After many years, I met my old friend Appunni Nayar in a wedding party. Those were the days when terylene shirts were the fashion of the day. In the sweating Madras May wedding crowd, Nair was posing and flirting, wearing that uncomfortable shirt, which indeed was glistening.
‘Shirttu kasari, sundarakuttan! Evidunnu kittee?’ I admired his apparel, ‘lovely shirt, who gave you?’
The second part of my compliment was close to nonsense. He had every right to get irritated, but he didn’t. He replied proudly,
‘Nammudae ammaayi Amma thannu’- our mother in law gifted!
His instant reply shocked me. I shot from my seat like a missile. How can we have a common mother in law unless we had married her daughters. And my wife had no sisters!
“Did my mother in law give birth to a girl, after I married her only daughter? I can’t believe,’ I expressed my doubt and surprise.
“When was your marriage?” He threw an innocent question.
“Some thirty years ago”
“In thirty years- time, what all a woman can’t do, SP?, ” He laughed and expressed surprise at my deficiency in the knowledge of the world affairs,” poor guy!”
I rushed home and asked Ammalu, “you knew your mother had gifted to this world another woman like you, after you left her home?”
“I didn’t,” she replied with least seriousness and asked, ” so what?”
“Ammalu, you ask me, ‘so what’ ?”
“What is your problem?,” she asked me without raising her head, ‘what all a woman can’t do within thirty years?”
Ammalu, late said that had she a sister, I would have somehow known about it. And then she explained how the confusion arose.
In the olden days, the Karnors, family heads and even local kings used liberally ‘nom( we) instead of ‘Jnaan’ ( I or me), to show their importance. Anxious to maintain the tradition, Nair uses the archaic grammar. He is however, careful, while talking to his wife after she scolded him, ‘erappae!’, when he ordered, ‘nom varuunu, sayanam theyyarakku- ( we are coming, instead of ‘I’m coming’) make the bed!’.