Meera Jasmine, the actress from Kerala who enjoys great popularity in the southern states, was for a brief period, a student of the college where I taught. I was on leave while she was student there. So I haven't even seen her. But I took a lot of pride telling people that she is the student of Assumption College where I taught. Of course, I was careful to leave out the all important fact there I have never taught her and I wasn’t there in the college while she was there and have seen her only in films.
It so happened that I had to stay in a bank’s training college in Hyderabad for a few months. Those who served us at the dining table were very deferential to the guests, and, since both my husband and I believe in treating them also with deference, we called them by their personal names and maintained a good rapport with them.
Once, at the dining table I suggested to my husband Sunny that we go for a Telugu movie. So I asked Sridhar who was laying the table , for his suggestions. He mentioned the name of a movie which’d been running houseful for sometime.
The actress is Meera jasmine from Kerala, he said.
Pointing to me, Sunny said ”Meera Jasmine studied in her college.”
Sridhar’s eyes rolled in wonder and ecstacy.
Really? Was she a good student?, he asked.
I saw Sunny opening his mouth to say that I hadn’t taught her .I quickly cut in in my broken hindi that she had been a very good student. I wasn’t lying. I have heard my colleagues say that she was a good student.
Excitedly Sridhar went about laying the other tables in the room while we watched with amusement the beatific look on his face.
Normally, I had my lunch alone on weekdays as Sunny would be away at work ,and I’d usually wait till the trainee officers rush in the mess hall subsided. That afternoon, I saw Sridhar,s face light up when he saw me. I started my lunch and reached out for the gravy to go with roti. Suddenly Venkat appeared from no where, grabbed the dish befor me and was serving into my plate. He wouldn’t stop even after I repeatedly told him that I’ve been served enough. And then I was surrounded by Krishna, Muruga and four others, all vying with each other to serve different dishes into my plate.
I was perplexed, ‘cos I’d forgotten the Meera jasmine episode. I was squirming with unease at the unusual attention I was getting. I always like to be left alone while eating, and five to six young men standing around and watching me put every morsel into my mouth made me self conscious. So I looked up and around at their faces and told them “I’LL manage”. I spoke in English ‘cos I didn’t know how to say that in Hindi.
And then one of them blurted out’ “Madam, You taught Meera Jasmine?’
I was caught off Guard. To lie or not to lie was the question. So I managed to lie and not to lie. I smiled from ear to ear at him.
All on a sudden, all of them were asking me questions – some in Telugu, some in Hindi (they knew I knew no Telugu).
The first question that was thrown at me was a dangerous one. An honest reply would have dampened their enthusiasm, besides taking the newly acquired Meer Jasmine halo away from me. A dishonest reply would endanger my soul for violating the 9th commandment.
“For how long was she in your class?”
Perched between the horns of the dilemma, my mind worked quickly.
Hindi nahi samchey. Thoda thoda maalu. Aap kya bole, me nahi samchey.
He put the question in Telugu. Telugu? nahi malu. Kab nahi maalu.
I’m street smart, no? I’d managed to snatch my soul from the clutches of falsehood without endangering the halo that was bestowed on me for being Meera Jasmine’s teacher.
I quickly finished my lunch and escaped before they discovered someone who knew Malayalam or Tamil.
After that, during lunch, I withdrew into myself after the initial greeting smile, and had my lunch looking blankly into a book I had finished reading.
And basking in the glory of an unachieved distinction.