Branca James: the teacher who did not spare the rod
At 93, Branca James, a retired teacher, has found her second family in her former students. Children she taught at least 26 years ago are now among her best friends, who take her shopping, celebrate birthdays and festivals, and even teach her how to take selfies on their mobile phones.
James taught geography, moral science, French and civics to students of Rose Manor School, Santacruz, from 1963 to 1987. And decades after passing out of school, it is these students who take time out to visit her at the St Joseph’s Convent Old Age Home and brighten up her day.
Even today, students who are in their 40s and 50s transform into twelve-year-olds as they listen to her colourful stories with rapt attention.
“What a life I have had, you can never believe,” James said, as she began stories of her adventures, starting from her life in the convent to the time she was enlisted as a corporal in the British Army in the 1940s.
“She is a treasure trove of stories. I love sitting with her as she recounts her school days and her many adventures,” said Sejal Mehta, 42, one of her ex-students, who helped form an alumni group that looks up the school’s retired teachers and lends them a helping hand.
Back in the day, James was a strict disciplinarian. “I was in charge of school discipline and would not shy away from cutting boys’ long locks or girls’ overgrown nails,” said James. “But the students still loved me. Once, when the school principal appointed another teacher in my place, the entire class marched to the principal asking to bring me back,” said James as Mehta nodded in agreement.
Teachers like James need companionship more than financial aid, said Mehta. “When we first met Mrs James, we had carried our cheque books to offer some financial assistance,” she said. “But she made us go to Sir JJ hospital and donate our organs, rather than give her money.”
Every Teacher’s Day, the alumni organise get-togethers for retired teachers. “We bring all the retired teachers together and they really enjoy themselves at these events,” she said. “It gives them a break from their daily-routine too.”