Recently, the media published gruesome pictures of Sub-Inspector Vetrivel lying in a pool of blood, his right leg severed, while the convoy of two State ministers looked on. As usual the Political parties took over with charges and counter charges. However the saddest part of the tragedy is that it was the result of mistaken identity by a hired gang. Mistaking the helmet-wearing, uniformed motorbike rider Vetrivel on the usual route of the intended victim, a certain college student, the hired killers, threw a bomb at him and hacked him to death with sickles.
But, mistaken identity could turn out to be hilarious too as in the case of Susan Boyle, the Scottish, singing- sensation, who was, years ago, mistaken for Queen Elizabeth by the railway staff while on a trip back from Paris. The Euro staff mistook her for the Queen and the 48 year old singer burst out laughing when the train officials elaborately bowed and curtsied to her--surely providing much-needed laughter to Susan Boyle after her tiring trip.
Like Susan Boyle, mistaken identity has resulted in some unforgettable incidents in my life as well…
More than four decades ago, I was seated in a huge hall of the University building in Thiruvananthapuram along with my fourteen classmates in MA Political Science, waiting for that most dreaded viva-voce, after the written exams. In those days, getting through post -graduate exams was a sure guarantee for a successful career. Political Science had an added advantage of providing subjects most suitable for the competitive exams like IAS,IPS IFS etc. Of the thirty students, appearing for the Exam that year, fifteen of us were from a private college in Kollam, while the other fifteen were from the University College, Trivandrum.
Right from the beginning of our course, we were told that the viva voce examiners would be from the three Universities of Madras, Mysore and Kerala, along with our own Professor Pillai. They would question us on current political issues or any other relevant topics of their choice. We were also told that we should answer boldly, as viva voce had a vital role in deciding our position, rank etc. Naturally all the fifteen of us who were assembled in the hall, were nail-biting, nervous wrecks.
So, with a bent head and half-closed eyes, I was desperately trying to appease the Goddess of my native place, Kottayam. Suddenly, I heard the unusually loud creaking of leather shoes advancing towards me. Stopping just in front of me, I heard the owner of the shoes calling me gently ‘Sreedevi’. I looked up and saw an immaculately suited, athletic and very fair-complexioned Raju, my class-mate in BA, standing before me with a broad grin on his cherubic face. Raju was not only my classmate but also my neighbour. He had the unique distinction of getting distinction in English as well as in his optional subjects. He was doing MA in Political Science in the University College of Thiruvananthapuram, as his first step for getting through the IAS Exams later.
Embarrassed at being caught in the middle of my private bargain with the Goddess, I got up reluctantly. But before I could greet Raju, all my classmates sprang up to their feet, turned to him and chorused ‘Good morning, sir,’ with utmost reverence . Bewildered, I looked at Raju’s very fair face turning into light pink. His ears, which strongly resembled the handles of a tea-pot, turned into a deeper pink. All I remember now is the sound of creaking shoes receding and my class-mates’ envious comments that I was assured a minimum of a First class, as none other than the prominent member of the panel, Dr. Nair, himself had come to wish me luck. That was it, the ‘suited ‘Raju (those days, in Kerala, college students usually wore the traditional ‘mundu’, while a few wore trousers, but wearing a suit was unheard of) had been mistaken for Dr.Nair,
a brilliant professor with a Doctorate from the famous Yale University. While Raju might have enjoyed a minute’s respect and attention due to this mistaken identity, I ‘suffered’ the envy of my classmates and wasted my precious time in explanations instead of completing my private pact with the Goddess.....
During my career as a newly appointed political science lecturer in Maharashtra college, Bombay, I had made a mistake. It was a ridiculous mistake that had brought me down to the level of a hysterical clown before the admiring eyes of my students. It was a Tuesday, my favourite day of the week, when I could go home after my first morning lecture. I was wrapping up things in the class and was very happy with the hilarious response to my lecture on ‘Parliamentary type of Government’, comparing the ‘nominal ‘and the ‘real’ executive to a husband and wife. I picked up my hand bag from the desk and I noticed a very expensive pen. Generally, before I could rummage my handbag to get my pen for the attendance slip, the girls in the front row would rush with their pens to me and I would use one of them. So, I asked to whom the pen belonged to. No one came forward to claim the expensive pen. Suddenly, a short, nondescript man in a half- sleeved shirt and faded jeans, darted into the room and said something to me in Hindi. Enraged by his audacity, I almost shouted, “Who’re you and what do you want?” Interpreting the roar of laughter from my students as appreciation for their young, humorous, new professor’s courage, I raised my voice even louder. “How dare you enter my class and disturb us? Who are you?” The uncontrollable hooting,catcalls and whistles from the students was now deafening.
Then to my utter shock, the man awkwardly jumped onto the platform where I stood, hit the table with his fist, faced my students and screamed, “Silence, Silence!” Infuriated, I shrieked, “Get out, I said, get out . How dare you try to control my students?” Looking at the students I shouted, “I think this guy is mad, call the security, please, quick.” Then, one of my quiet, serious students, Barbara, came on the stage, and whispered in my ears, in between giggles, “He’s Professor Joshi, our History Professor and he’s asking for his pen that he left behind after his lecture this morning.” I felt faint and staggered out of the class. I still do not know how I reached the Staff room . After a sleepless night’s self-analysis, I could not justify my disgracefully rude behaviour as just a case of mistaken identity.
The next morning I reached the college very early at about 5.30 to meet Dr. Joshi, who took classes for the morning session of employed students. I met him in the canteen and tearfully apologised for my unpardonably rude and disgraceful behaviour. But, he graciously said it was his fault. He took it for granted that I knew him. And in his anxiety to get back the pen, a gift from his grand-aunt, who was no more, he entered the class-room in great hurry without waiting for my permission. He was so warm and forgiving that we parted as friends after a good breakfast. But, the memory of my acting as a frightened, hysterical, clown ,screaming and shrieking for ‘security’, resulting in pandemonium in the classroom, was too disgraceful. I could not bring myself to address those students again.
So, I decided for an honourable retreat and met Principal Siddiqui to hand in my resignation.
I knew from the friendly smile instead of his usual ‘unapproachable’ look, that he had already been informed about everything. I was choked with unshed tears, when I handed him my resignation. He read my letter, smiling. Suddenly, his smile gave way to his usual serious expression and he said, “Sorry, Mrs.Krishnan, I can’t accept your resignation . The reason for your resignation --your husband’s unexpected transfer , to my mind, is rather”, he paused, as though searching for a proper word , and added “ a lame excuse”. “I’m afraid you'll have to continue. Besides, I know the actual reason. I have to tell you that you are not to blame for the whole incident. It was the attire of the professor that led you to react that way. I have issued a memo that hereafter, all male professors must wear a tie to class”. Dr Siddiqqui called for an emergency professor’s meeting and gave a shelling to all the male professors who were not dressed properly to work.
I did not hear the end of it from my male colleagues because I was solely responsible for this new “Constitutional Amendment'' requiring all professors to wear a tie. Nevertheless, my students and female colleagues thanked me for such an everlasting memory of a very funny incident!