With a name like Alamelu Padmavathi Ammal (with due apologies to anyone whose name is Alamelu, Ammal or Padmavathi) you cannot be very liberated. Okay—maybe not liberated in a wearing-cropped-denim shorts-spiked-coloured-hair-tank top-with-leather-boots kind of way but perhaps liberated in a I-am-a-forward-thinking-modern-woman kind of a way. I don’t know what it was but the Alamelu I knew, or rather used to know, was not very liberated in either ways.
The first time she met me was about 7 years back. Come to think of it, that was the last time I met her too. :-)
It was at a boring office party in a not so boring quaint little town, where the men sat separately and drank for the entire duration of the party and the women were not offered alcohol or the starters. (For the entire duration of the party too) I would have liked both (The alcohol and the starters, not the men or the women!) but nobody asked me. And I was not liberated enough to barge into the ‘bar-room’ full of men, that too husband’s office colleagues and demand my drink. So I played the Good wife and kept quiet.
I have no idea how I must have seemed to Alamelu. Her first question to me was “So what are your educational qualifications?” It wasn’t a “What do you do?’ or “How many kids?” or even the most common conversation starter about how hot the weather was. It caught me off guard for a second. She had touched a nerve that I usually avoided. If you have been following my writings, you’ll know by now, that one thing I usually do not talk about is my educational qualifications, because it usually raises eye brows. (That’s why I have not mentioned it in the short bio that comes beneath my picture in my book cover).In case I have got you wondering why, let me confess some little secrets, some facts about why it is so. For one, I have several academic degrees (and one of them where I stood first in the entire country too) and second I really do not think an educational degree is relevant or essential to get to know a person and third, I do think what life teaches you is far more important than what ANY college can, and fourth I think qualities like empathy, kindness, courage, perseverance, honesty and positivism are what really matter, not what you studied and where. Of course it is only now, many years later, in retrospect, that I am able to analyse and articulate what I feel about it.
When she asked me that question, I was plain stumped. I said a moment later, “I failed in my class ten exams.” And I smiled at my own little private joke. The look she gave me could have frozen the entire
“Oh—so you got married, had kids. End of story” she said with a snigger, dripping contempt and disdain, in an almost accusatory tone.
“It depends on how you define the story. Whether is fiction, fantasy or fairy-tale” I retorted, but I don’t think it registered. I don’t think my little joke registered either.
I played dumb. “What is CA? Is that some kind of a degree?” I asked innocently. Alamelu did not know what to say to that—how can you explain C.A exams to a tenth grade school drop out? I did not wait to find out. I moved away quickly and avoided her for the rest of the evening.
I have never met Alamelu again. I have no idea what she has done with her life or how many more unsuspecting people she has thrust her gigantic, smug, superior attitude on. It’s been more than six or seven years now.
I imagine Alamelu walking into a book store, picking up my book, flipping through it ,perhaps recognizing me from my picture, and being surprised about a tenth grade drop out writing a book.
Someone once said "The purpose of a liberal education is to make one's mind a pleasant place to spend one's leisure."
But like I said, whichever way you looked at it, whatever she studied, whatever she wore or whatever her thoughts were, Alamelu could definitely not be liberated. I cannot imagine her mind ever being a pleasant place.
To the Alamelus of the world, I have just one thing to say—it is something that my dad told me early in life and something I have taught my kids:
“It is nice to be important but it is more important to be nice.” Or to paraphrase it a bit differently
“It is nice to be educated, but you are definitely more educated, if you are nice."
Addendum: Hi all. Just a clarification. When I wrote this post, I was angry and hurt at what had happened and with the attitude of many people in our country. So much that even 6 years after the incident happened I still remembered it and blogged about it. It really is not about the name 'Alamelu Padmavathi Ammal' .It just so happened that her name was that. She could have been called x y z too. Somehow I don't feel good about this post anymore , maybe because, now I feel it has a trace of vindictiveness and I don't like it. So I am closing comments to this post. If you want to tell me something, please mail me on ps @ preetisatish .com .It takes just the same amount of time to shoot off a mail :-)