One of the first things that the HR told us on our entry into the Infy Mysore campus was ‘we don’t use Sir here. Everyone including NRN is addressed by first name’. Was a little difficult at first – having Sirred all our professors in college, not Sirring someone in the authority felt odd. But once you fall into the practice, it seems the much more sensible option. Whoever invented Sir and Madam, must have thought that a single word could inject a lot of respect and command into the system. Wrong. Respect does not come from Sirring someone. Respect is an action, not a word, it is a behavior, not – I repeat, a word.
Unfortunately we still live in a world that enjoys being Sirred and Madammed. Not all, but yes the number is not less. After infy life, I continued with the first name rule at several places before I started sensing the displeasure it created. The how-dare-she expressions people wore were too obvious to be missed. I could not quite grasp it because I shuddered everytime anyone called me Madam. I took a lot of pain to stop them! And so it seemed weird to me that there are people who actually enjoy it. There were exceptions too. I was the only one calling Anoop John by name during my short stint in Zyxware and he said: “I tried telling them not to call me so, but they don’t seem able to digest the idea.”
I remember my friend and former colleague Sanjeev telling me “I hated it when you called me Sir. But I didn’t want others who enjoyed it to be ripped of that pleasure because of me.” Friend and one of the best writers I know – Sabin – made it clear on the very first day (when he was editor and I was reporter at Yentha) – ‘Please don’t call me Sir!’ And now Ayyappan at Deccan Chronicle, tells me “In Indian Express when you were an intern it was fine. But now we are colleagues, so please call me by name.” There was Madam trouble too – I first called Saraswathy by name and later Madammed her when someone advised me to, the time I freelanced for Metro Plus.
I still maintain that people who teach us call for a Sir or Ma’m or Mister or Ms or at least a Professor. But the problem however is there is no particular system in work places. So we will have to rely on instinct to decide who prefers what. Safer route always being to call all seniors Sir until they tell you to please stop. I don’t have any problem in calling people Sir – if it makes them happy, I’d be glad to give them that bit of happiness. But for sure, that is not where my respect comes from. Respect is a feeling, and I repeat again – not a word.
(Silly aside to serious post: My friend just read this and told me my entire professional resume seems to be in here :D)