The Great Opal Location Debate
The next important decision was the location of the hostel. There were two possible candidates: one was a large plot a short walk from the staff quarters in a rather lonely part of the campus that Meenakshi (who had a green thumb) felt could be transformed into a green haven of peace and tranquility and the other a smaller plot close to the main road, about equidistant from the staff quarters and the principal’s residence. However, even as the pros and cons of these locations were being debated, there came a surprise proposal from unexpected quarters. The principal read it through, gave it some thought, and lost no time in summoning Meenakshi for urgent consultations.
“This is about the hostel location,” he opened, as Meenakshi took her seat.
“Yes?” Meenakshi hoped he’d decided on the location that was dear to her heart.
“I’ve got a letter from the Topaz hostel rep. He suggests that the best location for Opal is right behind Topaz.”
“Here, take a look,” the principal said, as he slid the letter across the table to her.
The letter read as follows:
We have learned that the location of Opal will be decided soon. We, the residents of Topaz, have given the matter close consideration and have come to the conclusion that the ideal location for Opal would be right behind Topaz. We are aware that this suggestion is likely to arouse wonder, if not righteous indignation, in administrative circles, but we submit that this is because all of us, in a collective sense, have for too long allowed our minds to be shackled by outdated patriarchal notions regarding relations between the sexes. It is time to break free from the bondage of sterile thinking, and who can burst these bonds if not the new generation?
It is a fact that gender relations in this country are in a sorry state, with unhealthy social consequences. Girls and boys are separated in every sphere of life, starting with our schools. Interaction between the sexes is discouraged in this country. In most colleges (and here, in this college too), girls and boys sit on separate benches in classrooms. Movies in the barn, for example, are watched separately. These are clear indications of the psychological barriers that society has successfully conditioned us to living with. How can our country progress if this remains the state of affairs and if girls and boys don’t work together shoulder to shoulder in a healthy spirit of cooperation and partnership? The location of Opal behind Topaz will foster this partnership by dint of sheer proximity.
Besides, there are many boys on our campus who have had no first-hand experience of girls at all. They have neither sisters nor girlfriends. They have only seen girls in movies, on the TV, and at a distance on the road. Imagine such a student who finds himself in the United States on a scholarship. What would be the fate of one as unprepared and as susceptible as he in the land of blond bombshells, beach beauties, and assorted distractions? Why, it’d be like throwing a lamb to the wolves!
In this connection, I draw your attention to the unfortunate case of our senior Purvez Tyebhoy, who married a stripper while still a student, to the eternal grief of his parents. We have no doubt there are girls who are similarly handicapped by a 100% male deficit in their social relations. Our proposal would ensure a period of preparatory acclimatization before students depart from the campus, leaving them better equipped to face the temptations of the world. After all, the true purpose of education is not a putting in of book learning but a drawing out of potentialities that work together holistically to mold character.
We therefore urge you to build Opal behind Topaz and initiate a brave new experiment in gender relations that will be held up as a model for other colleges in India to follow. What we propose is the golden mean between the extremes of coed dorms and complete segregation, a communal living experiment supervised by unobtrusive but watchful live-in hostel wardens.
And you, sir, our beloved and visionary principal, you will be acclaimed as the pioneer of a social revolution in this country!
Thirunavukarusu (Topaz hostel rep)
Meenakshi was red with fury. She all but tore up the letter.
“Sir, you’re not going to throw my precious fledglings to those ravenous wolves, are you?”
The principal stroked his cheek thoughtfully. He was flush with the success of Laloo’s Loo Law and the Potti Pooper. His appetite for the limelight had grown with that success, and he scented another opportunity here. He was feeling like a social pioneer.
“Well — the girls will have a civilizing, calming influence on the boys. They’re running wild on the campus like savages. I sometimes think we’re living through a sequel of Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The other day a watchman told me that he saw three students climb up a tree at midnight and pee from the branches. They were stark naked.”
“Sir, you can rely on their future wives to civilize them! This outrageous proposal is such a transparent ploy! The impudence! The nerve!”
The principal continued to ruminate.
“And he does have a point. It’s an unhealthy, unnatural segregation.”
His eye became dreamy, and there was a faraway expression on his face.
“I remember a girl in college I badly wanted to sit next to in class.”
“Sir, she may have had her own opinion about that,” Meenakshi observed primly.
“And as for Purvez and the stripper, he’s cited the wrong example. It was love at first sight. Strippers can sniff out a millionaire a mile away, but this one must have had an exceptionally well-developed instinct: she scented a millionaire in the making, years in advance. Purvez was a penniless student then, but is a transistor tycoon now. And she has become quite the society hostess. They’re blissfully married. Happy ending.”
“Sir, I didn’t come here to discuss the matrimonial proclivities of American strippers!”
Meenakshi’s cheeks were flushed, and the tip of her nose was red. The principal felt like a small boy who had been caught by his mother reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the sly. Not for the first time in his life, he congratulated himself for having stayed a bachelor. Heavy family pressure had been exerted on him to tie the knot, but he hadn’t budged. And he was glad he hadn’t. To have to put up with periodic outpourings of righteous wrath at some imagined or minor transgression? Siva, Siva! And he knew from what his married friends told him that their wives invariably had the last word. Life was short enough as it is without having to be nannied in one’s adult years by a wife-mother.
Meenakshi’s ire brought the principal back to earth. Opal behind Topaz. Hmmm –.
“We could post a couple of wardens in the hostels. It should be alright.”
Meenakshi was on the point of stalking out of the room, but with great difficulty restrained herself.
Finally she burst out: “But, sir, have you forgotten Jagadambika?”
This had a powerful effect on the principal. It was though he’d been injected with a potent chemical. He jerked up, and his body shook spasmodically. Then he groaned and closing his eyes, leaned back in his chair. How could he have forgotten? The memories of the Jagadambika imbroglio began playing in his head like a video tape …