In 1973, a film that deals with the demonic possession of a girl, and her mother’s attempts to win back her daughter through an exorcism conducted by two Catholic priests, created ripples across and beyond the movie-watching world. The Exorcist created an uproar in America, where truckloads of Christians saw it as an affront to the Catholic Church, making priests and crucifixes and holy water synonymous with projectile vomit, voodoo-style 180-degree head-turns and a levitating body that would have made the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi smile even broader than he did. Effectively, the Christian world was upset that the film was making a mockery of Christianity.
Far away, in places like Iran and Malaysia, The Exorcist was banned not for scaring pre-Ayatollah movie-watchers out of their wits or showering expletives in the choicest Latin, but for supposedly advertising the virtues of the Catholic faith. Effectively, the non-Christian world was upset that the subliminal message of the movie was: ‘If you’ve been possessed and want to save your soul, your only hope is to turn to Christ the Lord.’
Thirty-five years after The Exorcist row first erupted, we have another spat over something that emanates from that other cool ‘Christian’ edifice, St Stephen’s College, Delhi. Instead of being busy deconstructing what ‘Ad Dei Gloriam’ truly means, the students and teachers of St Stephen’s are howling for the college’s pro tem administrator’s (why can’t they just call him ‘acting head’ I have nocognitio) non-sacramental blood. It turns out that M S Frank, in a cheerful interview in the college rag, The Stephanian, replied to the perfectly legit question: “Are we looking at co-educational residence blocks in the future?” with a perfectly legit reply: “If that comes to pass, I’ll have to create a maternity centre alongside,” adding that we live in a conservative society and he didn’t foresee this development. It was later noted that Mr Frank had made the ‘maternity centre’ quip in a lighthearted manner (a mandatory feature of quips).
Now, I have met quite a few Stephanians in my Jesuit-trained-but-(woe is me!)-non-Stephanian life. And I would have thought the smart boys and girls of the college — around 300 and over 100 of whom respectively reside in six existing non-mingling residence blocks — would have gurgled with sensory joy at the prospect of having a back-up in case of prophylactic failure.
But no. Instead of taking Frank’s frank statement and running with it — ‘Let’s push for the maternity ward so that we can get a co-ed pad!’ — the students have harrumphed their hearts out, fixating on the fact that no co-ed hostel will be built in the future. Even as someone who felt the tremors of the removal of the purdah only on entering undergraduate education, I’m a bit confused. Are the students aghast that Frank thinks that instead of cooking meals together they will be up to something else? Or are they cheesed off because there won’t be any pad at all to hang out in after ‘curfew’ hour? Or, are they upset that Frank thinks that they use contraceptive devices only in birthday parties as balloons. I can understand the teachers getting all crusty about any activity that could theoretically result in maternity wards being utilised. But the kids? What happened to that nugget that all the groovy students of St Stephen’s — if not the narrow-minded philistines outside its portals — should have learnt from St Augustine when he said: “Lord, Make me chaste, but not yet.”
So, like the Texan Bible-thumpers and the competitive mullahs from Iran both opposing The Exorcist from opposite sides of the fence, we have (frisky?) youngsters and cranky elders both demanding Mr Frank’s head. Which is a shame, considering that with five days to go before our nation turns 61, we have the brightest crop of our youth either getting offended that they have been deemed as potential fornicators, or need to ask the authorities for a place where they can conduct their affairs.
MS: Frankly, I don’t know which is more scary