A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: Oh, hello! Yes, I mean you
Or would you rather I address you as aunty, uncle, bhaiyya or didi? Soch lo... you might have an answer after reading this.columns Updated: Jun 18, 2017 08:06 IST
“Aunty, which way to the auto stand?” 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 fairly certain he must have been a burden on mother earth already when my mom was merely selecting her bridal outfit. I gave him quite a stare, but 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 way to the auto stand?” Ha, ha… so the problem is with him, not me, I realised. But not before I noticed the young man muttering curses under his breath.
Looking older than one actually is can be quite a stress but that’s not what I’m talking about this week. I want to draw your attention to 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 home in my 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 had 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 any day 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 had 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 had 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 the 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 a 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. Could you please help? Mail her at email@example.com, facebook.com/sonalkalraofficial. Follow on Twitter@sonalkalra