Written by Ritu Sharma
“Give your boy to us and we will make him a man” – late Rati F Cooper used to tell parents who used to come to admit their children in the 154-year-old Rajkumar College (RKC) in Rajkot. Cooper was the first woman warden principal who went on to serve at the school for 42 years before she returned to Lahore in 2000.
She positively influenced the lives of students for more than two generations at RKC, Chandan Nath told The Indian Express, a 1975-batch alumnus of the school, at the first memorial lecture in memory of their legendary Cooper Ma’am, as fondly called by her students, organised by the over 8,000-member strong Old RKCians Association (ORA) in Ahmedabad Sunday. An advertising professional based in Ahmedabad, 65-year-old Nath is the 13th descendant of Manek Nath baba, the seer on whose advice Ahmed Shah-I is said to have built the city that took after his name on February 26, 1411.
“The political divide between India and Pakistan may keep getting wider, but because of Cooper Ma’am, the divide among people got narrower… She was the bridge between the two (countries),” summed up Malaysia-based Bharat Avalani, another alumnus.
Cooper joined Rajkumar College in 1958 as a headmistress of the junior school, but soon assumed added responsibility of the housemistress of the preparatory house in 1965 and went on to take over as the warden principal in 1991 and principal emeritus in 2000. She passed away due to old age on March 8, 2019 in Lahore.
Avalani, the first RKCian to visit her in Lahore, was in touch with her till she breathed her last. “She would always keep others before herself. She never accepted gifts from anyone, but whenever I visited Lahore there were standing instructions for me to carry as many jars of Tiger balm as possible. She would pass on these to her old friends who were in pain. To ease others’ pain, that is what she did,” he told The Indian Express.
Considered to be one of the finest teachers by her students, Cooper was born in 1930 in Mumbai to Framroz and Maneckbai Cooper from Lahore. After graduating from the Sacred Heart Convent, Lahore, she went to the Trinity College of Music in London from where she secured a Licentiate.
“When she was offered, rather, suggested by the British Council (to join RKC) and arranged to visit Rajkot, my sister went very reluctantly as she had never heard of the place. However, the principal of that time persuaded her to stay there until she found a job in Bombay. The rest is history as we all know,” said her sister Perin Boga in a video message from Lahore. Like Cooper, Perin born in 1942, too, spent a lifetime working in education. She was the Head of the English Department at Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore for 28 years and the Staff Adviser to the College’s Dramatics Society for 30 years. She retired as the Dean of Humanities in 2002.
She was full of love and compassion and never had any ill will for anyone and dedicated her life to children and their education – this is one quality every RKCian shared about Cooper. “She would remember the death anniversaries of mothers of her students, fathers’ birthdays, childrens’ birthdays…she would never forget. She nurtured thousands of children as her own,” said ORA president and 1976-batch student Yogesh Wadhwana, currently based in Mumbai.
“She ensured the underprivileged children are treated well with compassion and also given equal opportunities. I was one of them. With the help of a national scholarship I got into the school but never knew how to write my name in English in Class 5, but when I passed out of Class 12, I topped English,” said Dr Kirit Kubavat who hails from Junagadh and is currently settled in Ahmedabad. “Ms Cooper played a vital role in the life of every student and is a fine example of how a teacher influences a student’s life,” he added.
Her stories of compassion are never ending. “Once, during lunch at a hotel in Lahore, Ms Cooper heard a pianist while leaving and expressed her wish to play the piano. After playing it, she complained to the hotel staff that it was an insult to ask any pianist to play on such a badly tuned piano. The pianist said he had also been telling the same to the hotel management for a long time, but they wouldn’t understand. The next day, Ms Cooper sent the person who tunes her piano to the hotel to tune the piano,” Avalani recalled.
In Cooper’s memory, RKC has built Rati Cooper Kala Bhavan on the campus where her bust was installed in 2021. Established in 1868 by the then princes and chiefs of the erstwhile princely state of Kathiawar, the school, spread over 25 acres in the heart of Rajkot, is one of the oldest K-12 institutions across India with boarding facilities. For over 15 years now, the school, originally a boys-only residential school, has turned into co-ed with the option of day boarding as well.
“She would know most of her students by name even years later. Most of her students turned out to be good human beings, too,” said Ayazkhan Babi (85), who belongs to the erstwhile princely Babi family of Junagadh. Babi was not only Cooper’s student, but later became her colleague as well. An RKC student from 1950-59, Khan is one of the only two boys who had done the two years of undergraduation before it was wound up by the school in as many years. In 1963, he joined as an English teacher and then House Master, before taking over as the principal in 2000. He continued to be the principal until 2008. Babi was in touch with Cooper till last.
“She lives on through the lives and memories of a host of loving RKCians, relatives and friends,” the grave in Lahore sums up her life. Her legacy lives on as she used to say, “I don’t want to be remembered, but want to remember”.
© The Indian Express (P) Ltd
First published on: 03-07-2023 at 03:53 IST