Facebook this morning brought the sad news from Veteran Colonel Sajan Moideen about the demise of Mrs Mercy Mathai, our Matron at Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu.
Death cannot take away Mrs Mercy, she will always remain alive in our hearts. Many cadets like me, owe their little domestic skills to her. I feel lucky because I was one among her many wards, helped and developed by her, during our formative days at school. I pray he is in the good place now, watching us from the right side of the Creator.
When we, 30 of us from Kerala, joined the school in grade 5, at the age of nine in July 1971, armed with little communication skill in our mother tongue Malayalam, we were welcomed in at our dorm – the Feeder House – by Mrs Mercy. We were all happy that our Matron – Mrs Mercy – spoke Malayalam. Everyone of us will vouch that she was a mother to each one of us. Her love for each cadet and her devotion to duty made up for our mother’s care and love that hardly anyone felt home-sick.
Most of us, until we joined school, hardly ever wore shoes. It was Mrs Mercy who taught us how to wear the socks and shoes and the biggest bugbear for us was tying the shoelaces. In the Cadets’ Mess, she with Mrs Sheila Cherian taught us table manners – how to sit on a dining table, how to use the cutlery.
Making our bed in the morning was the first ritual of the day and it was Mrs Mercy who taught us how to execute the task with the counterpane covering the bed to protect it from dust.
Counterpane – the first complicated English word in our vocabulary – is a fifteenth century word meaning a quilt, coverlet, or outer covering of a bed. I have heard only cadets from our school and students from some public schools at Ooty (Udhagamandalam, Tamil Nadu) use this word. I never heard it later while in service with the Indian Army.
She taught us many domestic skills like threading a needle, stitching a button, darning our socks, etc. We had to put the dirty linen and clothes in our pillowcase and place them at the designated place and after three days we picked them up washed and pressed. No one ever missed any of their garments. How she managed it still remains a mystery.
Mrs Mercy was very strict with us regarding personal hygiene. She taught us how to brush our teeth, how to bathe, how to flush the toilet, etc. She ensured that we clipped our nails – for the defaulters, she clipped them.
She ensured that we wrote a letter home every Sunday – the only means of communication then – and she posted them on Monday. When parents came to visit their sons, she made them confident that their son was in good care.
She was a great leader with exceptional organisational abilities. For our House Day, she made sure that each one of us participated in the cultural show. For many of us appeared on stage, it was our first stage experience. While others sang, danced and acted in skits, the likes of me without a tinge of musical or dramatic skills became trees on stage.
How can one forget the birthday bash she organised for our House Captain PM Hariz, who is now a Veteran General? Many of her wards served the Armed Forces of India and many served as doctors, engineers, lawyers and bureaucrats.
Rest in Peace Mrs Mercy Mathai – there are many like I missing our mother – who ensured that our dorm was a home away from home.