Story of a lost journalist

June 12, 2008

Addressing people

Filed under: life,My Musing Moments — Cris @ 17:11

(Tiny introduction: Mallu is used as an abbr for both Malayalam and Malayalees. Malayalam is the language spoken by Malayalees, the people belonging to Kerala, a state in South India)

This post is about how Mallus (read Malayalees) address each other.
Rule no 1, in all addressing is keeping the right amount of respect in your addressing.

When you read novels, you get a picture of how they do it in West. They call their folks Mom and Dad. Fair enough. We call ours Amma/Mamma/Umma and Acha/Pappa/Uppa/Appa and a lot more. But there ends our similarities.
They respect elders, older people (excluding relatives) by adding Mister or Miss or Mrs. So the old gentleman living next door becomes Mr George and his wife Mrs George. The parents of your friends become Mr and Mrs Petersons.

Kerala, and most part of India use 2 words for respecting elders (excluding relatives) – uncle and aunty. And we suffix them. So there is Usha aunty who lives upstairs and Gopalakrishnan Uncle, my Dad’s friend.

Kerala has further more rules when it comes to addressing non-related elders. When the elders come younger in age, you use 2 words- Chechi (elder sister) and Chetta (elder brother). I am guessing this happens in North India too – they use Didi (Hindi for elder sister) and Baiyya (Hindi for elder brother) is my guess. Oh I think they add a “ji” sometimes to imply respect.

So a senior at school becomes Chetta or Chechi, when the West uses their names.
I started getting annoyed with this Chetta-Chechi addressing after TV call-in programmes came into existence. The VJs who attend the call, had only one thing in mind. Guess the age of the caller, analyze if he/she is older by one second and if they pass, call them Chetta/Chechi. Even actors especially females followed this rule through thick and thin. I didn’t know if it was a display of respect or a desperate effort to showcase their being the youngest kid in the block. Either way it made anyone sick. I chose what most other wise people before me chose to do. I stopped watching call-in programmes in TV. Even without the Chechi-Chetta drama, it was anyway a set of by-heart questions followed by by-heart answers with VJs exhibiting bored faces when the excited callers told them how much they like the show.

I never had a problem with anyone calling me Chechi actually. Well I never did. But the whole situation changed when I joined a software company. IT industry lived by names. Call everyone by their first name was one of the first rules we learnt. So we called everyone by their first names. There didn’t seem anything wrong in addressing a 50 year old by name. No more uncles and aunties, no more Chechis and Chettans. Life was so peaceful. In fact when someone who worked with me called me Chechi or expected me to call them so I felt odd. It somehow didn’t fit there. It somehow violated professional ethics. Even if you go by normal non-IT principles, I thought the right way would be Sir or Madam; you don’t go and tell your boss “Chetta, how are you this morning?”
Unless of course you are that guy in the naukri dot com ad (“Guess who just heard from us”).

Not that I’d want anyone to call me Ma’am! Infact I feel the oddest when that happens! And it has happened. People who just joined and a few others had called me (yes ME!), Ma’am! I felt like I melted then and there! Chechi was ok, even Aunty was ok (there was an occasion in college when a 10 year old called me so and broke my heart) but Ma’am! Ma’am was not in the same class. Ma’am always brought to my mind a school principal or a district collector or even a Project Manager. I don’t think I can take that even when I am 50!

All said and done, my problem now is 2 years in IT has driven away all Kerala-based-respectful addressing out of my language! I go to offices and call people by their names. People older than me, people very respectable and highly positioned in their field of work hear me call them “Hullo Saraswathy or “Hi Basheer” (only when their name is Saraswathy or Basheer, not everyone hears the same thing)

So that is the problem now. If I at least followed the West, I’d add Sir/Madam or Mr/Ms but no, I forget all rules and make the same blunder every other day.
I don’t like the Chechi-Chettan-Uncle-Aunty rules. I don’t think I should follow this new name-rule either. Sir and Ma’am that’s what I should do. But I don’t think I can change the set norms. I mean I can’t go and call my Mom’s friend Malini Madam! Or the lady who brings vegetables anything other than Victoria Chechi!

Ok there is no solution to this problem. I am making a new rule. Respect doesn’t come with what you call someone. It comes with your behavior, your actions, your language (language excluding the addressing part).



  1. I second your opinion.
    In school it used to be chetta chechi and when I meet them somewhere these days, I am like “First name” or chetta-chechy!!
    Anyways, I love calling someone by first names, especially in my company(a very very first name basis type company)
    Like, calling the person by his first name 5 times during a conversation if I get a feeling that he is getting slightly pissed off 😀

    Comment by Nikhi Narayanan — June 12, 2008 @ 18:56 | Reply

  2. actually I am Nikhil, missed the l
    Oru ellu kuravaan enn ketitille 😉

    Comment by Nikhil Narayanan — June 12, 2008 @ 19:01 | Reply

  3. haii crissie chyaachi!!! 🙂

    Apart from these words, the most annoying word of addressing to me is “Shhh…” like in “sshhh… can u give me tha pen for a second?? ” I dont know why , but it happens only when an unknown girl addresses an unknown guy!

    Comment by Srijith — June 12, 2008 @ 19:33 | Reply

  4. I guess Mr and Miss are the best way of addressing….no need to guess the age of the person before addressing which could be a bit too difficult and may be a bit off the mark! 🙂

    Comment by sajith — June 12, 2008 @ 19:51 | Reply

  5. @Nikhi/Nikhil LOL thats a new way of bugging people. I will try it next time 😀
    @Srijith aniyaa :-D, I know how irritating the shh-thing is. Wonder how it got so popular! But girls today dont do it do they?
    @sajith, yeah but what is the big deal with this age thing anyway. By sight you can see if there is a major difference which calls for some major respect. Everyone else can be first-namers 😀

    Comment by Cris — June 12, 2008 @ 21:28 | Reply

  6. Agreed Cris! Good suggestion! 😀

    Comment by sajith — June 12, 2008 @ 21:35 | Reply

  7. Looks like none of you have visited government offices to get things done. It is one thing to try to change systems and totally another to get things done. A sir and a madam at the right place and time can do a lot of wonder when you want to get things done. Try calling that peon by name and your file will probably never see the light of another day :-). Call him sir and you will probably get the whole thing done in double time. Welcome to the wonderful world of Indian Bureaucracy. It is a game. You have to play to win :-).

    Comment by Anoop John — June 12, 2008 @ 22:51 | Reply

  8. The Shh…thing is still there… But now , the girls actually mean “excuse me ” which they spell in some awkward accent sounding it like just shhhhhh…Guys, if you need to experience it , go to any bank with a pen in your pocket and hangout there for couple of minutes ! 😉

    Comment by Srijith — June 12, 2008 @ 23:41 | Reply

  9. @sajith, thanks 🙂
    @Anoop, hate to admit it, but yea its true. So new rule – every man is a Sir and every woman is a Madam.
    @Srijith, you cant say that about girls! How rude! I have run across many men in offices who hate to say excuse-me or call your name and show odd actions or make odd sounds, you wont even know what hes trying to do!

    Comment by Cris — June 13, 2008 @ 00:32 | Reply

  10. Prolly thats becoz we actually have a mixed culture now -somewhere in bw what v used to follow and the West .
    Some of us are already part of the culture that IT companies follow. But i somehow feel that its more sensible. Calling by first name is not mark of disrespect anymore. I feel it makes things easier. ( Perosnally I hate being called with so-called-respect- prefixes esp when it is in the form of aunty or madam. I wuld spend more hours in front of the mirror from that day trying to figure out what is making me look older :P)
    Rest of us who are still not carried away by the West feels great when they are called by those prefixes.

    Comment by rose — June 13, 2008 @ 02:29 | Reply

  11. ^^^ I said my experience!! Since you described a man-to-girl incident, i didnt get any chance to experience it!! 😀

    Comment by Srijith — June 13, 2008 @ 12:19 | Reply

  12. @rose I can empathize with the post-aunty effects in front of the mirror :D. But I don’t believe the name scheme has anything to do with Western influence. Well thats pro’lly because I don’t like any kind of human categorization even countrywise. I am all for one world of humans 😀
    @Srijith, LOL

    Comment by Cris — June 13, 2008 @ 15:44 | Reply

  13. This same problem applies here too . 2+ years in the industry has almost wiped off all those usual tags of respect. When i talked to my publisher & printers over phone i addressed them by their names.I cant ask them ‘How old are you ‘ before deciding on the what-to-add. So name seemed easy to use. Or may be sir is also good to go …

    Comment by Indu Lekshmi — June 13, 2008 @ 22:41 | Reply

  14. Tat wuld be ideal.
    But ofcourse all this came frm other cultures.You can try calling your ammamma or anyone of that age group by name. They will surely give u a class on our ‘traditions’ and ‘culture’ 🙂

    Comment by rose — June 14, 2008 @ 06:49 | Reply

  15. @Indu yeah, it happens all the time, and half of the time we dont realize it!
    @rose, people from West dont call their Grandma by name. Grandma is what they call is my guess 🙂 And others of that age group they call Ma’am or Ms So&So. But of course if the same old lady is a close friend, they go by name.
    And that is not what I want to try 🙂

    Comment by Cris — June 14, 2008 @ 17:15 | Reply

  16. if u ever try that u will prolly get few more entries to your Malayalam baddies list hehe!
    But u totally got me wrong. I meant, we never had a calling-by-name culture. You can know how imp it was to them, if u ask ur granny or someone of that age grp or above( that was the intend, not calling her/them by name).

    Comment by rose — June 14, 2008 @ 23:03 | Reply

  17. @rose, Oh I didnt get that. True indeed my Gran stares each time I call my big bro by name hehe

    Comment by Cris — June 15, 2008 @ 11:46 | Reply

  18. an interesting article about the “sir” addressal – quite relevant in this context

    Comment by deepak — June 17, 2008 @ 18:52 | Reply

  19. Each culture has got its difference. It’s not slavery to respect elders and mentors.

    Comment by Abishek Aditya — January 4, 2017 @ 16:06 | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: