Unmarried, married, or even as widower, man remain a simple ‘Mr’.
In an annual address at our college, as a student leader, I thanked a girl profusely for her support in the management of the Students Association. (Let me call her Paru, as I don’t want to disclose her name. Who knows her daughter in law is not here as my friend! )
I did not know then the difference between ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ and instead of mentioning her name with no prefix, I added Smt. equivalent to ‘Mrs’ with the honest intention of pleasing a good looking girl wearing mostly my favorite blue color pavada. Soon after I mentioned her name as Smt.Paru, there was a commotion among girls and teachers and I could even here whistling from a corner, which I took as endorsement for praising a honest girl. I did not expect a kiss or even a hug from her, as those civilized ways of acknowledging appreciation were unknown to girls those days, but at least a smile from her soft lips was expected.
The moment I got down from the stage, friends told me that she had rushed home, weeping all the way to complain to her father that I had declared her as a married woman, addressing thousands students and many teachers for that crime, I could expect a gunshot from her father, who was a Police Officer.
‘Avan ninnae kAtchum illenkil kampi ennikkum’, threatened my friend, Hamsa. That was equal to saying, ‘he will either shoot you or put behind the bars’. His usage ‘KAtchum‘ supplemented by his body language was like pouring pulikAtchal into both eyes. PulikAtchal is a liquid side dish, made out of tamarind, salt and green chillies.
I was about to wet my dothi out of fear when something unexpected happened.
Another classmate, let me call her Kalyani, walked towards me, with a six inches long smile spread from corner to corner of her lips and said,
‘Sivan, nannayi. Rembha enna Paruvintae vicharam’. Roughly translated, ‘Paru has a feeling that she is Rambha, the beauty queen of Heaven. You did a good job (in insulting her ). Kind Kalyani added, ‘50 % of girls are with you. Onnum pedikkanta. You don’t worry at all’
‘What about the remaining 50%?’, I enquired.
‘They are waiting at the Mannath Krishnan Nair Gate to receive you with ‘poorna kumbham’.
That gate is the main entrance to get in and get out of our college and Poornakumbham is the auspicious way of receiving VIPs!
What valuable lessons a poor teenager would not have learned from the threat of a police officer with a gun in his hand on one side and 50% of the girls of a College waiting at the gate with poornakumbham to smash him, on the other side?
The famous mathematician Shakunthaladevi, known as human computer, after addressing the students in our college, instructed the waiting reporter from a vernacular that the prefix to her name should appear in the paper, not as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ but as ‘Ms’ . Frankly, I didn’t know then what it meant. Out of utter innocence and anxiety to improve my knowledge, I asked the guest, ‘madam, is this a new mathematical formula?’
She didn’t threaten to shoot me or put behind the bars. She just stared at me contemptuously. But that stare left so deep an impression in my mind that later, when my father started looking girls for me for marriage, I asked him to verify first whether the girl was Miss, Mrs or just Ms.
My father, a practical businessman didn’t have to time for research.
‘Ponnu, ponna irukkanum. Girl should be a girl. That will be my only interest.