Posted by: cochinblogger | November 24, 2012

Opal Crush (A College Reunion Story): Chapter 5

Chapter 5

A Jagadambikan Interlude

Flashback, February 1977

It had happened five years ago. She had walked into the principal’s office with a letter of recommendation, pleading for a job – any job. The letter stated that the bearer of the letter, Jagadambika, was a spinster. She lived in penury, was of good character, eked out a living as a casual laborer, lived alone, had no family, and would be grateful for any kind of employment in the college. The principal looked her over. She was of indeterminate age but definitely no spring chicken, and her appearance was unremarkable.

As it happened, there was a spot open for cleaning duties near Topaz and Ruby, which included daily visits to those hostels for swabbing and mopping. She was signed on.

It was about a year later that a breathless Meenakshi burst into the principal’s office. The principal frowned. This was most irregular, but it must be something serious, he thought.

“Sit down. What is the matter, Meenakshi? You’re in quite a state.”

Her face was flushed, and she looked distraught. She remained silent for a few minutes to compose herself.

“Sir, a terrible thing has happened,” she cried out at last.

“What?”

“Jagadambiga’s condition has become — err — interesting,” she blurted out at last, avoiding his eyes.

“Interesting? I can’t imagine anyone more uninteresting than her.”

“No, no! Interesting in the sense — you know …”; her voice trailed off, and she bit her lips in embarrassment.

Suddenly the truth hit the principal like a bolt of lightning. He almost leaped up from his chair.

“What!! Are you telling me she is –“

“Yes, sir, she’s carrying.”

“Well — I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but it’s her business. Her life. Her private life. It’s got nothing to do with us. We’ll give her maternity leave, of course.”

“Sir, it’s more complicated than that. The culprit is a Topazian. Her word of honor.”

“What!!”

“Yes.”

“But — but — she’s old enough to be their mother –“

Meenakshi cut him off: “They’re animals, sir, animals –“

The principal protested: “But — but there’s no proof!”

“Strong circumstantial evidence. After all these years of spinsterhood, she suddenly becomes pregnant after getting this job that involves visiting those hostels daily. That’s enough evidence for the people’s court. Sir, there’ll be a terrible fuss if the villagers come to know.”

“Ask her who did it! I’ll strangle him with my bare hands!”

“She refuses to. She says he has given her more happiness than she has ever known, and she doesn’t want him to get into trouble.”

The principal groaned and clasped his forehead in his hands. This was awful! Yes, with hindsight, he had erred in giving Jagadambika the job. It was an error of judgment. But what was to be done now? Ah! There was one way out.

“We’ll get an abortion done quietly. And we’ll give her whatever money she wants.”

“She flatly refuses, sir. She says her baby is a gift of God and refuses to abort it. She wants to keep and bring up her love child.”

This broke the principal’s spirit.

He looked at Meenakshi with glazed eyes.

“I’m done for! It’s all my fault! Do you see a way out, Meenakshi?”

“I’m afraid I don’t, sir. I wish, though, that you’d consulted me before turning a woman loose in the hostels.”

The principal recovered his self-possession with difficulty.

“Alright, I’ll think this over for a couple of days.”

The principal was an able administrator, and a crisis brought out the best in him. Within two days he knew what had to be done, and within a week he had settled the matter. It was a smug, self-satisfied principal who faced a glum-faced Meenakshi across his table ten days later.

“Meenakshi, the problem has been solved!”

“Really! I’m so glad! But how did you manage it?”

“I analyzed the situation using the psychology of the individual. I reasoned that since Jagadambika wants to keep the baby, she’d be interested in giving it a good home. So I made some inquiries. Through a social service organization, I found a widower in a distant village who will marry her.”

Meenakshi’s eyes opened wide.

“Sir! You’re a genius!”

“We’ll have to conduct the wedding soon … before her interesting condition becomes apparent to all.”

“The expenses, sir? She’ll have to be given a handsome payout. It’s only fair.”

The principal smiled. The corners of his mouth twitched. Meenakshi knew the signs and braced herself.

“It’s taken care of. Since she said the baby is a gift from God, I think it’s only appropriate that we draw the amount from the university’s Act of God Contingency fund.”

And so the Jagadambikan crisis was settled to everybody’s satisfaction.

Back to February 1982

… The principal emerged from his Jagadambikan reverie in a pensive mood. It was amazing how the applicability of the Jagadambikan imbroglio to the problem of Opal’s location had escaped him. He slowly became aware that Meenakshi was saying something. Ah, yes, they’d been discussing the location of Opal.

Meenakshi was saying: “Sir, the parents of the girls won’t take this lying down. They’ll raise a terrific hue and cry.”

The principal brought his fist crashing down on the table.

“What is this idiotic idea of locating Opal behind Topaz? Opal behind that set of rampaging, rutting scallywags? Why, that bunch of two-timing smooth-talking scoundrels will turn our campus into a maternity ward in no time! No, no, no! We shall locate the hostel near the main road. It will be equidistant from the staff quarters, my residence, and the temple. They will be protected by the sagacity of our staff, my personal authority, and the blessings of the Almighty. I can’t think of a safer location on the campus for the girls. And their safety is our primary concern, given the kind of desperadoes we have on our campus.”

Meenakshi knew the principal well enough to understand that it was futile to argue. Her dreams of a beautiful landscaped garden for the hostel collapsed, but she wasn’t unhappy. The well-being of her darling fledglings trumped all else, and she had to admit the principal had chosen an excellent location.

And so Opal came to be built where it stands today.

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