It is not toffee it is coffee
It is not feminism it is hypocrisy
Don’t eat the cow, its holy! Shoot the early morning bugger instead!
It is not ketchup, its Maggie hot and sweet tomato sauce, it’s different...
And the argument continues…!!!
My country is a bizarre country! Not in a negative sense, but it loves to do bizarre things, and for example it loves arguing. From matters as trivial as whether a toffee is a toffee or a coffee to whether a woman’s choice is a feminism or hypocrisy! There are hordes of issues that keep bugging an ordinary Indian. And more often than not these bugging issues find a platform on the social network.
However, one issue that is a perennial and constant bugger is ‘whether to call her ‘Aunty’ and whether to call him ‘Uncle’? Whether it comes from a 5 year old or a college going student, the word ‘Aunty’ instantly generates a feeling of shock and despair! After all it was insidiously hinting on our ever increasing age. ‘Aunty mat kaho na!’ A popular adage that caught the nation’s horror-imagination thanks to a popular television soap back from my school days! The moment a woman crosses the devil's age of 25 years, she has successfully added the prefix to her name!!
Hence, when one my mother-in-law’s college going tenant addressed me as an ‘Aunty’ on a delightful spring morning, I immediately took offence. With extreme poise and maintaining a low voice and hiding my annoyance and infuriation on the word that had evoked a sea of emotions within me, I said to her and I quote, “You see there are two possibilities of you calling me ‘Aunty’, one either you think you are a five year old and haven’t grown since, or you think I am old enough to be your mother in law; so you choose!” The poor girl was so taken aback by this sudden loss of temper on my side that she was in complete loss of words. She immediately apologised about what she had said and scampered away and I was a happy woman again! Happy that I had successfully made my point!!
Of late both the ‘Aunties’ and the ‘Uncles’ have started taking offence to another level from these humble words which previously gave us a feeling of intimacy and closeness. Often friends use these words among themselves either just to tease each other or just reminding each other their age. In India we always talk of giving respect to our elders; so when the words ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ are otherwise meant to be sisters and brothers of either of the parents in the western world, we in India however, refer them to anyone who is substantially elder to us. Whether they are our parent’s friends, or an elderly man or woman walking down the street, the word ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ immediately generates a feeling of respect! (that is our perception)
However, the respectful concoction of ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ haven’t been so respectful lately. The past week in India witnessed the growing displeasure on the usage of these otherwise humble words. First, a junior in post but senior in age Air India co-pilot took offence when his senior in post but junior in age pilot referred to him as ‘Uncle’ giving rise to a major cockpit confusion thereby leading to a major scuffle and fight. The word ‘uncle’ provoked the co-pilot because according to him it wasn't said in the best of faiths. Rather, it was used sarcastically to demonstrate the difference in age and the post. If I am being asked to suggest my viewpoint on this matter then I would say, given the recent spurt of air accidents, its better not to piss off the co-pilot thereby jeopardizing the lives of innocents cramped in the aircraft!
The second offence was taken by Ms. Shobha De, a prominent journalist cum social commentator. As I have mentioned earlier we Indians love to argue, so Ms De did not take a back seat when the state of Maharashtra made screening of Marathi movies compulsory in all theaters. She displayed her annoyance on the subject by tweeting that instead of pop corns ‘Misal and Vada Pav’ should be served in the theaters to generate a feeling of patriotism amongst the Marathi people! The regional party ‘Shiv Sena’ immediately took offence and jumped into action by sending ‘Shobha Aunty’ basketful of Misals and Vada Pavs! However, without digressing from the topic, I perceive the word ‘Aunty’ even here was not used in the best of interest or a mark of respect for Ms. De. Rather it was used in a negative connotation to humiliate Ms De by demeaning her sexually, shaming her age and foraying loss of senses!!
Nowhere, in the world the words uncle and aunty generates a volley of meanings and an avalanche of concoctions as it does in India. Like we do with food, we manage to give an Indian touch to everything to suit our tastes. This proneness of ‘Indianising’ everything sometimes leads to conflicts and the recent squirt of offences taken because of the usage of these benign and innocuous words, it is better to follow the global trend of addressing people with their names barring the relatives. Confusions lead to conflicts, and if we give away the environment and words that create these conflicts, peace is what we can have! Else we will continue doing what we do best, 'Argue'!!