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Back to school & honoured

Three old girls who have made Modern High School proud shared with present students the secret of what makes an achiever.

Anindita Adhikari, professor of statistics at University of California, Berkeley; Anuradha Lohia, the vice-chancellor of Presidency University; and Kavita Poddar, floral artist, were felicitated at the annual prize day on Tuesday.

Adhikari could not attend the event, but Lohia and Poddar were there to accept the “humbling honour”.

In a message to the school, Adhikari thanked Modern High for making her “good at the things I wanted to be good at, without having me for one instance worry about the fact that I was a girl or that I was not supposed to be good at this or that the world thought differently”.

“I have done mathematics and science for most of my life and when you are a professional in these fields you are surrounded by men…. And even in fields that are not the sciences as you go up the rank of organisations there are mostly men. Even at home there are certain decisions that are made by men and you keep seeing that there is this perception that you not supposed to be good at certain things,” Adhikari said in her message. She reminded the audience that whether it is writing a compelling essay, conducting a brilliant experiment, winning in long jump or doing beautiful embroidery — a girl can do everything.

Director Devi Kar, in her speech, said the school was in no hurry to turn coeducational. “In these 62 years, the school has produced so many achievers that we are spoilt for choice. They are experts in diverse fields,” she said.

Kar went on to clarify that Lohia was being felicitated not for her recent appointment as the vice-chancellor of Presidency but for “the work that she has done before that”.

Lohia recalled how the school had instilled in her the confidence that helped her when she went to New York for her postdoctoral training. An administrative staff had asked her if she had studied in Oxford, when she “had never stepped out of Calcutta before that”. “I realise where this came from… the touch of higher learning… from Modern High School,” she smiled.

But the first day when she reached the school as a kindergarten student with her mother was “scary” for Lohia. “I remember desperately wanting to go back to the car. It’s a very humbling moment as I stand here today… The school makes you big, the school makes you very small, very humble.”

Poddar too felt humbled receiving an award from Ganga Somany, one of the founder- members of the school, “after years” . “It is a privilege …. she (Somany) is a role model to all of us. At my age I am inspired by a lady like her who is 90, who walks erect without a support,” Poddar said.

Somany’s mother, Rukmani Birla, was among those who started the school. Rukmani Birla’s daughter-in-law Nirmala Birla is the present chairperson.

Justice Ruma Pal, chief guest and former judge of the Supreme Court, had the final word. “All girls must see themselves as persons. If you define yourself by your gender then other people will also define you by your gender.” Apt words for Modern High, where the theme this year is exploring possible futures.