Posted by: cochinblogger | November 24, 2012

Opal Crush (A College Reunion Story): Chapter 3

Chapter 3

A Hostel by Any Other Name

January 1982

A few months later, the principal sat in his room, a contented man. Everything had gone according to plan, exactly as he had foreseen. Laloo’s paper had been a smash hit, and had earned him and his institution international recognition. In fact, the success of the paper had led to a valuable spin-off: an industry partnership project with part government funding on the development of a low-cost, green, portable toilet for deployment in the rural areas of the country to eliminate once and for all the scourge of open defecation.

The unique feature of the toilet was a miracle molecule that when released as a spray patrolled the environs and Pacman-like intercepted stink molecules and instantly neutralized them before they impinged on the nose, converting the stench into a lavender and pine scent that a duchess could wear with pride. (Airline companies had evinced great interest in the technology, especially for their long-haul flights; it only took one or two flatulent passengers to turn the flight into an olfactory nightmare for all on board, and recycled air solutions were not working satisfactorily.)

Besides, the hygiene was perfect: the exposed surfaces were 100% sanitized. The designer’s boast was that one could eat one’s lunch off it, and he did so too off a used toilet at a press conference that was beamed all over the world. Best of all, it looked sexy, almost like an elongated, curvaceous iPAD. And it was the principal who had thought of its name: Potti Pooper, potti meaning box in Tamil. And the rental scheme for those who could not afford the Potti Pooper was also the principal’s brainchild, the name included: Toilet To Let.

The hostel construction proposal had also sailed through the syndicate without opposition; the success of Laloo’s Loo Law and the Potti Pooper had ensured that. The budget had been passed, and now it was time to wrestle with the practical realities of constructing a girls hostel in a hitherto almost rabidly all-male campus. The problem he was considering today was a simple one – almost laughably trivial – but a decision had to be taken soon. He had summoned Meenakshi today to help decide on a name for the new hostel.

“Good morning, Meenakshi. I want to name our hostel. I’m fed up of having to refer to it as our proposed girl’s hostel in reports. We need a handle, a short and sweet name. And as we’ve begun naming our hostels after precious stones –“

“An ill-advised policy, if you ask me, sir. Perhaps that’s why many of those living in them become stoners.”

The principal did not approve of this interruption, but the pun made him smile, as Meenakshi knew it would. Besides, he was a confirmed bachelor and epicurean.

“Boys will be boys. They’ll sow their wild oats,” he said indulgently.

Meenakshi’s expression eloquently conveyed what she thought of wild oats. The principal hastily short-circuited the digression.

“Meenakshi, I’ve thought up a name that I think will fit the bill, but I need your seal of approval.

“What is it, sir?”

“Jade.”

Meenakshi gave a start and her hands flew to her mouth in horror.

“Sir!”

“Green is my favorite color. And –“

“Sir, out of the question! I’m not going to allow my darling fledglings to be saddled with such an awful name! Why, they’ll be the butt of jokes –“

The principal looked puzzled.

“Sir, jade also means, err… a disreputable woman. Nineteenth century usage, but why risk it, especially when there are much worthier names?”

“Oh, alright! I didn’t know that. Now, tell me, what name have you come up with?”

Meenakshi blushed, and seemed transformed before the principal’s eyes: she looked 20 years younger.

“Diamond,” she whispered.

“Eh?”

“A girl’s best friend.”

“Oh!”

“Yes.”

“Excellent!” The principal beamed in approval. He congratulated himself on his wisdom in appointing Meenakshi his advisor on the girl students’ welfare. Then he frowned. He’d spotted a fatal flaw.

“But — but the name’s been taken already!”

“Yes, sir. The Diamonders can surrender their name and pick another. Ladies first. Chivalry. A small sacrifice to make for their sisters.”

The principal looked doubtful.

“Well, I’ll appeal to their sense of chivalry. But I have my doubts. People get possessive about hostel names.”

The principal contacted the Diamond hostel rep and placed the facts before him, including the bit about diamonds being a girl’s best friend and appealed to their chivalry. The rep suppressed a smile and said he’d need to consult his mates first. He returned the next day with a polite but firm refusal. They had a sentimental attachment to their hostel name, and regrettably could not part with it. However, in the spirit of chivalry, they would try and make the girls feel so welcome on the campus that the girls would say that it is the Diamonders, and not diamonds, that are a girl’s best friend.

Meenakshi was crushed when the principal conveyed this news to her; she’d set her heart on Diamond as the hostel’s name. And the impudence of the Diamond hostel rep’s reply was salt on her wound. Her heart sank.

“Then I can forget about my backup name too,” she said despondently.

“And what may that be?”

“Ruby.”

“Eh?”

“Yes. Ruby. For ruby lips,” said Meenakshi coyly.

“Oh!”

“Yes.”

“Now, why didn’t I think of that?” the principal mused aloud.

“But that name’s also taken. It’s no use, sir. I give up. Let’s settle for plain GH.”

“What’s that?”

“Girls Hostel.”

However, the principal had a surprise for her.

“Meenakshi, I believe I’ve found a great name!”

“What is it?” Meenakshi feigned interest; it’ll be another howler like jade, she thought.

“Opal,” the principal said in a reverential tone. “It is the only stone that can reflect all the colors of the rainbow; the word opalescent is derived from this property of opal.”

“Wonderful!” Meenakshi exclaimed.

“And what’s more, the play of multiple colors symbolizes the many moods of a woman. As in ‘A woman has many moods, Vimal is one of them.’ And the brilliant colors evoke the colorful clothes women wear.”

Meenakshi’s eyes were shining. She wanted to throw her arms around the principal and kiss him, but restrained herself.

“Sir, we have our hostel name! Opal it is!”

And so the name was decided.

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