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Friday, 6 May 2011

To the Girls of Sophia High School

A big thank you to all my Sophia girls for your many messages to me in anticipation of this. Thank you for the words of encouragement, and thank you for sharing your memories - you took me back 21 years, to a truly special time and place in my life. I don't know if this particular post is about the samosas or the memories, but I hope you enjoy both. Miss you all.

I joined Sophia's in 1990, in the Sixth Standard when my father was transfered from Madras (now Chennai) to Bangalore (now Bengaluru). My class was the corner room on the ground floor of the Mater (now Cuvilly) Building. My class teacher was Sister Mary Ranita (thankfully, still unchanged from Sister Mary Ranita). And I was petrified of her. I was petrified of everything actually. Sophia's - when I joined - petrified me.

There were girls everywhere. I wasn't used to girls everywhere. In Madras, I had gone to a co-ed. Two sections, twelve to a section, eight boys, four girls. There were so few of us girls that I think we became honorary boys. We wore shorts and climbed trees and played cricket.  At Sophia's - three sections, thirty to a section, all girls. So, there were girls everywhere. And I had no choice but to be a girl. And I was petrified.

Everything else was different too. Much stricter, much more formal. You had to stand up before and after a class started as the teachers came in and left. You had to memorise and recite prayers - there were prayers to help you in your studies and prayers to make you brave and prayers before a sports game. You had to sing songs together about love and truth and suchkind. At my old school, they didn't care if your socks "weren't pulled up" or your hemline "wasn't pulled down." Here, my hemline became a constant source of distress for the nuns - "Pull down your skirt, my girl" Sister Ranita used to say to me, almost every day, "Doesn't your mummy know how to stitch??"

But what was hardest for me was that everyone already had their friends. During tea break, the girls would break off into their "groups" chattering loudly about this and that as they headed together to the Tuck Shop to buy munchies to share. The same thing happened at lunch. Everyone was always very polite but no one invited me to join them. I was simply "the new girl." I ate alone in that corner classroom on the ground floor of Mater Building every day that first week, the tomboy in me refusing to cry even though on the inside, I had never felt more miserable.

And then, out of nowhere, in my second week, I got a peace offering. One of the girls - I know you're reading this, and I think you know who you are - bought me an onion samosa at tea break. I had never eaten an onion samosa before. So far, I was accustomed to the more traditional samosas, large and doughy with a half-mashed-potato filling. This one was different - a thin, crisp, perfectly shaped triangle filled with spiced onions. I smiled as I accepted it, and we both ate our samosas together, sitting on the "stage" in front of Duschene Building, our legs dangling down. The samosa was fantastic, the conversation flowed easily and
for the first time in a long time, I was happy. The next day, I bought two samosas, and offered her one. This slowly became a regular ritual and tea break became defined by samosas and chats. Slowly, others started joining in and before I knew it, I was in a "group," standing in line at the Tuck Shop, swapping homework and lunches, waxing lyrical about Tom Cruise, waxing (a bit less) lyrical about cute real boys, partnering up in chem lab, meeting on the weekends at Mac Fast Food and Casa Piccola followed by HCF at Corner House...(do they still do this bowl of heavenly wonderful-ness?)

And as they say, time flies when you're having fun. So in what seems like the blink of an eye, my high school years had passed and we were at our very-solemn 10th Standard Graduation ceremony listening to the "Happiness is a Butterfly" speech and biting our knuckles to stop from laughing out loud. The end of an era. But there we were, all grown-up and elegant in white sarees, signing slambooks and making promises to keep in touch forever - "A ring is round, it has no end. That's how long I'll be your friend."
I think some of us have. It was that kind of friendship.

And for me, it all began with a samosa.

Here's the recipe:

- 3 onions, chopped lengthwise
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp ground coriander powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin powder
- A pinch of turmeric powder
- Salt, to taste
- Pastry sheets

I am cheating a little and using pastry sheets (Pepperidge Farm, Jus-Rol, Borg's - they all work!) instead of making the dough from scratch, but it's frankly just easier this way. I'm more than happy to share the purist option with anyone who wants it, so please feel free to email me. And while I’m positive the Sophia’s ones were deep fried, pastry sheets give you the option to bake if you prefer, with only a small compromise on taste. I'm doing both methods below.

Heat 1tsp of oil in a pan and fry the chopped onion with all the powders for a few minutes until soft. Set aside and allow the spiced onion mixture to cool. 

Separate the pastry sheets with a piece of plastic wrap between each. Thaw the sheets at room temperature for about 30-40 minutes. Unfold the sheets on a lightly floured board, countertop or pastry cloth and cut into small triangular shapes. If the pastry becomes too soft or hard to work with, chill it in the refrigerator for a few minutes. Top the onion mixture onto one of the triangles, cover with a second triangle, and seal the edges by pinching or pressing together with your fingertips. Repeat this for as many samosas as you want to make.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place all your samosas on a flat ungreased pan and bake at 400 degrees F for about 10-12 minutes. To turn pastries a deep golden-brown, brush tops with a mixture of 1 egg yolk and 1 teaspoon water just before baking. The samosas cook quickly, especially if you’ve cut a thin layer of the pastry, so check progress at the halfway point. Remove when the samosas are crispy and turn a deep golden-brown.

Deep Frying:
Heat oil in a deep pan, and deep fry samosas until golden brown.

And as I crunch my way through these delicious, crispy samosas, the memories overwhelm me. I emailed a few classmates while writing this to ask if they remembered what subject a certain teacher taught. In her reply, one of them remarked "it's scary how much you forget." True, but it's also scary how much you remember. For while some memories have faded, others remain so clear, that when I close my eyes, I can feel them. And so, just for fun and in no particular order, here are my personal top 10 memories of Sophia's:

1) The neat brown and white checked uniforms, especially the universally loved chocolate-brown wrap around sports skirt - very sexy, no kidding.

2) Music lessons taught by one of two men in the entire school (the other was the PE instructor), Ashley Williams - God bless you, how did you put up with us?? And K and S - I hope you are still singing, no one sings better than the two of you.

3) Fainting, on Sports Day while standing at attention during 'March Past', waiting for the Chief Guest to arrive, customarily late.

4) Practicing for interschool competitions - elocution, debate and "what's the good word" (UM and SS - we kicked some serious St. Josephs bu**!!)

5) Imitating the wonderfully musical Malayali Christian lilt of our nuns. And getting thrown out of class for doing it.

6) Reciting "Our Father in Heaven" at Assembly every morning. To this day, it is the first prayer that comes to mind when I close my eyes to pray.

7) Mrs. Ponnappa, you taught me to love words, Mrs. Sen, I was so scared of you, I can probably still draw a perfect India on a TTK map in 5 minutes! Mrs. Belliapa of 7B, you go down for the loveliest historian in History; Mrs. Shivram, you made Maths fun (and that is really saying something); Mrs. Narayan, you taught me that Chemistry is cleverer than I will ever be; Mrs Sharma, meri Hindi abhi bhi nahi sudhri...  And so many more of our teachers, I remember you all. I may not remember your subjects, but I remember your faces, and in the grand scheme of things, I think that's the more important one. Thank you for making me a lady.

8) The Sophia Girls - You are too many to name, but you are in my thoughts, all of you. The times spent together, both inside and outside the classroom, remain among the happiest of my life.

9) Barat House. We always came last on Sports Day. But still, proud to have worn the RED badge! Go Barat!

10) And finally - aggregating daily at break time at the Tuck Shop. Try hard enough and I can still taste all those goodies: pink tuck - gooey, obscenely sweet and sort of flavourless; coconut tuck - same deal, but apparently with a coconut flavour (?!); stick ice-cream - orange and mango and grape - invariably leaving the corresponding colours on your tongue, sweet popcorn and 'khara' popcorn, hot and freshly made; 50 paise red boiled sweets, distributed by all as birthday treats....and of course, my favourite, honest-to-god-yet-to-taste-better, The Famous Sophia High School Onion Samosa.

I have to end this by admitting (to my great chagrin) that until he read this blog a few minutes ago, my husband of almost four years thought my old school was called "Sapphire High School." Now, he won't stop with the old "Oooh its SOFIA..." :(


  1. Great read and I can particularly relate to the onion samosas as they were sold in Hyderabad as well. I don't like samosas at all but onion ones I loved them as they were small and less complicated :):) Will surely try making these. Thanks for sharing :):)

  2. Thanks Anu for reading and for the comment :) Its funny, both the Bong and the Punju samosas are those huge maida ones and I always find them kind of soggy, these south indian ones are just wonderful - crisp and crunchy, and had it not been for school, I'd have never known these even existed! Give it a try, would love to know how they came out!! Im going to try one of your desserts this weekend, now that I'm back in the kitchen :)