The political climate of this summer is hot and sticky as the weather. To cool you off, rising sophomore and ambitious political correspondent Nikhil Menezes provides the cold hard facts in his latest commentary.
In a controversial decision by the University of Pennsylvania administration, the South Asian community has been given a new home on campus. As perhaps the second most prominent ethnic group on campus, such a maneuver would not have incited such heated debate had it not been for the chosen location, namely right in the middle of the famous Hillel dining hall. Often touted as the holy land for those searching for edible food at Penn, Hillel holds much spiritual significance among the Quaker populace.
So today when one walks into Hillel, one walks into a land divided. Surrounded by caution tape on both sides, there are two territories in a once united dining hall. In the central section is a triumphant banner labeled “HILLELISTAN”. Under it, a large group of South Asians waits in line for their daily rice, dal, chicken tikka masala and aloo gobi. They are all smiles, having gained control of the buffet, drinks, salad bar and cutlery.
In harsh juxtaposition are the former occupants of Hillel, now called “Hillelites”. Relegated to two thin strips on either side of the hall, their resources are more scarce. On the left is what commentators are calling the Matzah Strip, a region where the only food is unleavened bread. The right side has been relegated to the ice cream, Italian ice and cake territories. Those with a sweet tooth seem to have done better with this transition there than others.
As expected, such an arrangement has led to growing tensions. Hillelistanis claim that the Hillelites are welcome into their territory, but have also instituted a policy of requiring five meal swipes and ten dining dollars per meal – a move that Hillelites claim is implicit border control. In response, Hillelites have recently resorted to throwing cake at the inhabitants of Hillelistan while they eat. Deemed “the first intifooda,” these acts of aggression are becoming commonplace. One Hillelistani after being told by a neighbouring Hillelite to “Go back to New Delhi” while eating with his friends reportedly threw his entire plate into the Matzah Strip. When questioned on why he would say such a hateful thing, the guilty Hillelite said “I was talking about the restaurant on Chestnut Street.”
Perhaps the most organized protest against Hillelistan has been the Hillelite food blockade. By the second day, Hillelistanis already had to resort to the freezer for supplies. But even the Hillelites could not withstand the pressure of approximately twenty Indian mothers who showed up on the third day and broke down the human barrier, their hands full with Tupperware. “I wasn’t going to let my son go 48 hours without his paneer tikka. It’s inhuman,” shrieked Mrs. Gupta as she eyed the crowds outside the border with suspicion.
But food terrorism has remained a viable option for both sides. Hillelistan has recently raised concerns about developments in the ice cream territories. There have been rumors that different tubs are being combined to create one giant frozen tower. The security ramifications of such a project have many Hillelistanis losing sleep. “There is no doubt in my mind that the Ice Cream project is for military, not civilian purposes. I mean who the hell mixes chocolate with strawberry just for fun?” said Arjun Mitra, the Hillelistan defense secretary. When told by diplomats during a summit that the combination is actually quite delicious, he shook his head and left the meeting.
For now, the situation is in flux. Hillelistanis cannot sit down and eat without the fear of jagged pieces of matzah being hurled at them and Hillelites still ask the eternal question “Where the fuck did all the spoons go?” The need for action is perhaps best summed up by Prescott Smith, an innocent WASP bystander who tried to eat in HIllelistan last week but was hit in the face with a ball of vanilla ice cream. “I just wanted something edible,” he mumbled as he wiped the stains off of his faded red shorts, “I guess I’ll just go to Allegro’s.”