I have a very young-at-heart uncle who has recently shifted out of India, along with my aunt. Since I am also out for some time, I have been mailing him regularly, now that it’s the more convenient option of communicating. (Before this, we would meet regularly at family get togethers etc.) But I have realised, that everytime I write to him, it’s as if I am writing to my peer, a friend and not an elderly person whom I call uncle in real life. Many a times I have edited my mail to make it more respectful because he’s after all more than double my age. At times I have replaced slang with proper words and deleted sentences which sound too friendly or crazy (which would be natural when writing to a friend). Initially I thought it could be because he was young at heart or it’s because I am used to interacting only with ‘my generation’ over the net and not another one, that my words come pouring out as if meant for my friends. But the more I thought of it, the more I realised that it could be something else.
It reminded me of a faux pas I committed a year or so back. One of my aunt’s friends came to visit us. She had seen us as kids and asked us to guess who she was. I instantly blurted her name and forgot to append a respectful ‘aunty’ to it. It happened very naturally. The moment I realised what I had done, I stuttered an explanation that I was so damn used to the MNC culture of calling everyone by their first name, that I had actually followed the same in my own house! It was honest and true, but I didn’t think anyone would bite it. As I expected, I got a good lecture from my mom about it. This ‘first name’ tendency obviously leaves out those who were already labeled much before I started working.
Apart from this, where initially I used to feel rather odd calling my colleagues of my dad’s/mom’s age by their first names, now sometimes, I feel odd appending sir, aunty, uncle or anything to anyone senior, especially if I meet them in context of office. I also happen to have a family friend (parent’s generation) working in the same company as I work in. Everytime I meet him, I get tongue-tied, not knowing what way to address him. Using his first name sounds too rude, calling him ‘uncle’ sounds equally insulting and appending ‘sir’ sounds really formal, which I can not be with him. This is irrespective of whether I meet him at office or whether we call upon them at their place. I carefully try not to say either and sound respectful at the same time. It keeps me on tenterhooks all the time.
That brings me to my question – Am I quickly losing touch with the ‘Indian tradition’ of being respectful, as we call it? Or am I just bridging the gap between generations by being more ‘friendly’ to them? What’s your take dear reader? What would you do in a mix of the east and the west sensibilities?