Years ago, when someone told me that his elder brother was a lecturer in a government college, I stood wondering, as I had worked there for seven years. When he gave me his sibling's full name, I told him politely he was only a senior lecture assistant. My shocked acquaintance shook his head.
An enthusiastic relative always referred to his teacher uncle as headmaster and his nazir uncle as judge. Once, I was adjudicating an inter-school theatre competition when my organiser colleague introduced me to the audience as a "renowned director". After that, the co-judges were in awe of me; and one of them, a young woman, kept stealing glances at me.
Many people address compounders, dispensers, and chemists as doctors; clerks as bade babus; munshis as advocates; and head constables as "thanedars". Disciples glorify their small sect heads with the titles such as "Mahamandaleshwar" and "Shri Shri 1008". Colleagues refer to petty party workers as "pradhanji". Members of a certain sect even call one another "Mahapurush" (great man).
People give away titles so liberally that it has become an epidemic; and although uncalled for, unsuitable and unjust, has been accepted as a pep-up pill. Free decoration is almost a serendipitous modern discovery. Names, ranks, statuses, even though informal, can work wonders for the morale and confidence. The mesmerising difference to the public behaviour it makes, the resultant frisson, and the high it gives you is a soothing balm for the long-cherished and itching yen. The thirst for promotion, recognition, scale, and class is unquenchable; isn't it?
The practice is almost a symbol of respect to the people we address. For the adulators, this is not a constraint but a convenience, a mark of estimation, modesty, and decorum. This effusion is exhilarating, encouraging, effective, and irresistible. The rave beneficiaries ever cotton on to it as a yummy gateau, mouth freshener, appetiser and sedative.
They accept these aromatic whiffs of air, nosegays, and wreaths with total humility and honour. The hallucination of the hyperbolic halo created by the admirers holds a sustained hangover. The saying goes: "Muft ki sharab to qazi ko bhi halal hai (anything that comes free is welcome, even liquor to the devout)".
Undoubtedly, the thrill it gives you has many takers. Praise is always palatable and hard to challenge. There is virtually no social disapproval, rejection, admonition, or interdiction. Even the fangs of law may never pose a deterrent, so the convention of pseudo ranks and titles may never lose its appeal. firstname.lastname@example.org
(The writer is a Zirakpur-based freelance contributor.)