(Photo taken in 1940)
“The First Woman Graduate in My Family
My mother, Sofia Cordeiro Monteiro, was the first woman graduate in her family. Born in 1919, she lived in Goa (then a colony of Portugal), where there were no facilities for University education. She was a brilliant student, finishing her SSC with distinction in 1937. She was awarded the Dalgado Portuguese scholarship, which entitled her to a completely free education in any college in Bombay. However, her paternal grandmother did not want her to leave Goa. It was unheard of for girls to leave home for higher education in those days. She writes in her memoirs:
“I was now confronted with a big problem. My grandmother refused to give me permission to study in a college in Bombay. Fortunately my uncle Jose, my father’s brother, who lived in Bombay with his wife and three children, came to my rescue and said that I could stay with them. My grandmother accepted this arrangement with great reluctance. I left home for Bombay with tears in my eyes. I felt very lonely and missed the warmth of my parents and siblings. I cried for two days and finally told my uncle that I wanted to return to my parents. He shouted at me. Finally I decided to stay on. I joined St. Xavier’s College where I was awarded another scholarship of Rs. 90 (it was a princely sum then) for having the second highest marks among all first year students who joined the college.”
Sofia finished her inter arts exam with distinction in Maths and French. She wanted to take Maths as her main subject for her BA, but her uncle did not permit her and so she chose French. She turned down several marriage proposals while she was studying and graduated with a very high first class in 1941. Whilst she was a student, she fell in love with a fellow college mate. Due to family opposition, she could not marry him for many years. She went back to Goa, did her B.Ed and became a schoolteacher. She finally married him in 1945. She was widowed at 30, remarried her husband’s brother (my father) and had a total of 5 children (I am the fourth).
My mother was a dedicated and popular teacher of Maths, French and English all her working life. She taught in schools across the country for over 30 years, accompanying my father on his transfers. She retired in the late 1970s, as the Principal of a teacher training college in Goa. A powerful, well-read and gutsy woman, she imparted to all her children a love of Maths and reading and a tremendous zest for life.
(Photo taken 4 days before she passed away, on the occasion of the release of her memoirs. She is seen here with two of her grandchildren)
She was a great raconteur and would relish telling the same stories over and over again! I have fond memories of her sitting on the verandah of our home in Goa, in her old age, deeply immersed in reading the newspaper from cover to cover, and then moving on to a book, oblivious to all around her. After my father’s death in 2004, to pick herself out of feelings of loneliness and depression, she wrote her memoirs, just for her family. It is a marvelous, unsentimental and refreshingly honest description of her life and times. The book was released just 4 days before she passed away of cancer in February 2007. At the time of her death, she was reading three books simultaneously — one of them was Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul!
Contributor: Anjali Monteiro (daughter)