There is this automatic obligation among Indians to call those older than us, both stranger and family ‘akka, anneh, uncle, aunty, taata, paati in that order. It is a gesture associated with respect, the Indian culture that tells us to revere our elders.
If one calls someone elder than they are by name, it is considered a sign of grave disrespect and subject for reprimand. And, this Indian culture is undeniably an age old practice.
Some of us, especially those Malaysian Indians who are abroad or have been to western countries mock this particular Indian culture – that everyone is akka or anneh for Indians. This type of sub-culture is true to the warm hearted Indians where fellow Indians are treated like family or at least addressed as family.
But, is this Indian culture relevant today?
I particularly had a nasty experience when chatting with a certain Datuk in Yem Ai See on Facebook. I didn’t call him uncle okay? I called him sir and he retorted,”Call me Datuk!” Anni leh irunthu avaru irukera pakkame naa thale vechi padukurathu illeh. (I avoided him since then.) Another Datuk, who was conferred Datukship at the age of 26, the youngest person in Malaysia to become a Datuk, has no such airs. He is Datuk Vinod Sekhar and he is friends with me on Facebook. Obviously my respects goes to the latter person whose feet are still firmly on earth and not vainglorious.
My sister used to work in a clinic and she narrated her experience to me. It seems an elderly and distinguished looking Indian couple came to the clinic and my sis addressed them as uncle and aunty. The man flew off the handle and told my sister how can she call him and his wife uncle and aunty. He told my sister to have some respect and demanded her to address them as sir and madam. Then, a white man came and my sister called the Caucasian man uncle. The white man chuckled heartily,”I so really love the culture here. Where I live, I am called mister by strangers but here, I’m warmly called uncle, like I’m part of family. What a great culture you have!” The elderly Indian couple couldn’t look at my sister in the eye.
I used to call my Indian classmates who did Remove classes akka. But, I called my Chinese classmates who did Remove class by name. Clearly this is an Indian culture.
I have come across elderly men who forbade me from calling them uncle or even bro – it is very, very awkward for me and such men come across as routs. Once, when I was waiting for the public bus to go to school for co-curricular activities, a lorry driver approached me. He initiated a conversation and I, respecting his seniority responded accordingly, calling him uncle. Then he started talking dirty and I just maintained silence. I was absolutely terrified. As a rejoinder to my unresponsiveness, he vowed that he would rape me one day and left with a huff.
We wouldn’t want to call a rapist who is older than us anneh or uncle.
What if we call Bentong Kali anneh?
The same goes to professionalism. We cannot call our boss uncle or anneh. It would sound discordant if the THR Raaga deejay Suresh call Uthaya anneh on air. Off air, they can call each other whatever they want. The same is true when dealing with colleagues. Idam porul, yeval is vital to practice this Indian culture.
From my experience Indian guys hate it when Indian girls call them bro especially if the girl is pretty and younger to them. They call it <brozoned> But, if a girl is older than them then they are quick to <akkazone> the girl. Not many Indian guys are willing to accept girls younger than them as tanggachi for obvious reasons. <Friendzoned> pun okay lah.. But, nowadays, there are Indian girls marrying guys who are younger than them. Manasum manasum otthu pochu na vayasu oru matter eh illeh. Aishwarya Rai is 3 years older than Abishek Bachchan. Aren’t they happy?
While respect given at face value of our elders is validated, sometimes calling someone older than us by name brings us more closer to them and we can be more open to them and we can converse more comfortably with them without much inhibition.
While for some it may come off as rude but such formalities hinder open mindedness and breed awkwardness. If someone elder than us display undeserving and undesirable qualities, this non accorded recognition can put them in their place. See how this lady makes mincemeat of her abusive mother-in-law and husband:
I’m not saying that we should adopt western culture and call people older than us by name.
I am just saying that we should do the calling of elders akka or anneh appropriately, depending on the individual’s virtues as well as circumstances.
My eldest niece, who is two years younger to me calls me by my name.
When she was born, I was still in diapers and drank from a milk bottle.
She calling me aunt would have destroyed my childhood.