This article belongs to Sweet Grace column.

           I was sure I hadn't made any grammatical blunder when I said, "Collins told me to report here, Sir."  Collins, a British national, happened to be the Vice Principal of my college.

           My English professor, an Indian,  instantly turned wild and  ticked me off nice and proper. "Mister Collins.  Use the  proper honorific title.  Understand?"


           That stricture had  remained in my system till date even after some 6 decades of life.  So much so, I just cannot call anyone above 21  years of age by his/her name without prefixing it with the appropriate title.


           Defence services officers are particular that we address them by the rank they hold such as, Colonel James or Admiral Krishnan or Captain Smith and so on.  If you hail them as Mister Smith, Mister Krishnan, they would feel  offended.


           Whereas the IPS officers (Indian Police Service), though they too hold some rank wouldn't mind being named as Mister so and so. He may  be a DIG (Deputy Inspector General) or an Additional Deputy Inspector General or Superintendent of police etc.  For them the rank holds no value and a simple Mister is sufficient.


            Ladies are no less.  South Indian married women would just add the title ‘Missus' to their maiden name. Thus Miss. Malini becomes Missus Malini after her marriage. That's all [They probably don't want us to know who her husband is. It's none of our business !] Whereas her Northern counterpart would insist that we use her husband's name  primarily with or without her maiden name like, Missus Neena Rawat or Missus. Rawat.


            Addressing young college teachers as Mister or Miss or Missus is all right up to the Lecturer level.  Higher than that, you are expected to approach them with the title, ‘Professor'.  You would be in for trouble or stand to lose some marks in the internal assessment if you use the title  ‘Mister' for your Departmental Head.


            What about the medical Doctors? They are fussy people too.  You may not remember his/her name or even their marital status, but  so long as you greet them  as ‘Doctor' you would be on the right lines.  The Medico concerned may be  a simple MBBS or  an MD or a  Specialist of sorts or a Ph D.  The title ‘Doctor' would go well with all of them all right. 


            If ever you address a medico as ‘Mister' or ‘Miss' or ‘Missus', be prepared to face their wrath or possibly  a missile made out of the surgical scissors somewhere on your body.   


            But  a British surgeon would raise no objection for it at all.  On the contrary, he would revel at it.  In England, while all the medical professionals are identified as ‘Doctor',  the surgeons are known by the title ‘Mister'.  Imagine seeing a visiting card that reads, "Mr. George Williams, MBBS, MS, FRCS."


           ‘Mister' is an acceptable title  for them because there is an interesting history behind this practice.


           Some 400 years back, the persons who carried out any kind of  operation on a human body such as making an incision or draining  out the bad blood or cutting off a bad tissue or even some diseased internal part etc,  were Barbers. [Incidentally, the word ‘barbaric' is a derivative of ‘barber'] Some of them specialized in the art of surgery and joined the hospitals after giving up their conventional profession of haircut and shaving. Barbers were not known by any honorific title in that period.


          During the 16th century, when the medical science had  progressed significantly in England, barbers were in great  demand in the hospitals. King Henry the VIIIth , desiring to give them some recognition and respectability, authorized  such barbers who worked in hospitals,  to use the title ‘Mister' and the tradition  is continuing , according to my information.


-         - - - - -Israel Jayakran [sweetgrace]