LIANNE JOHN (SCMSophia- 2012-2013)
Remembering Lianne John
Lianne John sat on the last row at class but she made a deep impact on all those she met. Jerry Pinto remembers a student of deep faith and great dignity.
There is a tradition at SCM of what I call ‘verandah conversations’. It is where a student who has a question s/he cannot or has not found the time or space to ask will chase the teacher out on to the verandah and ask a question there.
Lianne John had spent two hours of an early morning class during the course of which I had suggested that religion was a tool for the oppression of women. It was late enough in the life of this republic for me to locate my critique within the Judaeo-Christian tradition as an internal critique.
Lianne listened stoically. Then she followed me out and asked if she could have a word.
“Jerry, do you believe?” she asked. I knew that this was not a theoretical question of faith; it was a specific question about my faith in Jesus Christ.
The easiest way to deal with an uncomfortable question is to turn it on the questioner, one of the agile tricks teachers learn when they wish to deflect moments of self-implication. I could not do that with Lianne. I knew that Lianne’s faith was a deep wide river which refreshed the quietness of her personality.
I saw that the question came from a place of truth and so I answered it with truth.
“I don’t know,” I said.
She nodded but her eyes filled with compassion.
When I heard that she had taken ill with Covid, I was reassured that her faith would sustain her. When I heard the terrible news of her death, I saw her spirit flowing with that river, going home to a place of welcome.
Nirmita Gupta, head of the department of SCM, remembers her well: “When I think of Lianne, what comes to mind is the headline: ‘Siddhi and Lianne went to jail,’ and the blue Marginalia cover with the map of the city, designed by Penaaz Damania. I also remember thinking that’s an odd pair of friends: Siddhi always talking and Lianne so quiet. But what a great story they wrote.”
That headline was indeed a memorable one. It was at the end of the year at SCM that Lianne hit the ball right out of the park. She had been given Byculla as her beat because, if I remember rightly, she lived in a distant Northern suburb of the city. She came back to class and said, ‘I just visited Arthur Road Jail.”
I nearly fell out of my chair.
“Do a piece for Marginalia?” I asked.
“Can Siddhi come with me?”
She did and you can read the story here.
Nirmita Gupta adds: “Lianne was a quiet and sweet presence in the class. Rest in peace, Lianne.”
There was even then a peace about Lianne. I thought about this when Dr Sunitha Chitrapu, who was head of the department in Lianne’s year and I were talking about the student we remembered. “I remember Lianne as a quiet student. But she must have been quite strong because she specialised with Jerry. If course everyone remembers the story she and Siddhi [Patel] wrote for Marginalia in which they actually visited the jail. I also remember Lianne as a person of deep faith, and if she felt that her belief was being challenged, implicitly or otherwise, she did not appear to be deterred. She carried on as best she could, quiet, watchful and determined.”
Faculty member Sunayana Sadarangani was also impressed by her presence in class. “I recall Lianne as a quiet person. But the fact that I could recall her face, when I first read Siddhi’s post which told us of her passing, means that Lianne has stayed in my mind all these years. From amongst all the students I have worked with, she was one of those who left an imprint on me. Lianne had a strong, quiet presence. May she be at peace after all her struggle.”
Her batchmate Penaaz Damania remembers her too: “Lianne was a lovely person. Her smile could easily brighten up the room and her softness touched many of our hearts. To most, she will always be remembered as a good natured soul with a heart that could give. Those grilled sandwich breaks in the Polytechnic canteen and discussions over photography assignments (most useful inputs always by her, to help us understand what's what) will forever be a snapshot of our time there. An excellent writer and photographer, Lianne was great at turning pictures to words, a skill that does not come so easily to many, and we were lucky to benefit from her vision. Lianne was also so kind to every being, her love for strays was not unknown to anyone. All she did was give and continues to place smiles across our faces as the memories of her resurface. Lianne's trust in faith was strong and gave her the strength to spread joy to us all. I hope, it leads her soul to eternal peace.”
Farzeen Khan, another batchmate, also remembered her serenity and her talent: “I remember Lianne as the polite, soft-spoken classmate who usually sat at the back of the class. I remember the photographs she clicked and the mild jealousy I felt every time she was the recipient of Jeroo ma'am's coveted praise. I remember her story in Marginalia about her unwavering faith in Jesus feeling in awe of someone who was so sure in her beliefs and ideals. I can only hope and pray that today she has found peace in His warm embrace. I hope you're smiling and clicking the best photos wherever you are, Lianne.”
If you think that Damania’s praise for Lianne’s skills comes from her liking of her friend, Jeroo Mulla, the legendary head of the department for many years, who taught Lianne agrees: “I remember Lianne well. A very sweet girl who took lovely photographs. I selected them for the exhibition even though they were in black and white.”
Many of her batchmates wrote in to say how shocked they were and what a great impact she had had on them. Shalima Dias says: “I am so grateful to have know Lianne John and this is how I would like to always remember her. Free-Flowing, Loving, Nature lover, Friend to all god’s creation and a beautiful soul. She definitely touched our hearts with her kind heart and beautiful smile. One year of knowing you in SCM went by like the wind. Now all I am left with are just memories on talking about Goan food, visiting Goa, baking and sharing our faith in God. I am sure each of us have so much to say but still left speechless…Rest in peace dear Lianne, Heaven just got their angel back.”
Riti Bahel adds: “When I think of Lianne, it’s her smile that comes to my mind. She smiled through her eyes, a kind soul who always spoke her mind but from her heart. Still remember how she called for a meeting in Kutch because she was upset with how the group was divided. And that was the first time, group 2 which went on to winning the best documentary held its first group meeting ever. I remember her being close to Siddhi. They would click the most amazing pictures together and make group projects successful, one picture at a time.
“We had lost touch, life happened. But we reconnected on Instagram and LinkedIn. And we both had one thing we could not stop discussing, brand strategies and digital marketing. Those endless conversations on have been playing in my head. Her smile and kindness will always be imprinted in my heart.
Still cannot believe their would be no reply to my questions on the other side. Still cannot believe we lost her. You will be missed
Rest in Peace, Lianne.”
Sharon Flynn remembers “an ever-smiling girl who always was ready to help….She had an eye for photography and I still remember discussing some of her photographs in class and bonding over life’s philosophies. She was a kind soul with a heart close to god. Lianne helped with the production of our documentary film, as well as the photographs that we needed for our shoot. She shall always be remembered in our hearts, a life snatched away too soon. Incidents like this got me thinking of Bob Dylan’s lines ‘How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died’. This pandemic has left us all with scars. RIP, Lianne.
The news of her sudden death shocked our community. Pratignya Krishnamurthy from the batch of 2001, says, “Lianne wasn’t my batchmate. But she was part of my tribe. The group of people who trained me to be who I am today. She must’ve been honest. She must’ve been hardworking. And true to herself. To lose one so young, who had so much more to offer this world is cruel and unfair. I hope her family stays strong. I hope her family looks at her batchmates and are reminded of her spirit and of the little things she must’ve done to make her something more than a friend to each and every one of them. I hope they find solace in those little acts of kindness and those slivers of memory.”
Tanya Rai writes that it was “very painful news. I have very fond memories of her as a lively girl from way back at SCM Sophia. Lianne and I were in the same group and throughout the course we did all our projects as a team. I remember stepping out with her on the streets of Bombay for a photography assignment once. It was a hot summer afternoon and I was losing patience and motivation to keep at it. She knew I love food and that's something that can always lift my mood. So she took me to the Trident Hotel where someone from her family used to work and made sure I got to eat all my favourite desserts. That's how I will always remember Lianne in my thoughts. A humble, gentle, fun, kind-hearted and faithful soul. I'm sad that she left us way too soon, but she will be living with us through our lives as she has touched so many hearts. She'll forever be missed! RIP, Lianne.”
Nikkita Patro also has some food memories: ““December of 2012 in Mumbai had felt like a hot mid-July afternoon. Lianne, Siddhi and I were on our way back to Sophia in a kali-pili after a heated argument over phone with a photo editor and then with Jeroo. The Exhibition was nearing and we were now regretting the responsibility we had earlier very proudly taken up voluntarily to oversee the Photo Exhibition. We hardly spoke a word between us, blankly gazing out of the window, till Siddi asked the driver to make a quick halt near the Parsi Dairy at Worli. A few minutes later Siddi came running back to the cab with 3 pieces of mawa cake and cream rolls for us. A bite of that mawa cake, not luxurious but very familiar to our taste buds, and the taste of cream oozing out of the cream roll - very ordinary yet filled with some good happy memories of yesteryears, not only transformed our mood but, as the cake melted in our mouth, so did our problems appear to melt away.
“Lianne and I were never paired together, nor were we in the same group, but who can keep two foodies apart? Especially when the two foodies shared the same taste in music, too!
“Though we spent more time with our respective groups, Lianne was always there to comfort me whenever Jeroo and I had an argument over log books or photo assignments. We would sit in the canteen and discuss it over countless chicken sandwiches.
“This is how I remember Lianne, through the beauty of our shared food memories. These instantly transport me back to the time I spent with her. Though I may struggle for details, the taste lingers.
“Lianne was always very calm in her approach to life. She was a very confident young woman, yet very soft spoken. She loved animals and she did her best to provide for the strays. I am much honoured and grateful to have known her, to have been her friend.
“As I say my goodbyes to Lianne, I pray that her soul rests in peace. She has left me with some extremely beautiful memories of our times together.
I think of what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: "Like a bird singing in the rain, let graceful memories survive in the times of sorrow."
As Lianne’s closest friend at SCM, Siddhi Patel has suffered twice over. She lost her mother to Covid, the same mother whose advice on their jail expedition had us all in splits. And then she lost her friend. She wrote: “Lianne, the one who is communicates to world with her words and photographs. She is kind, determined and humble person who carries only love and humanity in her heart. Scm days with her are the most precious days of my lives, we held each other’s hand and built our dreams together. Covering the Jail assignment has been the best experience till date and the Kutch trip was an eye opener to our love for photography. She took pictures with her phone and had a Whole board full of her pictures at the exhibition. She taught us to believe in our dreams and accepting who we are. We loved eating Chinese and celebrating Christmas, an ardent believer of god who followed humanity with all her heart. She’s made difference not just to me but to many I know who are doing well just because of her. Lianne, thank you for being in our lives, I will never forget you. You live within us forever!”