Friday, March 16, 2007

My dear Miss

It was a moment for nostalgia. It was the occasion to go back to one's teenage years, the time to taste the joys of calf-love, relive the crushes on sweet young things, the infatuation for the younger among the teachers and to laugh over the follies of the youth. The occasion was the centenary of the college. The landmark year was being celebrated with pomp and show.

Alumni had converged from all parts of the country, nay, the world. Thomaskutty, a thriving businessman in the town where the college was located, thought it fit to host a dinner for his classmates. It was a reunion of sorts of the class of '67. Some had not changed at all, but, for a receding hairline or a streak of grey or a balding pate. Given the changes that time had wrought on the faces and the figures of some of those present, failure to recognise them was pardonable. A few such had to be introduced to the group.

The distance of three decades and half that separated them and their college days soon melted away. Tentative smiles transformed into firm handshakes and soon into embraces. Pleasantries over, like-minded people gravitated towards each other. There was this Indo-Anglican author of moderate success in with his fan following. A miniature of the Chamber of Commerce meeting was progressing in another corner, presided over by the seafood exporter. Prakash Menon, a surgeon in Middlesex, formed the nucleus of a small group.

Menon was holding forth on life in the United Kingdom. After a while, the topic veered round to the linguistic nuances. "Englishmen are proud of their language, but, they are not that obsessed with the grammar," he said. "On the contrary, it is the Indians, who have a fetish about English. They say India is the only place where the average man can write reasonably correct English," he added. "Native speakers of English are not as bothered about the correctness of the words, expressions or grammar as we are," he said. But, they are sticklers in matters of social grace and good manners. "True," agreed Akbar, an executive with a Calcutta (it had not become Kolkata) company. In amplification, he pulled out an episode of the `A Hundred Years Ago' column in `The Statesman.' Somebody who answered to the name `Chunder Coomari Dassgoopta' (the way they spelt names those days might look a little odd today), had asked the editor why he had to conclude letters with `I remain your most obedient servant, etc.' when, he averred, `I am neither your servant nor obedient.'

The honoured member of the great pantheon of those who wielded the blue pencil for `The Statesman,' an Englishman, stiff upper lip and all, had a terse and cryptic reply.
`My Dear Miss Dassgoopta, For the same reason as I address you like this though you are neither mine nor dear to me.'

The entire group broke into a collective and whole-hearted guffaw.

It was getting late, time to call it a day.

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