Today’s broken taboo

Ever since I heard that Q had been memo-ed for ‘behaviour inappropriate for a teacher at the university’ (standing at the little tea shop outside the gate and smoking), I’d wondered whether the memo was for being a woman and smoking, for being a woman and smoking in public, or ‘consorting’ with students. In any case, it was just one more thing to avoid doing…

So when I was invited to come have a cup of tea there last term, I politely declined. On grounds of how it was inappropriate to ‘consort with’ students who were part of a class I was teaching – how terrible it would look, and then I’d have to fight negative bias when evaluating them, and all that jazz. I didn’t really have that excuse this sem – I wasn’t teaching them any more! So I told them straight out that I didn’t know if it was ‘appropriate behaviour’, and got ragged to bits about being a conformist and betraying the hallowed traditions of my alma mater (yeah, my alma mater has a reputation for being ‘radical’).

Then I got the argument about how it was quite sad to have to sit in my ‘office’, feeling all ‘official’, when we didn’t want to talk about official stuff! After all, would I sit here and chat with friends? We’d go to the canteen (which has the worst tea in the world) or go to the chai shop. So why would I want to sit here with these guys? I didn’t have an answer, so I fobbed it off in my usual way, telling both of them to sit down and asking them about something completely different…

But have you ever tried to keep a lawyer off a topic they want to get to the bottom of? It’s tough, even for people who are lawyers themselves… so we ended up sitting in a circle leaving my desk aside, with me thinking more and more about why I was being like this. So it ended with me, who never did this while a student, going off to drink chai at a little shop outside the campus, on the roadside, in the company of smoking friends, as ‘inappropriate’ as it gets! Now I wonder, what have I just done?

Sneha

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