“We don’t allow this”, the assistant to the principal said.
“Oh Okie... Can I speak to her?” I asked.
“But she won’t allow. We don’t allow this”
“That’s fine. All I need is just to get to speak to the principal”
“I will ask her but as I told you we don’t allow this”. And she went into the Principal’s cabin.
This lady was getting on my nerves.
It was the all too familiar tone of negation and disapproval. I was outside the door of the principal of one of the more prominent schools in the city. And I needed permission to interview 3-4 students from this school as a part of my project. I had already conducted about 80 odd interviews by now. Consumers in the age group of 14-40 years were my target respondents and I had also interviewed 12 students from 3 different schools in the city of Chennai .With this school, I would have finished my quota of school interviews in Chennai.
The assistant went in with my college ID and my bonafide certificate and I saw her speaking to the principal from outside. She came out after a minute or two and said “You can go in”.
Okie, I said to myself. Here’s my chance to do it in style and rebut that assistant. Come on baby, let’s roll on, let me get my familiar pitch in place, get the approval of the principal ,get the students, make them laugh and smile at my questions and lets be done with these interviews in no time.
Sometimes I am too optimistic.
Surprisingly it always pays off. Well… almost.
“Yes, please come in”
“Thank you Ma’m. My name is Issac and I am from the …”
I generally take about 50-60 seconds to get the entire story in place; this was no different and I pause after that.
“I see but we never allow this”.
Now this was different. I had been to 3 schools already and no principal gave me this. Not even an All-Girls school’s principal. This was a goddamn co-ed. I made an alteration to my pitch.
“This is for an academic project Ma’m and I have already been to other schools and...”
“We don’t allow such things. I am sorry”
Her tone suggested that she was taking me to be a 22 year old assassin with a pen and a writing pad in hand.
“Yeah, we don’t allow any interviews with students”
“Ma’m, I would not take more than 15-20 minutes and I need only 3 students”
“We don’t allow. I am sorry”
I don’t know where exactly I picked up the habit but I love having fun while the situation is serious at times and this seemed to be a good setting.
“Well Ma’m, can you give me one good reason why you don’t allow such things?”
I loved that look that she gave me next. Priceless.
More so because I am sure she was not expecting a question like that. And now that I was rejected anyway, I was having my share of fun.
She gave me just what I expected as a reply, “No, we do not allow our students. That’s it. Other schools may do that, we don’t”
I really needed a reason though as to why I would not be allowed to interview the students. At times like these I wish the Right to Information Act be applicable to private institutions also.
It was not a surprise that I would not be allowed to interview the students. I too understand. They have their own right to reject but I was getting irked by that “we-don’t-allow” drone.
I came out, took a bus to another school and got my 4 interviews of school students completed. No harm done.
What happened though is, I think the symptom of a larger malaise (and unlike in other cities probably the only one) in Chennai.
We don’t allow.
We don’t allow to kiss .We will arrest you for vulgarity.
We don’t allow dancing in pubs. We are closing down the pubs.
We don’t allow screening plays like Vagina Monologues. We will burn the theater.
We don’t allow people to talk sex and virginity. We will take Khushboo to court.
We don’t allow newspaper editorials that hurt us .We will take N. Ram under custody.
Liberalism is a way of living not a fad. And it hurts far fewer people than the devils allow one to imagine. Forget the 21st century modern India talk and think about it.
Would you rather get summoned by a court for talking about virginity in a free nation that practices freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right or would you rather remain silent and not talk about things that you think might be true. So if kissing, dancing, screening plays is not allowed let’s know why they are not allowed. And let’s also know why they can be allowed. Let’s talk about things and respect people who talk. Differ, Contest, Argue but respect people who talk and don’t slam a PIL for God’s sake because when you do you stifle the next voice who wants to talk.
We have always been a shy nation like our cricket team until Mr. Ganguly came out on the Lords Balcony in the summer of 2001 and took off his shirt. I think that day he also took off that shyness from every modern Indian cricketer. But everyday life is not like cricket and as a nation we need to talk more, we need to get ourselves heard, we need to shout. I love the fact that more and more news channels are sprouting up for these are mediums through which we can be heard and I love every time a sting operation is conducted. Someone is telling us that things are not right and the more we know things are not right we get a chance to correct them.
My friend Anish once came up with a gem in one of our everyday conversations. He said “I think there’s something screwed up with our value system; sex is a taboo for us and yet every single day we as a nation produce more humans than anyone else in the world”.
With things like these we confuse the world what we stand for. Thankfully we are still a fairly young nation and I think we really need to allow ourselves to talk to get rid of such contradictions.