Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Uncles and Aunties

You think you know yourself so well and then some situation arises and you find out you are behaving in a manner you did not think you will. I found something our about myself very recently. Not a life changing revelation but still something which made me wonder about how well i actually know myself.

There is a joke about India and Indians, for a Indian everyone is either uncle aunty sister brother or daughter or son. But you know what, I embrace that. I love that. I love giving that respect. I dont like calling my elders by name . But here I must add, I call my own elder sisters by name. I was not taught otherwise and by the time I was old enough, it was artificial for me to call them by anything else. Double standards? Let's explore.

I love it when I call people whom I dont know uncle and aunty. Automatically a bond comes. I remember an instance when we went to buy something. The shopkeeper was nice but a bit aloof. "Uncleji, this is what I wanted". I explained. "the term "ji" is added as a sign of respect. You call others by name, you fix a "ji" after that and it's ok).  And the whole atmosphere changed. It's not that he would not have served us the same, the thing was, suddenly it was a more friendlier atmosphere. Do you know what I mean. You might wonder why is giving respect such a big deal. If a little "ji" can make someone feel good about himself or herself., whats the harm in using it abundantly to people who deserve it I say. Every culture has it's own way of showing respect. This is ours.

I love it when the old coconut seller give me the coconut saying " here 's the coconut gudiya". Gudiya is a term of endearment which is used to call daughters. I like it when my maid calls me bhabhi. (sister in law)

I always used to call even people one year older to me as akka, or chechi - which means elder sister. This somehow creates a connection for me. I guess in the case of my own sisters I don't need any extra connection. However once my elder sister said she would prefer me calling her akka or elder sister, I did so. My second elder sister however asked me never to call her that.

I am not used to people younger than me calling by my name. I say younger because if it was older obviously the equation would be the opposite.

Recently someone quite younger to me by position and age called me by my name. I cringed involuntarily. I never thought of calling anyone who was not my age or my expereince work wise by name. Outside it was sister/brother and professionally it was always maam/sir. I differ with people who says that these terms are purely hierarchical and calling by name is equalizing.  But before that we must make sure that the other person is ok with you calling them with their first names otherwise always add a Mr or Ms, or else if you are in in India better call Sir/Maam unless you are specifically asked not to. Infact I say call people but what they want to be called. But if you don't know better play safe until you get the idea. I have done this mistake once. I thought I knew the person enough and called her by her first name.That very moment I understood it was a stupid mistake.

It's funny, there are so many 'important' matters which really don't matter to me  but I didnot know that I would feel this strongly about this small etiquette. So strongly that I have not got used to it even after 2 months.


  1. In bangalore I have seen that they call those even slightly elder to them as Uncle. It is very disheartening to hear people call you Uncle at this age(may be I look older than I am :-( ). Have been there many a times. Kerala and TN is cool in that regard. Anyone and everyone is Anna..

    1. :) Paavam you. Maybe it's your wisdom in your eyes which makes people call you that ;).

      I do know of people who are deeply offended by calling them aunty or uncle. For me, People with college going kids are aunty/uncle. All others are didi or bhaiyya for me. I think people here do the same.

  2. wisdom in the eyes is a euphemism for saying you look old! And I don't mind being called uncle by 10 year olds.. Its something peculiar in bangalore that I have seen even a 22 year old will call you uncle..

  3. :) That must be unique to the place then.


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