Though my name is Oswald Pereira, I am often called Mr Singh. That’s because my wife, a Sikh, has retained her maiden surname (Singh) and people who know her and don’t know me, assume that the husband of Mrs Singh would be Mr Singh.
When people call our landline to speak to my wife, and she’s not at home, they often say, “Mr Singh, please tell Mrs Singh I had called.” When I try and correct them and affirm that “I’m Mr Pereira,” they hang up abruptly, saying “Sorry, I think I’ve got the wrong number.”
The more persistent ones insist, “But doesn’t Mrs Singh live here?” When I stand my ground and assert, “Yes, this is Mrs Singh’s residence, but I’m Mr Pereira,” they hang up, after making sympathetic, clucking sounds, perhaps imagining that I must be a crackpot.
I’ve got to thank the cellular phone revolution. Now we don’t get that many calls on our landline. Callers now call my wife on her mobile phone and I’m saved the trauma of losing my identity. But I’ve only myself to blame for this identity crisis.
During our courtship days, I once looked into my wife’s large, brown eyes and declared, “I believe in women’s emancipation and gender equality.” It was part of those clever lines that you say when you are dating and really don’t mean it. But my girlfriend took it seriously. A tiny tear of joy trickled down her right eye. She held my hand tenderly and cooed, “This is the kind of man I’m looking for.”
I responded by proudly puffing my chest inflated with 50 push-ups in the morning and crowed, “Count on me young lady to treat you like a queen.” Her next line hit me like a storm. “What are your intentions, young man?” she asked firmly, releasing my hand like it were a hot potato. Taken by surprise by the suddenness and intensity of her query, I blurted out, “Marriage, of course.”
“And, you won’t mind if I retain my maiden name after marriage?” she asked sweetly. “I’d love it that way,” I heard myself say. So we were married soon enough as Mr Pereira and Mrs Singh. Soon after marriage, we got our first tiny flat on a mortgage, owned jointly by Mr Pereira and Mrs Singh and have since purchased a house owned jointly, using the same Pereira-Singh combination.
The name plate outside our house now bears three names—mine, my wife’s and my son’s, who had the good sense to choose my name as his surname. Now door-to-door salespersons who ring our doorbell ask for one of the Pereiras, as Singh seems to be the odd one out. Including my son’s name on the nameplate was my dirty little trick. It gives me the strength of numbers.
Don’t take that last line seriously; it was said in a lighter vein. If you ask me on a more serious note, “Are you happy that your wife has retained her maiden name?” I would reply, “Yes, of course, most certainly, don’t ever doubt it! I’d love this to happen again and again with all my wives, in as many lives that I’m born a male.”
Mrs Singh and I were married in 1985, when people in our land were not as progressive as they appear today. We happened to work in the same organisation and I vividly recall the personnel manager of the company calling us and giving us a bit of friendly advice, saying that the wife retaining her maiden surname could lead to legal complications later on in life.
The angelic looking, smiling, bearded parish priest in Thane, where we lived had a different view from the personnel manager, religiously speaking, which was more alarming. He said that my wife’s decision to be independent of my name and my acceptance of this went against the teachings of the Church, and he quoted the Bible, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”(Timothy 2:12.) I might have looked cornered, for the priest, who was smiling his sweet smile, looked triumphant, and said, “For indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.” – Corinthians 11:9.
As a journalist with India’s largest circulating English newspaper, I had cornered many a powerful person and written about their misdeeds on the front page. But here was this mild-mannered priest putting me in my place. Then he asked, innocently: “Which Church in Delhi did you get married?” I had a civil marriage in Delhi, where my wife’s family lived.
“Father, I had a court-registered civil marriage,” I said, swallowing my words. “I was expecting that answer,” he said, smiling knowingly, stroking the tip of his long beard, as if to confirm his omniscience. I laughed nervously.
“You know, son, the Church considers your so-called marriage not only an act of disobedience, but as tantamount to living in sin,” he said, his smile vanishing. “How I wish you would have married in Church,” he added, smiling wistfully. Then he graciously blessed me, running his delicate fingers over my crown, the place where divinity resides.
Luckily for Mrs Singh and Mr Pereira, both the personnel manager and the priest have been proved wrong. We have been married for 35 years and there have been no legal, religious or spiritual complications in our life till date―and I’m sure there never will be, for “what God has joined together, let no man separate.” The Bible― Mark 10:9.