East or West, Sophia is the best

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I was chatting with an old, very close friend- Sil. She is one of my best friends… one of those friends I can pick up the phone and speak to after 4 years and the time won’t matter. Deep down… we will always be the same and so will our friendship. Somehow, my girl friends are the ones who have access to my real thoughts and feelings.

And aren’t school friends the best? I can meet anyone from school and things just click. Even if we have barely interacted in school itself. Which is not the case with either engineering college or MBA. Strange but true. Maybe because it was a boarding school where we all startet at the same level and ended at the same level. There was no difference of religion, colour, caste or money. We were all the same and it didn’t matter who came from where or planned to go where.

Anyway, Sil and I got talking.. for 2 hours. Wow!!! Don’t remember the last time I spoke (and not chatted. WhatsApp chats do not count as conversations) to someone for so long and the conversation was effortless… there were no gaps… no wondering what to say next. When we first met in CH hostel, me, P, G, D and lots of others had really harassed her but then we became friends. She is one person I can say anything to… I am sure she will have a scandal to top mine.

But that is not what this post about. We were reminiscing about school days on WhatsApp which led to another conversation on the phone and I wanted to relive the memories of the best place and the best times of my life… at Sophia High School, Mt Abu.

– B’fast in CH hostel. It was generally stale bread with jam. The cooks would apply jam on the bread at night itself and store it outside. We would eat b’fast as early as 6.00 am (followed by bath on alternate days… get dressed… study hour… walk to school) and the bread would be stale. It took many dips in the milk to moisten the bread and make it edible. When my brother joined the hostel, he was homesick and did not want to eat the bread. So, I tucked it in my night dress, took it to the upstairs room and hid it under the pillow. The plan was to throw it on the way to school but I forgot. Aunty Dafne (hated the monstor… thank god she is dead) found it when the maid was making the beds. But I did not get beaten up because I got good grades. Life’s simple funda I learned early on… get good grades and get away with everything… and now, meet sales nos and get away with murder.

– Morning/Afternoon baths. There was water shortage in Mt Abu so in most hostels (except expensive ones like Kiddies’ Corner) kids bathed on alternate days. In CH hostel we took a bath in pairs so it would take less time. My bath partner was J and she was… how do I put this delicately… more mature than me. I matured later. And I remember her telling me during bath; “Please don’t look up”. Hilarious. When I was in the boarding, we took baths in the afternoon and some people napped first and then took bath or vice versa. Some rushed through lunch, ran to the dormitory for a bath before everyone else. Yeah. Bath days were fun.

– Reading. I don’t know any Sophian who is not a voracious reader. We read a lot. Skipping games/PT to finish the novel was a norm. The library was a source of good books but it did not have the popular ones. The ones we liked- Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele, Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon (of course) were all hidden away. But the clerk to the librarian- Laxman Ji was a good guy. He would lend us those books sneakily. Pocket money in those days was rare and we rarely bought books. But when someone did buy, there would be long queue to read it. We would wait for the people ahead of us to finish it. And it was common to cut the queue, borrow the novel for a night and hide in the blanket with a torch to finish it. I read one such novel a day before my Geography board exams. My parents would have killed me if they found out but my revision was done and I managed to finish the novel in a day.

– Sister Celesia. She was a nightmare and all Sophians of my batch remember her. Mrs Neelu was our English teacher and she loved people with a good imagination. Our grades depended on how imaginative the essay was. Also, she came up with some very innovative topics for writing. And then in 10th std came Sr Celesia. She didn’t care what you wrote as long as your grammar was perfect. We ended up writing a lot of boring but grammatically correct essays.

– The Hail Mary. The rosary/Hail Mary was our saviour during exams. We said the ‘Hail Mary’ 10-20 times during exams which would take atleast 30 mins. After a few days we would realize that those 30 mins can be spent studying instead. So, the Hail Mary recital would be accompanied by books open in our laps. ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with you. Blessed are you amongst women and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen’ Its amazing how I still remember that. We, sometimes, followed it with the Gayatri Mantra so Hindu Gods didn’t feel left out. It was exams time, after all.

– Sir Ramachandran. Sigh. He taught my sister Maths and then he taught me… and would have taught my younger sister (if I had one). I cannot imagine Sophia without him. I would sleep in his Physics classes. That was one subject I could not fathom. How can you assume a perfect world when it is not perfect? He is a fabulous teacher and the credit for knowing Mathematics goes to him.

– Library. Our favourite place in the entire school. We looked forward to the library period.

– Sunday Mass. Only for the Christian girls, though I did attend Easter Mass and a few Sunday Masses too. The only thing I wanted to do was taste the bread dipped in wine. One of my friends- Anne in 5th std had sneaked out a bit of bread for me before it was blessed. It was absolutely tasteless but we envied all the Christians who got to taste wine so early in life.

– Walks. Sunday walks. We went for walks every Sunday. In the boarding, we had a special walk uniform- cream shirts with plaid maroon and black knee length skirts. Super sexy. And yes, pulling up the skirt as much as possible and pulling down the socks was the norm. The walks would be around Nakki lake… to different parks in Mt Abu… or to Toad rock. Our picnics were to Savana Farm… Travers’ Tank… Gomukh… etc

– My bedside (and not bed) partner in 10th was Betty. She loved Salman Khan… was absolutely crazy about him. When my parents came to meet me I convinced them to buy me a Salman poster… my parents generally frowned upon such expenses- greeting cards/scrap books/novels/music cassettes/posters etc. I don’t even know why I bought the poster… I guess liking Salman was ‘cool’ then. Betty spent days trying to convince me to give her the poster. I don’t remember if I gave it to her or not. I probably did. Another female- N was crazy about Sonu Nigam. Sounds crazy now.

– Tuck. The snacks that we brought from home was called tuck. Our tuck in CH included Amul Spray (Nestle dairy creamer is not a patch on Amul Spray… AS really sticks to the gums and only a good brush can remove it completely… naturally, it was our favorite) and Boost. We mixed them together and had them as dessert after meals. In the evenings, we would sit on a rock outside and have our tuck. There would be midnight feasts… where we sneaked tuck in our undies, dupattas, jackets, bras, waistband of pants to the upstairs room and ate it all at midnight. Something like Famous Five (by Enid Blyton) do. Once Gopi had hidden tuck in her undies and when she went to Uncle to offer him snacks from her plate, the tuck fell down from beneath. It was hilarious.

– Sex Education. We had sex education in 10th std. It was the most anticipated class of the year. Unfortunately, we already knew everything by then. It just ended up being slightly boring. What I distinctly remember was the abortion video. Now THAT is something every teenager (boy/girl) should be shown. I first got to know about sex through 2 sources:

– There was a Saturday newspaper called ‘Wee Wonder’ which I read religiously. I wrote them a letter with my age/address/name telling them how much I like the newspaper. Those fuckers printed all those details. I had given my hostel address and I started receiving porn letters from someone in Baroda. I was horrified. That was my first experience of sexual harassment. And it had pictures of naked people. I tore the letter without reading it and threw it away. BUT my juniors- Gopi and Kin were very, very curious. They patched the letter together- yes, picked it up from the dustbin and joined the pieces together and read all of it. I received 2 more letters and came to dread Saturdays. For some reason the letters always came on a Saturday. My biggest fear was someone opening the letter… thankfully, Aunty Dafne gave me the sealed envelope. Thankfully, they stopped after a few weeks.

– We had a teacher (I forget her name which is sad because I was very, very fond of her) who came for tuitions. I did not take tuitions… have always studied on my own… but I would sit in the room where she taught the others. There was less teaching and more of talking which was fun. I was in 7th std and she told us about sex… what it is… how the act was performed. Our first reaction was ‘Eww… Gross’.

– Sil told me I gave her sex education (verbally… not physically… sheesh people) and am not surprised. I did give sex education to my batchmates in engineering… and then even in MBA. I believe in spreading the knowledge.

There are many, many more memories but these are the ones we remembered instantly. What I would give to go back to those days. My school days are the only ones I really, really cherish… the rest is dispensable… I would gladly erase the rest. Not to say it wasn’t fun… it was… but my school has a different magic. It is THE best.

Edited to add. This is the funniest incident of my life. I just narrated it to KC and have to put it here.

In CH, we played a game. When our washed and folded undies were left in the room (6 of us- the eldest in the hostel stayed in a room while everyone else was in a dormitory) on a bed closest to the door (mine), the undie which was picked up last by the owner was hung on a nail near the ceiling. It was a hilarious inside joke. One day, as soon as the undie was hung… Our old teacher walked in to say hello. We were caught unawares and froze. Nobody knew how to react… The poor guy was sitting on the chair pretending not to have seen an undie on a nail and we pretended like we didn’t know that he could see the underwear. Finally, P picked up a towel… Threw it on the nail to cover it and picked up the underwear. Throughout the teacher and we pretended like P was invisible.

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