“Aunty, which way to Connaught Place?” a man crossing the road asked me. I wish I could direct him to Antarctica. You see, I have no problems being addressed so by those who arrived on this planet a couple of decades later than I did. But this man? I’m certain he must have been a burden on mother earth already, when my mom was merely selecting her bridal outfit. I looked at him and then looked at myself. Thankfully, before I could contemplate going into depression for having become ‘aunty’ to middle-aged men, he directed his query at a fairly young guy who walked by. “Hello, uncle! Which road for Connaught Place?” Ha, ha … so the problem is with him, not me, I realised and moved on.
Looking older than your age can be quite a stress, but that’s not what I’m talking about this week. I want to draw your attention at how utterly incapable most of us Indians are, at knowing how to address people. We fumble, we mumble or try to form an instant rishtedaari with someone whose face we are seeing for the first time. Let’s look at some of the common culprits who sorely need the ‘how-to-address-others-training’.
1 The ‘Bhaiyya brigade’ : Doodhwalla is bhaiyya, rickshaw puller is bhaiyya, shop salesman is bhaiyya, husband’s best friend is bhaiyya … and the guy your parents collaborated to give birth to … is also bhaiyya. How come? We believe in universal brotherhood, that’s why. The female equivalent, ‘didi’ is also quite a killer, and is freely used for half the population of the country. I know, I know, you’ll say that addressing strangers as didi, bhaiyya, uncle etc shows respect that’s unique to our culture. Only, I’m not quite sure if respect is the overriding emotion when we casually throw these terms at anyone. Watch Mrs Chaddha curse and abuse the autowallah left, right and centre while still calling him ‘bhaiyya’, and you’ll know what I mean.
2 The ‘Hello’ gang: These people must have an imaginary telephone attached to their mouths, because they address everyone as ‘hello’. The other day I was walking towards home in the apartment complex, when a neighbour’s son shouted out, ‘oh, hello!’. I turned back, said ‘hi’ and kept walking. ‘I’m calling you’, he said, and ran up to tell me that I’d left the car’s parking lights on. I then realised that he didn’t know how else to address me. Anyway, ‘hello’ or ‘listen’ is anyday better than aunty.
3 We, the ladies: Last week I went to a friend’s house and his new domestic help — a young guy — whom I’d never met earlier, opened the door. Since my friend wasn’t at home, he called her up and said, ‘koi ladies aayi hain’. I looked around to see if I’d suddenly sprouted another person and turned into two but I was all alone. “why are you calling me ‘ladies’?” I asked. Because ‘you are ladies’, he replied, and the conversation had to be stopped for fear of it turning weirder. What’s with this fascination for plural form? Twice the respect, I hope. And talking of respect, what about those who address everyone as ‘Sir’? The British may die aspiring for knighthood, but in India, everyone — right from a buddy to a business colleague — is ‘Sir’.
Fascinating, ain’t it?
I know what you’re thinking now. That I’ve poked fun at all the ways we address people, without saying what the solution is. To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I’d say always address someone by their name, if you happen to know what it is. It’s much better than getting into the ‘didi-bhaiyya’ routine. But if it’s a stranger, you have to stop on the road and talk to, I would prefer to call out with an ‘excuse me’. And would bang my head on the wall if I get the favourite Indian reply to that — ‘excused’!!
Sonal Kalra has no clue how to address people. She even asked Bubbly Aunty and Pappu Bhaiyya, but they didn’t know. Could you please help?
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