In 1973, I was an undergraduate at a women’s college in Tirunelveli. Hostel life was altogether different from the domestic set-up at home, but I also learned that a strict and sincere warden’s demeanour and attitude rubs off on the inmates.
We had separate hostels, one for vegetarians and the other for non-vegetarians. I was in the former which had fewer rooms and students. Each of the rooms accommodated seven students from all three years.
Our warden, a professor in mathematics, was held as a lovable person who also expected discipline. A positive attitude in the students earned them brownie points with her.
During our study hours, it was a practice among inmates of the silent hostel to let out a loud “Uuuuuu!” if there was a power cut. Silence would only be restored with power. The warden wouldn’t appreciate the needless howl and would ask us to stop it.
Though some obeyed the instruction, many wouldn’t. So, our warden suggested a punishment to stop it. If any noise was heard from a room, the lights inside should be switched off for the remaining hours for studying. The responsibility to hand out the punishment was of the students. We carried it out sincerely but with reluctance. It became a dilemma when it came to punishing those who had to take a test the following day.
So, we jointly found a remedy. Whenever there was a power cut, we would immediately find the nearest person around and cover each other’s mouths with our hands. It proved to be a great success within a short period. The warden was happy and appreciated all of us.
Just to be doubly sure, we decided that if a classmate or roommate still crossed the decibel levels, the witness would dissuade her by raising a pointed finger to the lips.
Our disciplined practice gave was good fun. On the annual year-end “Sports Day”, there used to be a competition between the two hostels. The game was this—a bucketful of water was kept on one side and a narrow-mouthed glass container on the other across 20ft; 10 final-year participants had to pour water collected from the bucket with their palms into the container.
That year, when the game began, the hostel students in the audience cheered the competitors. However, my roommate Gomathi, who took part in the game, was distracted by the encouraging shouts. As she poured the water in the middle, she lifted her finger to her lips. We were taken aback but obediently fell quiet.
While others scurried back and forth with cupped hands carrying water, Gomathi keenly watched the rest. She even took a few runs in the middle. At the close, the winner’s name was declared and a container filled three-fourths was lifted to show to the crowd.
Gomathi stood still, but the next moment she lifted her bottle that had only a few drops of water. The rest of us her gave her the thumbs up as we repeated after her a joyful shout: “Little drops of water make the mighty ocean.”