By Santosh Bakaya
“Pick up the phone, can you not hear it?” The Principal had the habit of not picking any landline call, as most of the landline calls were from the Directorate of Higher Education, and the Principal whose superannuation was just a couple of months away, was wary of attending to the calls, afraid of some calamity falling on his head, delaying the financial benefits accruing post- retirement.
So it was the personal assistant(PA) who picked it up on the extension in his room, while the Principal’s ears pricked up as he craned his neck in the direction of the room from where the PA dashed towards him, forehead creased.
“Sir, sir, the call was from the Directorate, the Chief Minister is coming here with his entourage.”
“What on… earth… for?” The Principal stuttered, springing up from his chair, almost lurching — a ship in a storm-tossed ocean. A crushing sense of misery gripped him as he felt the riotous waves crashing against him with ominous messages. Then he gave vent to a series of curses that embraced the whole directorate, politicians, bureaucrats, clerks, peons, students and even the dogs and cats loitering outside his chamber.
“Next week, they will be headquartered here for a couple of days and will have the jansunvai [Public hearing] here”. The PA remarked in somber tones, as if bent on rubbing salt on the Principal’s already lacerating wounds.
“The college building is a mess, what will they do here? The toilets are so pathetic. Even if they stay here for a couple of hours, we need to dismantle and renovate the toilets. The Indian style toilets will have to be replaced by western style toilets, there will be many bureaucrats and the PA of the chief minister is very suave and sophisticated — he was my friend once. I am done for.” He banged his head, almost on the verge of pulling out his hair, but sheepishly realized that it was a wig that he was wearing and wisely dropped the idea — and of course the hand from his head.
“So, what if he is suave and sophist…icat…ed?” The PA asked, almost stumbling on the word, sophisticated, one eyebrow raised strategically.
“Damn it! How foolish can one be! How will they use these Indian style toilets, tell me?” The Principal smirked.
“Are they not Indians?” The PA asked, this time raising the other eyebrow.
A couple of boys had entered the office, holding on to two pieces of paper, when pieces of this conversation fell into their ears. They dashed out with this information, and blurted it out to the students, embellishing it with some tidbits of their own.
“You know, the Chief Minister is coming here with an army of people and the college authorities are going all out to make them comfortable.” One of them informed them in breathless excitement. This was followed by a collective gasp of indignation from the students and clucking of tongues and voicing of raucous dissent.
“Imagine the cheek of these college authorities! They are not able to solve the water-crisis in the college, but are conveniently thinking of jaguar toilet fittings for the VIPs!”
“They are installing air-conditioners in the toilets. We are done for!”
“Our throats are getting parched, and they are being provided with mineral water.”
Inside the chamber, the Principal was moving around like a scalded cat; not mewing like a cat but barking incomprehensible orders, suddenly sitting on the chair, and then springing up as though pricked, pacing the room, looking at the ceiling, perhaps for some divine intervention, and then bursting out in perspiration. The impeccably dressed Principal now looked disheveled, shouting and cursing, making grotesque gestures and flailing his arms. He leapt and skipped and then absolutely tired and snuffed out, hop-scotched towards his chair, flung himself on it and soon fell asleep, absolutely wilted.
“How will we manage in a week?” He whelped, leaping up suddenly, holding his stentorian snores in abeyance while the dog outside his cabin, which had been at the receiving end of his invectives, rolled up on a coil of rope, and forgiving the perpetrator of indignities, added his snores to those of the perpetrator, in a symbolic gesture of a truce.
“Toilets kaisey banengey (how will the toilets be made)?” The Principal barked anew, between two roof-shaking snores.
For one week, the Corridor of Learning buzzed with the topic of renovation, while the Principal’s chamber also buzzed on and on. There was buzzing in the washroom, there was buzzing in the student circles, and there was buzzing in the Principal’s ears.
The washroom was getting a facelift, while the faces of the students fell.
“You know, they are using the students’ funds for renovating the washrooms.”
“How dare they? This is unfair.”
“Very, Very unfair.”
“We will go on a strike.”
“Yes we will. Taanashahi Nahi chalegi (Down with dictatorship)!”
The seat of power was threatened by a toilet seat, things had come crashing down from the almost-ridiculous to the utter ridiculous.
But the tragic irony of this entire fracas was that the caravan did come, but alas, none of the ‘sophisticated and suave’ men used the newly renovated and highly sophisticated washrooms that had been designed especially for them. All the money spent on the refurbishing and renovation of the toilets went down the drain. What did not go down the drain, but down the delegates’ gullets and into their stomachs, was the absolutely lavish feast laid out for them so magnanimously by the college authorities.
The students strongly suspected that this money was also purloined from the Students Union Fund.
Dr. Santosh Bakaya is an academician, poet, essayist, novelist, biographer, Ted Speaker and creative writing mentor. She has been critically acclaimed for her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi [Ballad of Bapu]. Her Ted Talk on the myth of Writers’ Block is very popular in creative writing Circles . She has more than ten books to her credit , her latest books are a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. (Only in Darkness can you see the Stars) and Songs of Belligerence (poetry). She runs a very popular column Morning meanderings in Learning And Creativity.com.
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