Everyone was telling Sheila, Sheila get married, Sheila get married. But Sheila didn’t want marriage. What is this Sheila, marry a nice boy Sheila, they told. But Sheila told no, she doesn’t want to marry anybody, leave alone a nice boy. Sheila’s mummy is crying, day and night. Sheila beta, marry no, please no, you marry, I’m telling, she sobbed. So many nice boys are there that too. I’ll find you a nice boy Sheila beta. Don’t you want to marry a nice boy, Sheila beta? No, Sheila told, she doesn’t want nice boy or bad boy even. Then who will you marry, Sheila beta? Your grandfather, Sheila told. Sheila’s father tells if you don’t marry you will become shunned by the community, Sheila. What type of girl doesn’t marry, they will ask, and they will give the answer, Sheila type of girls don’t marry. Sheila is such a bad example, they will tell about you. Sheila doesn’t care, she tells, she’s happy on her own, she tells, fuck the community, she thinks.
Sheila likes to enjoy with friends, Seemaa and Riima. When friends are there to enjoy with who needs marriage, am I right? But Seemaa and Riima’s families were also looking for marriage prospects for them. Seemaa had a boyfriend who went to IIT. Very marriageable type. Her boyfriend is telling come, we’ll get married. Seemaa tells to him, uff, chillax, what’s this marriage ka pressure yaar? He tells arey yaar in one year I’m going to be thirty (years old). I want to get married, settle down, have babies, vagerah. Seema’s mummy-daddy also telling her marry this fellow nice IITian fellow good job good salary medium complexion medium height. But Seema tells to them uff, mom, dad, I’ll get married when I feel like, just chillax, okay. And Vikas wants to have babies and I’m not ready for all that and I don’t think I’ll ever be, mom, if I was you I’d have aborted me. And Seema’s mummy-daddy were shocked and disappointed because their baby girl had grown into a very outspoken young woman who calls them mom-dad instead of mummy-daddy like she used to and her marriageability is declining minute by minute, she is almost 24 now, which is almost 25. Anyway that is Seemaa’s story, Seemaa’s problem. I don’t think it’s going to work out, if you ask me, Sheila thought. Seemaa’s not looking for anything serious right now, even if her parents are putting pressure.
Riima, meanwhile, wants to marry but is out humping half the world. Riima asked every boy after exhausting bout of sex what about marriage what about marriage, and boys are going to sleep or acting asleep, one way or another they are avoiding the question, they just want to tap that ass and stamp their passport, if you know what I mean, because Riima’s mummy is from UK so Riima is half-white and counts as foreign. One time a boy agreed to meet Riima’s mummy-daddy but just to check out the mummy, and when Riima’s mummy set down the tray of tea and biscuits he took a good long look at the veiny white mounds inside her blouse and thought not bad, not bad. Then after a perfectly pleasant meeting he followed Riima’s mummy into the kitchen and did something bad, I don’t know what, use your imagination, and Riima’s mummy-daddy throw him out of the house and Riima is quite heartbroken, Sheila thought. Anyway Sheila feels bad for her but secretly good because she wants all three of them to be unmarried because she feels marriage and boys get in the way of true friendship, and if they really want to do all this kissing and other dirty things vagerah they can just do it to each other, I mean, what’s the difference, except there will be no shame to it, and Sheila finds it strange that they three are so best friends since schooldays who have no secrets but still she has not seen either of them completely naked nor have they her. In trial rooms while shopping and changing into nighties at sleepovers they have seen one another in underwear, but never really naked (and by such estimation they are chaddie-buddies but not bum-chums) and what is nakedness but every person’s most basic secret, Sheila thought.
Anyway, that is all backstory, take it or leave it as you like. Now listen about one incident: one day they were in college in Indian Philosophy class (they are M.A. philosophy students) and college dean Dr. Narasimh Nayak tells on the PA announcement that new dress code is there. No jeans, no shorts, no chappals for boys. For girls, no jeans, no skirts, no t-shirts. Doesn’t mean no clothes! Dean tells and laughs throatily before recomposing. Means, for boys, full pant full shirt with buniyan underneath, closed shoe only. For girls, salvar kameez with pinned dupatta and, ehem, bra underneath, flat shoe only. This dress code is in force with immediate effect. If any student is found in violation of it they will be receiving suspension. What the fuck is this bullshit, Sheila thought. We are master’s students, Sheila told to Seemaa and Riima, what is this dress code bullshit why not make us wear uniform itself like we are in KG class, Sheila told. Fuck the patriarchy, Seemaa told in agreement. What is this immediate effect bullshit, Riima tells, in a fetching pink t-shirt that tells COME & GET IT, am I supposed to change out of this outfit right here and now? Come, Sheila tells to her friends, let us protest this bullshit dress code. Yes, let’s, told Riima and Seemaa, let’s go to Dean’s office tomorrow and protest. Why tomorrow, Sheila asked, if the dress code is effective with immediate effect then our protest should also be immediate, in fact, we are already protesting by not wearing the dress code, so no delaying, come, let us go to Dean’s office and protest against this bullshit. Who is with me? Sheila asked loudly to her entire class. Sheila what is this crass behaviour, tells the Indian Philosophy professor Shyama Seshadri, are you in a KG class or are you in a fishmarket to interrupt the lecture like this? Karmanye vadikaraste, ma phaleshu kada chana. Sit down and behave yourself! Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu, he told. Seshadri sir was always telling Sanskrit quotations with no context. In fact that is his whole philosophy class, nobody learns anything, just hears him tell some Sanskrit bullshit without explaining, Sheila thought. As if in full India no one can think philosophy without knowing Sanskrit. I want to know how to tell him in Sanskrit fuck off, Sheila thinks. Sheila stood up and told to her class in a loud voice, we are strong independent women, we won’t simply lie down and allow such oppression, come let us protest, let us go to Dean’s office now itself. What about us, some boys told, dress code affects us also. Yes, you also come, Sheila told. Here! Here! Seshadri sir shouts at Sheila. What is this, talking to boys, you think you are in some foreign university kya? Meanwhile boys were just giggling among themselves as if they are girls. Sir, we were talking to you only sir, she only talked to us, sir, we didn’t hear it also, as if we will want to hear anything that these females will tell, sir, they tell, and laugh like anything.
Sheila was furious. One side sir is telling like this sit down sit down other side class boys are being uncouth bastards. Sheila can’t take it anymore. She stormed out of the classroom, thinking she will protest this dress code bullshit on her own if she has to, she doesn’t need support of any friends, Seshadri sir shouting after her, Asatoma Sadgamaya!, but lo and behold, walking in step beside her are Seemaa and Riima. This is why to have best friends who are in need and who are indeed. She saw them and felt full of pride but also shame for having doubted that her best friends would support her. Why we don’t have a gang name, Sheila thought, like Gung-ho Gals or Terrific Tripartite Feminine Force or maybe Awesome Threesome haha imagine that heehee, and Sheila finds she is full of vigour and anger and confidence through the support of Seemaa and Riima and they all march down the corridor with their heels going click-clack in sync to Dean’s office and over there a small woman with big teeth who is Dean’s assistant tells excuse me do you have an appointment, to which Sheila tells excuse me ma’am did Dean take my appointment for implementing dress code, for which Dean’s assistant has no answer and simply shows her big teeth in an expression that Sheila does not know what does it mean. So they three simply ignored the assistant and went straight into Dean’s office where Dean was sitting behind his big desk with his laptop open in front of his big glass cabinet full of trophies which are won by his college students. One of these trophies was won by Riima for Best Model in Fashion Show competition in another college’s culturals when she was in her second year B.A. (they three have done B.A. also in this college so they feel a strong sense of ownership towards it), and another one of these trophies was won by Seemaa for Hindi Poetry Writing Competition first prize and Dean’s rule is students are not allowed to keep any trophies which they win as students of the college since the college has only sent them for the culturals so if they win anything they have to give it to Dean who will keep it in his cabinet to display to everyone but the cabinet is in Dean’s office so nobody can see their trophy without appointment.
What is this, just barging into my office without appointment, just because you girls did B.A. here and are doing M.A. now you think you own the place? Dean shouts. Seemaa tells, uff, chillax yaar, we just want to discuss an issue. Dean gets even more angry, tells I am not your yaar to chillax, I am very busy, I don’t have time to discuss any issues. Riima tells yah, I can see that, I made a big mistake by accepting your friend request. They three can see in the glass trophy cabinet the reflection of Dean’s laptop screen in which is showing photos of Riima on Facebook. (Dean sends friend request to many students and if they do not accept it, there have been consequences, such as removal from football team or not getting permission to go for culturals or conferences. One time Dean found out that boy-girl students are being friends on Facebook and some are having relationship status also! He suspended them right away, telling, you said It’s Complicated, so I made it very simple for you.) Don’t you have any shame sir, Sheila tells, looking at female students’ photos and same time implementing dress code. We came to talk to you about that only, sir, you can’t do like this, we won’t accept this dress code, she tells. Yes, we won’t, tells Seemaa. Dean closes the laptop. Oho, you think you are some bigshots, is it, just strolling in here and telling me I can’t do like this I can’t do like that we won’t accept this we won’t accept that, he tells. In fact that’s why I am looking at students’ photos, because of the clothes you wear on campus only this dress code is required. Otherwise tomorrow you will simply come and sit in class in bra and panties, he tells. No sir, this is unacceptable, Seemaa told. Who are you to tell it is acceptable or unacceptable? Is your father Prime Minister of India or some Tata-Birla for you to tell it is acceptable or unacceptable? I don’t think so that is the case, Dean shouts. But sir, with all due respect, Sheila tells, trying to soften their approach so Dean will not feel antagonized, even though she was feeling extremely angry by this point and just wanted to give one tight slap to Dean. What respect, there is nothing to discuss, the dress code is final, Dean tells. You cannot outrage the modesty of the faculty and other students however and whenever you please. Just simply leave my office at once. And tomorrow when you come to college better not be looking vulgar like this, better you come in salwar-kameez with a pinned dupatta and tie your hair in a plait; none of this open hair business and no wearing high heels and no lipstick or makeup of any kind whatsoever, and you should wear bindi also; I don’t care if you are Hindu Muslim Christian whatever, all Indian girls should wear bindi, then only they look nice. But sir, Riima started to tell. No but, just shut up your mouth and get out! Dean barked at them. Sheila can see Seemaa is starting to develop tears and Riima is also looking at Sheila like what to do now should we just leave?
Later in life when Sheila will recall the incident she will feel she should have given some punchline when she did it, like here’s your modesty or how’s this for a dress code or Tamasoma jyotirgamaya or some such line which are all somewhat nonsensical but would have given more effect. Not that it was lacking in effect at all, she doesn’t regret the incident, she is quite proud of it in fact, proud of herself and her best friends for standing up to Dean and removing the dress code. Of course it was never formally withdrawn, but no student ever got a suspension (at least while they three were students there and then later when she itself became Dean of that college and returned all the trophies to their winners) on account of dress code violation. Later in life Sheila will be eighty-two years old and share a room and her life with her best friend Riima in the old age home of the future where there were robots who serve them chai and biscuits and flying scooters which they can ride here and there. Their best friend Seema also comes to visit them every weekend on a flying scooter of the future of her own (she finally got married to that IIT boyfriend and lived happily ever after without children until he died in an altercation with a robot chauffeur at the age of sixty-three (which led to the anti-robot riots of 2048) after which Seema lived happily ever after by herself) and they sit for hours drinking chai and eating biscuits and playing futuristic video games and gossiping about other seniors in the home and recounting old incidents of life to each other and to others of which this victorious dress code protest one was their favourite one. They tell the other old folks how in Dean’s office that day when they went to protest the dress code Dean didn’t listen to them and told them to get out and shut up their mouths and they felt so angry and didn’t know what to do until Sheila without saying a word simply lifted up her shirt and bra and flashed Dean right there in his office and Seemaa and Riima looked at her in shock for many long moments until they too did the same. They three were all standing in front of Dean topless and Dean was speechless and Riima went further and removed all her clothes and bunched them up and threw them at Dean’s face and then Sheila and Seemaa also did the same and they three stood grinning at one another’s nakedness and then they walked out of Dean’s office just like that. They will surely get a suspension, Sheila thought, but they never did and after that day nobody ever mentioned dress code again except to talk about how they three had protested it, but the real reason that incident is such a fond memory, thinks Sheila, is that after that day we three had no secrets between us.
(This story originally appeared in The Four Quarters Magazine, August 2014 “Big Love, Small Towns” issue)