Till recently, I couldn’t forgive my father for naming me ‘Kochuthresiamma’(kochu=little/small; thresiamma=tresa; ‘little tresa’ to distinguish from the great philosopher saint tresa of avila). It was ok so long I was in kerala where it was a common name. But in tamilnadu where I did my high school and part of college education, it was too much of a tongue twister for the teachers . The most embarrassing episode related to my name was on the first day of my pre university education in a college in coimbatore. The roll call was common for all PUC students. There were more than five hundred students from all streams. Since I didn’t do my previous years of study in coimbatore, I had no friends on that first day, and being by nature a shy person, desired a very innocuous existence, at least on that day.
But it was not to be.
Not with such a huge baggage of a name. In fact, I was dreading the moment when a non keralite would confront my name on the rolls. Well, the event proved to be, to my horror, much more dramatic than I expected.
The teacher’s name was Dharmambal. She was a gigantic person. Those were days when people described me as a puny little person , and I did feel quite intimidated by Miss Dharmambal who seemed quite visibly hassled by the task of taking the attendance of a new PUC batch. She started calling out the names in the alphabetical order, snapping now and then at students calling out attendance softly and snarling at the whole class when it got noisy.
I sat there terrified at the prospect of her irritated eyes falling on my name. The “K” names began. My heart started pounding in my ears and then the moment came. She stared at the page, blinked her eyes several times and then started her valiant attempts to get her tongue around my name. KO—pause—KOKU—pause—kokut –he –ra, she said ---and couldn’t proceed. She lifted her tortured face from the attendance register with waat is that eh?? By now there was pin drop silence in the class. The girls too got curious about the name she was struggling with and were gleefully looking around for the owner of the name that had stumped Miss Dharmaambal.
‘Get up whoever it is’, she said. How I wished mother earth would open up and swallow me or a violent earthquake would bring the building crashing down on me and the girls and Dhrmaambal !!!! But no such disaster came to my rescue and I stood up sheepishly.
Waat ees your name? she barked. Kochuthresiama, I said slowly , sofly. ‘loud’, screamed Dharmaambal. I repeated as loud as I could. But that was not loud enough for Dharmaambal. ‘You come here’, she snapped and I walked up awkwardly, intensely conscious of the giggling excitement that was going on in the classroom . I went up to her and stood at the foot of the platform on which he gigantic Dharmaambal stood. She bent almost double, thrusting her diamond studded ear close to my trembling lips. Must have been a very comical sight, judging fro the strange sounds emanating from the class room. I repeated my name. She repeated after me but it did not sound anything like my name. By now the class was in fits but Dharmaambal soldiered on. She would learn that name to perfection, the determined expression on her face seemed to say. I coached her part by part and finally, she managed kochuthresiamma fairly decently.
The next day, I sat in the common attendance class, very tense. I called upon all the saints to come to Dharmambal’s assistance when she reached my name. Roll call started and my tension rose. I could feel dharmaamal’s rising tension too. The class was in high excitement and waiting expectantly for her to call out my name. And finally she came to my name. KO she said. KO she said again. Then paused for minute and with infinite determination burst out KOCHUTHRESIAMBAAL !!!!!!!!!! The class dissolved into laughter at her making an ‘ambal’ out of the ‘amma’ in my name – to rhyme with her name, some of the girls said.
The same scene repeated itself, day after day. Soon the students lost interest in this name fiasco but to the last day, both Dharmaambal and I continued to stiffen when the roll call reached “K”; I would continue to hold my breath and Dharmaambal would go ahead with a determined look on her face till she exploded into a KOCHUTHRESIAMBAAL. Then we would both relax and Dharmaambal would go ahead with her task while I experienced the bliss of released tension and the students talked and yelled, capitalizing on the bonding of electric tension between Dharmaambal and me which kept us temporarily oblivious to the immediate surroundings.