“Miss, can I talk to you for a minute, once you are through with addressing the rest?”

Her clear, smooth voice clearly caught my attention.

I nodded at the twenty … something girl before me. She had a pleasant smile and no nonsense manner. She wore a short sleeved blouse over a plain olive green skirt and her hair was combed back into a tidy knot. She clutched her notepad and pencil and waited patiently for me to finish addressing the group in front of me. Miss….did I hear right? My mind was in a whirl.

When I settled down to talk to her she once again phrased her question lucidly, “Miss, can I ask what led you to write this book?” I answered her queries sitting in the quaint stand-alone book store in Goa and finished the conversation.

The ‘little Miss’ in front of me had no iota of an idea about the impact her address had on me. I was transported back in time. Her manner of address may be a cultural thing in her part of the country, but one didn’t hear enough of it these days and I hadn’t heard it since school days and never outside school either. Except our good old teachers at school no one was addressed as “Miss”. In college our lecturers were always “Ma…am” with the ‘d’ missing from madam and the pronunciation going from “Ma…am” to “Ma…aaam” depending  on the nature of our demands which hovered mainly  around postponement of internal exams.

The Grey convent walls of St Ann’s Secunderabad not unlike the one in the “Sound of Music” abounded with a lot of Miss-es. Not the “miss” standing for losing out, but one reserved for wonderful teachers always addressed as “Miss” irrespective of age, caste, religion or marital status. From the peppery haired ones to those in possession of the original black tresses there was a democratic timbre to this form of address. Except the nuns who were visions of white and addressed as “sisters” all teachers for us were “Miss”. We had teachers from all parts of the country who were Hindu, Muslim, Parsi and Sikh. There were those who spoke Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Konkani, Punjabi and Telugu, but all the Chatterjees and Menons, Naiks and Singhs, Reddy and Raos were “Miss so and so” and got their regular doses of greetings and “God bless you Miss” without fail.

In keeping with the school motto “Sicut Apis Operosa” (As busy as the bees) St. Ann’s was a beehive of activity and all the teachers ensured that there was never a dull moment. “Miss Gul Bharia” the Parsi teacher in her high heels and colourful frocks who kept brushing her peppery short hair with stubborn curls every now and then was a geography teacher like no other. The topography of the school became familiar to all her students thanks to the way she flung map drawing books with wrongly pointed locations out of the top storey classroom.  Miss Chatterjee was the English teacher who had us in splits whenever she picked up the dull students and reprimanded them with the usual “Top storey empty” jibe. We had two teachers from Kerala called “Miss Thomas” – one taught Science while the other was the Math teacher. In our time math was maths by the way. It was our aversion to taking the names of subjects that had us call them “Senior Miss Thomas” and “Junior Miss Thomas” based on their ages and you got it right both of them were “simbly” strict. Miss Singh was the sweet, soft spoken English teacher while “Miss John” was our cleanliness ambassador (Our swachch Bharat began decades ago)  who ensured that all the plastic covers emptied of chips and rolls had to be kept in our pockets till we found the dustbin. Miss Norma Nagle our English teacher with her curly short hair and attractive husky voice caught our attention not just for her teaching skills but for the babies that she bore in quick succession. (The lovely lady would later read aloud my weekly articles in a newspaper seated in the staff room with the pride that only a teacher can have for her students). Miss Gardener, Miss Frederick, Miss Balaiah, Miss Rao… the list of teachers is long with each one of them endowed with special traits that marked their teaching and interaction with students.

The unfailing ritual of greetings that included “Good morning Miss” and “God bless you Miss” every time we bumped into a teacher were our version of positive vibrations because our “God bless you”s ran into a tidy number each day.

Nostalgia is after all tonic for the soul and a rejuvenating exercise that transports you fleetingly to that unvisited space inhabited by moments frozen in time.  A heartfelt thank you to my Goan friend, I can only say “God bless you Miss”.

Marauders of Hope (A book on Multi-level marketing frauds)

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