I am quite used to being addressed as “uncle” by a wide variety of people. The abundance of grey hairs on my head has entitled me to that avuncular status. But never did I imagine that somebody would think me 81 years old.
Recently when I was holidaying in Kerala my teeth sprang a problem. Every holiday in Kerala gifts me a dental problem. The reason, as my dentist in Kerala once told me, is the non-vegetarian diet. In God’s own country, no lunch or dinner is complete without at least one non-veg dish.
The receptionist of the dentist asked me such details as my name, surname and age. I couldn’t see what she was writing. As I reclined in the dentist’s chair a little later with my mouth wide open, the doc said, “This is not a serious problem at your age. It’s just the normal wear and tear that comes with age.” He went on to repair “the slight abrasion” as I sat wondering whether my age of 51 was the threshold of senility.
Later on, as I sat in a bus to my village, I took out the registration card given by the receptionist just to have a look at it because I had nothing else to do. Then I understood why the doctor had referred to my age. My age in the card was 81!
At home, when I told my wife about the age given me by the young girl at the reception, she said with a hearty laugh, “I’ll file for divorce. I didn’t know I had married such an old man.”
Two days later, when I met the same receptionist at the dentist’s I asked her with a sweet smile, “Do I look 81 years old?”
“Why? Well…” She fumbled, but without losing her nerve a bit.
“That’s the age you gave me,” I pointed at what she had written. “I’m 51.”
She smiled much more sweetly than I had. “Sorry, it’s a mistake.”
We had spoken all through in Malayalam. In Malayalam the words for 51 and 81 differ only by a single vowel sound. Her mistake was understandable.
Couldn’t the doc guess the age of a person better? I wondered. But dentists are a busy lot in Kerala.