhrangadhara Hall. In all the major functions and in looking after the VIP guests – their comfort and meals and conversation -Madam’s input was invaluable. Her stamp can easily be seen in the production of the magazine Endeavour – attention to detail, choosing of the quality paper and layout and all other aspects immaculately conceived and executed.

Under her guidance children took part in the Commonwealth Essay Competitions and performed very creditably. She encouraged creativity amongst teachers to give their imagination free rein and vacant walls in the school were plastered with what we called Child Art. She believed in the philosophy of trust begets trust and gave opportunities to the non-athlete Senior Boys to perform as Officials during the Annual Athletic Sports, which they carried out successfully. She decided that RKC should participate in as many IPSC meets as possible. A very successful and thoroughly enjoyable “Atmiyata Meer” with Daly College, Indore was undertaken. She hosted the IPSC Principals Conference in 1997 and treated the Principals to RKC’s specialty, the Searchlight Tattoo. Incidentally a record of sorts was set when the Tattoo was held twice in the same year. Miss Cooper put in quality time for her school, spending what seemed like 30 hours a day for all 48 years of her life here. In spite of her unbelievable work schedule, she never forgot to greet hundreds of her colleagues, friends, admirers and acquaintances on their birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc.

She, along with Rani Saheb of Jasdan, conceived the idea of a Pre School for the Rajkumar College. Priyalok Vilas is much appreciated and in great demand.

One can go on writing about Miss Cooper the person and her wonderful ways and realize that one has still not been able to do her justice.

A better job was done by a set of students a few years back when they presented a small booklet they had prepared and given as a farewell gift to all the Staff Members on passing out from the school.

This is what they wrote about her and to her (excerpts):

One of the boys wrote about Miss Cooper moving about the dormitory at midnight and on realizing that a beam of light from outside was disturbing him, she very quietly took a towel and put it on the mosquito net crossbar in such a way as to create a curtain. He then watched her looking at the sleeping boys affectionately and tucking in the mosquito nets that had come off. He realised that her rounds at nights were a regular feature and she quietly sow to the comfort of her boys.

“I will have to unfold a post chapter of my school life to write about my most memorable moment. When I was in the Prep House, a week before the vocation I fell ill and was hospitalized. I was very sad as I missed taking port in the play to be performed on the lost day of the term and also missed out on chocolate pockets that were sure to be distributed. On the first day of the new term, after 10 weeks of summer vocation, I was summoned by Miss Cooper to her room and there were not one but two packets of chocolate waiting for me. Madam, Thank You.”

“We remember the amount of time and toil you have put in to prepare us to take all the challenges in our stride and carve a niche for ourselves in later life”.

“You have taught us to take a brood view of things: of thinking with courage and acting with faith: of keeping our ideals and moral principles intact, regardless of what conditions or what kind of world we might one day be called upon to face.”

In 2000, on Miss Cooper’s wish to retire from active service, the President and Members of the College Council resolved to honor her with the title of Principal Emeritus of the Rajkumar College, a position of dignity and esteem.