Dr. J. Josephine
Dr. J. Josephine, or Ma’am as we all fondly refer to her as, has been a pillar of strength and support for the innumerable students who have crossed her path. I first met her when I joined the Mass Communication and Journalism Department of the University of Madras as a student in 1982. Ma’am then was a quiet, self-effacing lecturer who spread warmth and deep caring with whoever she came in touch with. She taught us film studies and encouraged us to attend the film screenings at the then Chennai Film Society. To most of us, this was a journey that began then and has been a rich and rewarding experience. We learnt to analyze films, to deconstruct them along several paradigms, particularly along feminist perspectives. You could say that that was our first introduction to feminism. After class, she was always game for a cup of tea in the office space she shared with another great lecturer, Dr. B. P. Sanjay. You could say that many were the relationships that were cemented there.
From college days, I moved on to the realm of daily life with its numerous responsibilities, joys, successes, failures and the entire gamut of human experiences that one traverses along the path of life. Throughout these days, I kept in touch with Ma’am, and she was one companion that accompanied me along this journey, though we would meet maybe once in two or three months. No matter how limited her time, she would welcome me with a warm, affectionate smile, and lend a patient, listening ear while I updated her on my life. I came away from these interactions feeling warm, supported, loved. I soon discovered that there were many such “special” students she cared for. Most of them were girls who drew strength and encouragement from the quiet strength she exuded and went back to bravely tackle whatever issues/setbacks they were currently facing in their lives. Throughout all these sessions, she would gently prod us to pursue our careers and if that was not on the cards at that point of time, she would offer quiet, enduring, comforting and non-judgmental support for whatever decisions we had made. She was truly the quintessential teacher, comforter, guide, and sincere companion, always available to us well beyond our college days.
When she retired as the Head of the Department a few years ago, I was overwhelmed at the outpouring of accolades at the farewell party we threw for her. Mostly from women, though well-attended by the male ex-students too, we heard emotional stories of how Ma’am had served as a pillar of strength during difficult times and how she had silently cheered them along their successes. Asked what she considered the greatest virtue, she replied it was the ability to practice the art of contentment. When I thought about it, in all my years of association with her, though she had faced many difficult times career-wise that I was aware of, I had heard little about it from her. She seldom complained, while she seemed to have taken a vow to always be there for those students who sought her out to share their struggles and triumphs with. This to me, is the ultimate sacrifice, the act of offering oneself in true service to others in a spirit of love, peace, warmth, compassion. She continues to be so, post-retirement, a good friend, trusted companion, always available to those in need. Eventually, she will make the move to Mysore, her home town and Chennai will be the lesser for that occurrence. But we all know that wherever she lives, she will continue to always be there for those who seek her out. I am grateful for the experience of having her in my life as I am sure are many other women like me.