Monday, December 31, 2007

Chapter 3 - The Muffet Diaries

It was a giant room that resembled a giant passage connecting nowhere to nowhere. The only factors to disturb that illusion were a gigantic mahogany table and chair carved by a rather confused carpenter in a creative outburst; a grandfather clock with a vine and a swinging Chimp clasping it for a pendulum; and a sofa, all three placed in linear parallels.

A small, nervous man walked restlessly back and forth from the sofa to the door. A tall, young and fairly relaxed man sat arms outstretched in the sofa. The Chimp watched the two while rocking back and forth on the vine in complete interest. (Interesting things seldom happened in that room.) Every few minutes, to add to the pensiveness, a wind chime would sound and a female voice would go “The offices of Dr. Coconut…”

“Listen young man…” said the small nervous man in what sounded almost like a wheeze. He cleared his throat loudly “When you came to us from Hamlin with an army of mice and an idea you believed in, this University opened its doors to help you seek the knowledge. Needless to say that your progress has been commendable… in fact outstanding! To express our appreciation, we offer you two weeks paid vacation to Hammock with effect the beginning of next month.” The small man momentarily gloated at his coherent delivery.

Pied smiled.

“So I take it, you and your little brown comrades should be checking into your vacation resort in Hammock next month.” The small man managed another smile.

“Did I give you that impression?” Pied asked in amusement, his lips curling into a sly smile.

“W-well, y-you didn’t?” the small man was rather uneasy now. He resumed his back and forth march to ease the nervousness.

Pied seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the moment. “Uncle Coconut! You’ve spent the whole of the last peahen hard-selling me a vacation. You know, you’ve been rather kind in seeing the potential for my masters degree and bringing me under this University’s umbrella in the first place. And the only way I can ever pay back the kindness is by dedicatedly and successfully completing it. I cannot imagine leaving the campus, least of all for a day’s vacation. Two weeks is far too much charity. I absolutely refuse!” He looked intently at Coconut.

“B-but… we absolutely insist my boy. You deserve it! You must go. Please!” Coconut looked troubled.

“Jee! You’re taking this personally. What’s the catch Uncle Coconut? Maybe you should stop living with the burden of the truth?” Pied smiled his charming smile again.

Coconut sighed. “Alright, Pied. The truth you shall know. Unheard University as you know, is untainted in its reputation as a premiere educational institution in Never Land and I have strived all my life to ensure this. What keeps it untainted is its consistent rankings by the educational authorities. The beginning of next month, a battery of health and educational inspectors replete with their Werewolves and shape-shifting Zephyrs will do their rounds here for a fortnight… God Forbid! Should any of your mice be spotted here by one of them, I dread to imagine the consequences on this University. So... (He paused for a deep breath and looked squarely at Pied) I implore you to take your army of pets and vacation. Period.” The colour had completely drained from Coconut’s face. He sat down beside Pied.

The grandfather clock struck twelve peahen. A dozen Peahens flew out noisily announcing the time and the Chimp stepped out of the vine momentarily to offer himself a good scratch. The door suddenly flew open and Muffet stormed into the room announcing, “Oh Dr. Coconut! I just have to speak to you….Uh-oh! I didn’t realize you had company… Um, but I need to speak to you, pronto. Please?”

Coconut sprang to his feet and moved towards Muffet. “God Lord. Miss Little Bigger Muffet! What in the name of the Lord was that? Did my Secretary not tell you I was in a meeting?” Dr. Coconut kept shaking his head apologetically. “Well. Do be seated Miss Muffet.”.

He turned to Pied, whose amusement only seemed to grow. “Mr. Pied, I’m afraid I’m not done with you yet. I had committed 12 peahen to Miss Muffet, though. Perhaps you may oblige me and do wait at the office by my door. I should hopefully only need a few moments with Miss Muffet here”. Pied smiled in acknowledgement, and got up to leave.

(**The Peahens went back into the clock. The Chimp didn’t follow the Peahens to the vine. Instead he stood staring at them, bitten by a strain of curiosity that seemed to be doing the rounds in the air. **)

“Yes Miss Muffet. So what emergency brings you here like this?”

Muffet recovered herself. “Strange you should ask Dr. Coconut, given you cancelled my PHD!” Muffet tried hard to fight back her anger.

“I merely asked to you obtain 24 extra credits in Never Medicine and Spectacular Brewery. Should you work on that, we would be pleased to award you your degree. Any further questions?”

“Yes Dr. Coconut. Lets start with why?”

“Miss Muffet, have you checked Notification No.10897#/12/Salamander?”


Notification No.10897#/12/Salamander*, issued by the University last week clearly states that a holder of a Doctor-ate from this University, irrespective of their specialization, must be proficient in certain facets of Never Medicine and basic Spectacular Brewery, if that answers your question.” Coconut glowered at her.

Muffet regained herself. “And what may I ask do spiders have to do with Never Medicine? And what justification does my doctorate offer me if I’m doing Never Medicine or goddamned brewery? This is absolutely irrational and discriminatory and ….” She stopped and sighed an exasperated sigh.

“Has it occurred to you Little Bigger Miss Muffet that should you be given your PHD, you would henceforth be known in Never Land as Dr. Muffet?”

“Yes Dr. Coconut.” She looked at him questioningly.

“Well, you would appreciate that as academicians we also bear great social responsibility. The spirit behind Notification No.10897#/12/Salamander is essentially that anyone in Never Land who should be called a doctor and whose credentials trace their roots to this esteemed University should definitely know a thing or two about Never Medicine and Spectacular Brewery. And 24 credits is an appropriate measure for us to accredit a student with his or her doctorate. Period.”

“WHAT? Y-you’re kidding, right?”

“Absolutely not Miss Muffet. That would be entirely inappropriate now.”

“Well! For starters Dr. Coconut, Notification no. whatever is arbitrary, irrational and baseless! I don’t care if you called a PHD a Professorate for heavens sake, but 24 extra credits in irrelevant topics for no rhyme or rational reason, after TWO goddamned years of burning midnight oil is simply preposterous! I’ll SUE the damned University if I have my way…”

“The discussion is closed Miss Muffet. You may leave now. Should you obtain your 24 credits, this University would be pleased to offer you your doctorate. Have a nice day.”

The door barged open. (The Chimps eyes widened.) Pied walked into the room taking long strides. He stopped close enough to smell Muffet’s hair. (For a woman who was thinking spiders 24x7, he thought, her hair did smell pleasantly of candy). He smiled his sly smile. “Dr. Coconut, I’m sorry I overheard that conversation. I know this is none of my business, but in my opinion it seems extremely unfair to my conscience that when one set of students are made to work extremely hard to justify their degrees, other students are offered vacation packages. I am morally obliged to forgo my vacation package in the interest of parity of the student fraternity of our esteemed University.”

Muffet recovered quickly. She looked at Pied, surprised.

“Mr. Pied! You’re overstepping…” Dr. Coconut took a deep breath trying not to look cornered. He cleared his throat. “Mr. Pied, Miss Muffet. As Never Land’s oldest University you must be assured that we exercise great responsibility and diligence in formulating our policies and reward programmes. Any student showing political inclination I assure you is rather wanton.”

Pied knitted his brows together.

Coconut added hurriedly “But Miss Muffet, now that you have raised your issues, I am compelled to reconsider the application of the Notification on present students.”

Muffet looked at Dr. Coconut hopefully. “I’m glad! So I don’t need the unnecessary credits right?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Dr. Coconut! You just said so.” (Damned old bureaucrat, thought Muffet.) The look of annoyance returned to her face.

“Then my stand stays Dr. Coconut.” Pied looked thoroughly amused.

“Why, you’re as much a troublemaker as your subject of study Mr. Pied. We shall address your political issues later. If you will excuse Miss Muffet and me for now…” Coconut looked uncomfortable. He cleared his throat loudly. “Miss Muffet, what I meant was you don’t have to obtain 24 credits, but it is necessary you submit a dissertation on any one key study area of Never Medicine.”

“Why?” The perplexity did not leave her face.

“Because it is in the interest of the greater good and in consonance with the age old principles of this august institution. Period”

Muffet sighed a resigned sigh. “I guess it’s better than 24 credits Dr. Coconut.”

Pied curled his lips into a sly smile. “I’m glad this institution still believes in being considerate. I gladly accept my reward programme sir.”

“I guess that settles things. Now if you both shall please excuse me. I have other business to attend to.” Dr. Coconut looked relieved.

Dr. Coconut settled into the sofa wearily. Muffet glanced at Pied, let her glance linger on him questioningly for a moment, and then turned to leave the room hurriedly. Pied took long deliberate strides, stopped momentarily by the grandfather clock, picked up the still-startled Chimp and put him on the vine, and continued his long deliberate strides out of the room. Outside the sun shone mildly bringing in that warm fuzzy feel of spring…

*** (end of chapter 3) ***

Footnote Glossary:


*Pronounced as Notification Number 10897 of the 12th part of Salamander