Once upon a time, in a land far, far away [India], a new teacher came to a school in the valley. On the first day of term, the teacher held up his hand and called for silence.
“Girls,” he said. “My name is Mr. Dooneyvara. I am going to set you a project for this school term. I want you all to mark out a plot of land in the valley and to make a garden in it. At the end of the term, I shall judge the gardens and the one who has done the best will get a prize”
As the girls all moved to go, Mr. Dooneyvara held up his hand a second time. “You can pick any of the flowers that you find in the wood,” he warned, “but you must not pick the flowers from someone’s garden. If you do this, you will be disqualified. Do you all understand?”
The girls all nodded and left excitedly. Patya, in particular, wanted to win the big prize, but she knew she faced stiff competition from Shelrika and some of the other girls. So she marked out her plot of land in the valley, and went into the woods to look for flowers.
In no time at all, she had dug up a large bunch of violets and buttercups and started to return to her plot of land. As she was leaving the wood, she noticed some beautiful marigolds by the side of an old house. As there was no wall or fence surrounding the house, Patya reasoned that the marigolds were not technically in the garden of the house. Quick as a flash, she ran up to the house, dug up the marigolds and sped back to her plot without anybody seeing her.
A few weeks later, Mr. Dooneyvara was idly strolling around the valley, admiring the girls’ gardens. Suddenly, he stopped at Patya’s garden.
“Patya,” he said. “Marigolds are not a woodland flower. You have broken the rules. I am sorry, but I will have to disqualify you from the competition.” And, saying that, he turned on his heel and walked quickly away.
Patya jumped up from her garden and ran after him. “Oh, Mr. Dooneyvara,” she panted. “I swear to you that I found those marigolds in the woods. I can even show you the ground where I dug them up.”
Mr. Dooneyvara looked into Patya’s big, brown eyes, brimming with tears, and relented. “Okay, Patya,” he said. “You’re still in the competition. But be careful next time, eh?” And he gave Patya a sly wink.
Now, Shelrika, Patya’s rival, happened to be working nearby and overheard the conversation. She was furious.
“Mr. Dooneyvara!” she stormed. “Rules are rules! If you let Patya off, then it is not fair on the rest of us who have abided by the rules. Everybody knows that the marigold is a garden flower. You said that we cannot pick garden flowers, yet you allow Patya to do so! You are turning this whole competition into a farce!”
Mr. Dooneyvara turned to Patya. “What Shelrika says is true,” he said. “I know you have put a lot of work into your garden and it is easily the best, but I must abide by the rules. I am afraid you are disqualified.” On hearing these words, Patya turned and ran away, weeping bitterly.
The weeks passed. The row between Shelrika and Patya festered. The class was divided between the two. Some girls were suspicious of Patya’s honesty, even when Patya showed them the bare earth where she claimed to have dug up the marigolds. They agreed that you had to abide by the rules. Other girls sided with Patya. They believed her story and said that a marigold need not exclusively be found in a garden. They also were suspicious of Shelrika’s motives, saying that she had only objected because she knew that she could not win. Work went on in the class, but the row between the two girls seemed to overshadow everything.
Things were no better outside of the classroom. Patya’s family were furious with Shelrika and a bitter rivalry broke out between the two families, despite the fact that they were near neighbours and had known each other for years. They hurled abuse at each other in the street and each tried to persuade the population of the village to side with them.
Mr. Dooneyvara was very sad. It was his first term as a teacher, and it had all gone horribly wrong. He was therefore delighted when Patya came to him with a proposition.
“Mr. Dooneyvara,” she said. “I think we ought to settle this once and for all. I propose that we bring this problem to somebody outside the school, somebody neutral and independent. And we can let them decide, and I will abide by that decision.”
Mr. Dooneyvara was delighted. “That’s an excellent idea,” he exclaimed. “If Shelrika is agreeable, that is the course of action we must follow.”
As it happened, Shelrika was agreeable, as she wanted to get everything sorted out. She too agreed to abide by the arbitrator’s decision. Mr. Dooneyvara was ecstatic. All he had to do now was find the right arbitrator.
More weeks passed. Mr. Dooneyvara seemed to be having trouble finding a suitable person to adjudicate in the matter. The schoolgirls, and indeed all the people in the village, could not understand what the reason for the delay was. At last, Mr. Dooneyvara stood up in front of the class and said,
“Girls, I have found a person to decide the dispute between Patya and Shelrika. Hopefully this argument is nearly at an end. The arbitrator will be……….Mr. Kaykay, the village gardener!”
Shelrika jumped up from her chair, her whole body bristling with anger.
“Mr. Kaykay?” she screamed. “Mr. Kaykay? How can you possibly call him independent? Hasn’t he been a friend of Patya’s family for years? Is Patya’s father not using the lawn mower that Mr. Kaykay lent him? How can you call him independent?”
“But Shelrika,” stammered Mr. Dooneyvara. “You agreed to abide by his decision.”
“By the decision of an independent arbitrator,” yelled Shelrika. “Not Mr. Kaykay.” And, saying that, she turned and ran out of the room.
Mr. Dooneyvara addressed the rest of the class. “This course of action has already been decided upon,” he said. “When Mr. Kaykay gives his decision, this whole argument will be over.”
But, looking around the classroom, he could see that many of the girls remained unconvinced.