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Widdy’s – reminiscences of a school boy

Sitting in class during my school days, my mind would wander off as the teacher made his or her way through the lesson of the period.  It could’ve been the English teacher explaining Portia’s “The quality of mercy is not strained” speech or the Math teacher triumphantly proclaiming “Q.E.D” after solving an intricate theorem.  There was a football game to be played during lunch.  I wasn’t particularly great at football but I did not lack for enthusiasm.  Then, if I had some loose change in my pocket, there was always the enticing thought of eating at Widdy’s!

 Widdys to any boy who went to my school, conjures up images of a small shack at the corner of the school which contained a veritable smorgasbord of treats.  Every school has its canteen or tuck shop, we had “Widdy’s”.  The owner during my time was called Abdul and I had just assumed that Widdy was his surname but it turns out that Christopher Rego in his excellent book “Faith & Toil” provides a couple of explanations to the origin of his name, suffice to say, it was not Abdul’s surname.

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“A bottle of pop, Rahman”, Widdy’s, late 1930s. Photo credit – “Faith & Toil” by Christopher Rego

My introduction to Widdy’s started even before I joined my school.  My brother was a student there and I would visit the school on sports days.  To a young kid of 7 or 8 years, high school boys were certainly intimidating and their athletic prowess was impressive.  More impressive were Widdy’s samosas – vegetable and mutton.  Crispy, triangular turnovers filled either with spiced potatoes or minced meat, deep fried and absolutely delicious.  This was not a food for the faint hearted or health conscious but as kids we were neither and we feasted on these.  My recollection is that the veg samosas were 25 paise and the non veg ones were 30 paise.  Occasionally, there would be camel meat samosas, I never got to eat those though.

When I did join my school in 4th grade, my horizons opened up.  There was a treat for every budget.  Five paise got me a “bulls eye”, a black and white retro toffee from the days of the Brits, with a minty taste.    Ten paise was enough for a small scoop of fried spicy green peas, “farting tablets” as they were referred to.  They were potent and they did live up to their name!  I could work my way up to a burfi – a sweet made with shredded coconuts and sugar.  I rarely bought those,  my mother made them at home. There was halwa, a flat sweet but the sweet of choice was the incomparable stick jaw!

 The stick jaw along with samosas were Widdy’s signature items.  If you’ve never had a stick jaw, Merriam-Webster has an apt description “something (as candy or a pudding) that sticks the jaws together and is difficult to chew”.  This description could not be more apt.  A pink, sweet, sticky candy resembling a flattened cylinder, wrapped in butter paper.  I would wrestle the wrapper open, not all the way, just the edge and bite into the candy.  I could clamp the edge between my incisors and then pull the candy, the candy would just elongate!  Mostly I just chewed my way through the candy, unwrapping gradually as I went through it, taking care that my fingers never touched the candy.  It was a losing battle, I invariably ended up with sticky fingers.  Our “tea-break” was all of 15 minutes, not enough to enjoy a stick jaw.

Speaking of breaks, we had two.  A fifteen minute break between 11 and 11:15 am and lunch between 12:45 pm to 1:45 pm.  As soon as the bell rang, a raucous bunch of boys streamed out of the classrooms. However in this Brownian motion of school boys, the ones with a definite purpose in life were those lucky boys who had enough “tuck” money.  These determined individuals would bolt to the southern end of the field towards Widdy’s.  Once there, there was hurried hustling and jostling to get to the 2 windows which had grills.  We stuck our hands in and chanted “Abu, samosa!”, “Abu, samosa!” or “Bonda, Bonda, Bonda” and so on till Abu (as Abdul was called) or his son Asmath heard us and took our money and handed over the treat.  We then backed our way out of the throng to enjoy our hard fought treat on the field.  But we had to be careful, for circling high above were kites with keen eyes and a careless young boy and his samosa were soon parted in a flash as one of these keen eyed birds swooped down and made off with the samosa.  If you were actually eating the samosa, you could end up with a scratch on your face!  The prudent ones hung under the shade of the trees, Gulmohar I think, or sat on the low stone wall and ate their treats contentedly.  I was a day-scholar and my visits to Widdy’s were fairly limited, this made my occasional visits even more memorable!  Sometimes, if I was plain lucky, one of my friends would “stand” me.  A bite of a samosa, a piece of a bonda or on those lucky days, an entire samosa!  Not everybody fought their way through though.  There were regulars and “high spenders”, these boys would skip the windows and enter the canteen through the door and buy their choice of treat.  The first time I did get to enter was on a visit back in 2002!

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Abdul with Hasmath, Widdy’s, circa 2002

There were seasonal treats of course.  Raw poly mangoes, sliced with chilli powder and salt in summer.  Gauvas, similarly sliced with “masala”.  Bondas, a rung below the samosas, fried potato fritters, delcious nevertheless.  My first acquaintance with Widdy’s started with the sports day and I suspect Widdy’s made a killing those weekends.  Old boys flocked to the school on sports days and the “Old Boys Day” that followed, and most, faithfully paid a visit to Widdy’s to relive their boyhood treats.  Sports days were the days the athletes shone and I can still remember names of those stars.  For the non-athletic guys like me, there was club-swinging or figure running, an opportunity for every school boy to participate on sports day.  After the displays, we would head to our respective classrooms for a treat of “bun and pop”.  The bun was, as it’s name indicated, a plain bun and “pop” was soda, usually a cola.  I think the brand was “Crown”, I may be mistaken though.  Those “free” treats were the best!

As I had mentioned earlier, I was a day scholar and I took my lunch in everyday as opposed to the boarders who ate at the refectory.  Abu extended a line of credit to the boarders and I suspect my boarder friends have partaken of all the varieties of treats that were on sale.  I really should have counted my blessings for getting to eat home-cooked food everyday but on the occasional day when my mother had to perhaps attend a wedding or some social event during the day, my dad gave me money to eat at school.  Concentrating in class was pretty hard on those days.  I had to figure out whether I should conserve my money, skip the tea break and eat four samosas at lunch.  I could alternatively, eat a samosa at tea and then eat 3 at lunch.  Perhaps 3 samosas and a stick jaw, it was just great to run the permutations and combinations through my mind.  During the fifth period which just preceded the lunch break, concentrating in class was especially hard.  If due to some lapse in my self control I actually paid attention to what the teacher was teaching,  the coins in my pocket nudged me back to reality, reminding me of the upcoming feast.  As the bell tolled announcing lunch break, I joined that herd of determined boys heading towards Widdy’s!

 I don’t remember the items at Widdy’s changing much, but as a nod to the changing times, Abu started selling “burgers” in the eighties.  You could go for the chicken or vegetable burger and these were at the top of price range.  I had a burger once, but then again, I think the going rate was 3 samosas for a burger, so I stuck to samosas!

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A new generation of students at Widdy’s – circa 2007

I last visited my school in 2007.  The majestic old building that held such fond memories had made way for a new one.  Widdy’s had moved to a new location, it was now housed in a makeshift structure in the pavillion.  The familiar classmates were no longer around, most of my teachers had retired, some had passed on.  The school uniforms had also changed, apparently boys wore their house colors on days they had PT.  There was an occasional girl too, the formerly all boys school had opened its doors to girls for the 11th and 12th grades.  It had been 22 years since I had left school, a lot had changed and in many ways, I was a stranger at my alma mater.  I stopped at Widdy’s and spoke to Abu.  I then bought a samosa (it cost Rs 5) and as I bit into it, I realized that some things had still remained the same!  And the kites were still circling, waiting for a careless school boy.

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The kites still circle above!

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41 Comments

  • Reply
    Nanda Cariappa
    September 27, 2013 at 3:27 am

    Rajesh, Simply superb description of the good old days… Readin thro the blog I could visually transport my mind to the good memorable days…

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      September 27, 2013 at 9:57 am

      Thanks for your kind feedback Nanda, I’m sure as a boarder you have very fond memories of school and Widdy’s. Compared to the boarders, I was merely an onlooker.

  • Reply
    Anu
    September 27, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Rajesh, you are in the wrong profession!! Seriously, you should consider taking up writing as an alternate!! Beautiful write-up, as usual!! This should be an Op-Ed piece on NYT or part of the T Magazine!!

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      September 27, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Thanks Anu, you are very kind and generous in your praise! I guess I’m better off letting people think that I can write well…than to take it up seriously and prove them wrong!

  • Reply
    Suraj Shetty
    September 27, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Very nice, Rajesh. Really brought back memories and for sure I remember the significance of being extended a line of credit by Abu.

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:24 am

      Thanks Suraj! I never had an open line of credit, I was not a regular!

  • Reply
    anoo pie
    September 27, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Soo beautifully n eloquently written.makes me go back 2 my school next time I am i
    n mumbai

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:25 am

      I’m sure you had your favorite snack in school. I haven’t eaten at your school, but I would gladly eat a Mutton Frankie when in Bombay!

  • Reply
    Navin Thomas
    September 28, 2013 at 2:04 am

    Beautiful crafted and wonderfully written piece, it opened the flood gates of many a cherished memory of the joys of being a Josephite, leaving a nostalgic lump in my throat. Kudos Rajesh !

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:26 am

      Thanks Navin! It was a trip down memory lane for me too.

  • Reply
    VIjay Alphonse
    September 28, 2013 at 3:42 am

    I feel good that I was part of the old Widdy’s and the stick jaw era. I just stumbled on this blog and was smiling all the way to the end. I had managed to get a back door pass a couple of times when I was in school but it was mostly through tailgating with the high rollers 🙂 Thank you for sharing these very special memories.

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:27 am

      I remember those high rollers too, boy I envied them when I was in school! Thanks for your feedback Vijay.

  • Reply
    Rohan Lawrence D'souza
    September 28, 2013 at 5:19 am

    The Last two lines sum up SJBHS canteen and Yes a Line of Credit extended by Abu.
    Thanks Abu as always.

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:28 am

      An old boy from the class of ’68 mentioned to me how Abu had treated the cricket team for having won the Cottonian shield! Those memories stick in one’s mind.

  • Reply
    Lazar Karimpanal
    October 1, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Nayak, nicely written article. The “stands” were what everybody used to look forward to when they had no cash themselves. And of course the kites have cheated me out of the hard work of making way to the window and backing out of the crowd with the treats securely clutched in my hands.

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:30 am

      Hi K.T. I do remember you “standing” me and Pai a couple of times. I owe you a samosa the next time I’m in Bangalore!

  • Reply
    Prakash Pillai
    October 1, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Beautiful piece Rajesh! Oh, the memories that came flooding back. Have moist eyes as I read this!

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:31 am

      Thanks Prakash, means a lot coming from one of the Wordsmiths of our batch! I still remember your sixes on Old Boys day, couple crashed into the corridor outside Chapel I think!

  • Reply
    Harsha
    October 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Rajesh – then there was the cheapest treat of all – the 5 paisa “kaakaa sweet” – a small ball of tamarind, jaggery or sugar, and some spices all ground together. A cheaper substitute for stick-jaw. Speaking of kites – one bite into the most juicy guava that I had ever eaten, and a kite swooped down, knocked it off my hand. They don’t eat fruit, and that guava just lay there on the ground all covered in mud.

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:33 am

      I do remember the Kaka sweet, Harsha. It was wrapped in cellophane paper and was the poor man’s stick jaw! I wonder what the kites did on weekends and holidays. Given the amount of samosas they snatched, I would be interested in checking their lipid profile!

  • Reply
    G Uday Shankar
    October 1, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Hey! Just amazing, went back to the good ole days at school. Planning to go back and relive those memories at Widdys.
    Thanks for bringing back the memories.

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:34 am

      Thanks Uday. Wonder how much a samosa costs now.

  • Reply
    Shamsheer Ahmed
    October 2, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Rajesh, thanks a ton for taking the time to pen this ‘slice’ of our unforgettable Josephite memory. God Bless.

    I was always south of 25 paisa in terms of pocket money, so there was a lot of decision making that came into play as one approached Abdul’s famed shack! Sports Day was mega, my mom used to dole out Rs 5/-. Boy! you felt you could take on the world with that kind of dough in the pocket:)

    Cheers,
    Shamsheer(1979 Batch)

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      October 2, 2013 at 9:36 am

      Thanks Shamsheer! If you happened to let your friends know that you had Rs 5 on you, you would’ve been the most popular guy in class that day! We may be a little more circumspect about those treats now, but in those days they were like manna from Heaven!

  • Reply
    Sadanand Vishwanath
    October 26, 2013 at 7:37 am

    East or West Widdy’s is the best…..

  • Reply
    Srivathsa
    January 10, 2014 at 4:08 am

    Marvellous. Being a day scholar myself I used to wait for the odd day when I used to get to eat lunch from Widdy’s.

    There were two types of stick-jaw – Pink and Brown (made from ground nuts?). I remember samosas being 50p in the early 80s.

  • Reply
    Rajesh
    January 18, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    The brown stick jaws were indeed made of ground nuts, I thought they were called halwa, but I might be mistaken!

  • Reply
    Joe
    February 26, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Wonderfully descriptive writing of a time one would long to relive. A time of youthful innocence and pleasant memories. Thanks Raj.

  • Reply
    Christopher Rego
    June 6, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Rajesh, a great blog! In the Army now and hence not normally at Bangalore. But when I do return, find some excuse to visit St Joseph’s and Widdys and get some stick jaws or bondas. Does anyone remember the camel meat samosas? They used to be available around Id. Incidentally, my grandad (1919 to 1926), dad, self and son all patronized this wonderful shop. It would be of interest for you to know that the shop was opened in 1908 and it celebrated its 100th anniversary along with the school’s 150th! (PS: Thanks for giving me the credit for the old pic – it is actually from one of the old school annuals)

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      June 9, 2014 at 9:32 am

      Thank you Christopher! Four generations of Josephites! That must be a record. I did hear that Widdys will likely be shut down when the food court comes up in the new sports complex. I did enjoy reading your wonderful book, you’ve done a great job researching the history of Josephs and the pictures are a treat.

  • Reply
    George Ollapally
    June 6, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    Great article, have forwarded to all my Josephite friends. Loved the brown stickjaws,though his samosas were oil drenched specials

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      June 9, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Thanks George! The samosas were indeed special. I’ve had friends tell me that Widdy sourced them from somebody in Russel market and one could get them there, but I think the association of the samosas with school and the accompanying memories makes it special.

  • Reply
    X S PILLAI
    June 6, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    Those were the days, my friend.
    Damn would I like to wrap my teeth around a stick jaw. My teeth would probably fall off!

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      June 9, 2014 at 9:36 am

      Flossing was unheard of, I suspect one would need to be armed with dental floss now to eat those stick jaws!

  • Reply
    Felix Almeida
    June 8, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Wow! I graduated from St. Joseph’s in 1964, and am now 3 weeks from retirement in Toronto-Canada, at the age of 65. This nostalgic article is so timely Rajesh, and transporting as well. What a great guy Widdy was, his helper then was Abdul. Our kind ‘Stander’ was my day-scholar classmate Walter Goveas. I remember going back to school with my family about 15 years ago, and Widdy treated us to samoosas with his typical warmth. Memories!

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      June 9, 2014 at 9:41 am

      Felix, isn’t it amazing that different batches of Josephites can relate to each other based on the food that we at Widdys! Considering you are the batch of ’64, I suspect you were a year senior to Clarence Chandran, David Chatterjie and Ray D’Silva. I’ve run into old boys from our school from the fifties, sixities and seventies here in the US, much senior to me, but it never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to establish a rapport once we find out that we are alumni of SJBHS. Thank you for your feedback!

  • Reply
    Ivan Rodrigues
    June 30, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    Rajesh, you captured the essence of ‘Widdys’ beautifully. I was a boarder from ‘1970-76. Fanta/Coca Cola was 45 paise a bottle. We boarders received 50 paise a week as pocket money. The choice was how do you spend it? 45 paise would knock off the bulk of the money. I was lucky to have tasted the camel meat samosa on one particular Saturday in 1973 or 1974. It was a special limited edition. My boarding mate Jamie Raghuram particularly advertised this event for Widdy on a poster 2-3 weeks in advance. The samosas sold out in 10 mins. Abdul at the most if I recall sold his camel meat samosa just 2 or 3 times in the years I was at school. Tasted just like mutton though! The line of credit was called ‘Tick’. Hello Abdul, can you put it on ‘tick’?

    • Reply
      Rajesh
      July 8, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      Hello Ivan:
      I think the camel samosas were phased out by the time I started. My brother remembers it from his time. My second cousins – the Prabhu twins were probably in your batch. I remember going through school annuals from 1973 onwards (when my brother joined 4th) and Subir Sachdev with his 6 points in 1976 was the benchmark for future batches. I don’t think anybody has managed a 6 pointer since. Thank you for your feedback, I’m amazed at the memories that this article has evoked across different batches.

  • Reply
    Ray Dsilva
    July 9, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Nice treatise Raj. I wonder if Widdy realized what a long lasting impression he would have on all of us. As a boarder I got 4 annas and later 25 pisa from brother Govias every Saturday morning to spend at Widdy’s. Four bulls eyes for an anna, two annas for a stick jaw and an anna for two handfuls of gigs. Or you could get a large kite for four annas with the sustrum already done. Those were the days.
    Thanks for the memory.

  • Reply
    Ivan Rodrigues
    August 3, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Hello Rajesh,
    I am forwarding your article to some of the other old boys. Yes Suri was in my class (10A). Rabbi was in 10B. And of course – Subir 10A !

  • Reply
    Pavan Biddanda ( Class of 79)
    October 17, 2015 at 8:21 am

    Thanks for putting together this beautiful piece.For us Boarders who survived on 50 paisa a week as pocket money, these were the early lessons in cash management.
    Most of the time we were waiting for someone to”stand” us or if Abdul would extend his credit line.
    Another thread connecting the Josephite.

    There were also the other version of Stick jaw , the Groundnut stickjaw, if I remember right.

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