Age, Wisdom and the Name-Game of Indian Elders

From a bua, to a few maasis, and a mama, I have them all and I’m assuming you do too. Unless your parents AND grandparents were only children, there’s a high possibility that you have at least one relative with a regional relative-status defining prefix as I like to call it. From the rich kids in Mumbai’s town to the poorest in their slums, we all have these names in common; a commendable trait that has withstood westernisation.

When I first learnt about how the western world addresses their relatives, I was thoroughly perplexed, an emotion which soon turned into pity. How do they tell their relatives apart? How do they address their ‘neighbour aunty’? How do they survive this world of relatives with only two ways to address them?! This however was not a result of  has been a result of the evolution of English, the words aunt and uncle have Latin roots coming from Mom’s brother (avunculus), mom’s sister (matertera), dad’s brother (patruus), and dad’s sister (amita); “Avunculus” became “uncle” and “amita” “aunt” over time.

Even with our relatively weird name for our Dad’s Sister’s Husband, we’re still the superior race when it comes to nomenclature, though still gender based, we have a disparity addressing the relation and are easy to modify according to gender. Though that’s not what I’m writing about today. Though this sense of respect is prevalent in our culture from the get go of addressal, where do we draw the line?

There’s a set perspective our parents feed us from the day we’re born, consciously or subconsciously, their world views and values are passed onto their children almost identically. Apart from the exception of school, there’s hardly anyone else in a 10 year old’s life who discusses politics and shares their views. Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise when kids get into fights about social issues they have very little knowledge about, due their belief towards them. To them, there’s only one way to view social issues, that is their parents.

However, I sleep with solace, grateful for the fact that when these children get older and become adults, their views tend to change. From friends and their co-workers to most importantly the media; everything starts to shape their views. Now, the question becomes one of devotion, respect and self identity. Do you adhere to your parents views, argue against them or like many submissively avoid the topic like Arnab Goswami and soft-talking.

There’s always a fine line to be drawn when it comes to devotion and respect in any relationship. However, when it comes to our elders, people tend to forget that. Will you prioritize your partner over your mental health? Will you do it for your parents, who have literally given you everything you know of? Categorically, both answers should be a no. This generally does not tend to be the case, the effect of parental views takes a toll on many, and with the overburdening societal influence of ‘respect’ this generally leads to many people accepting their elders’ views. The next step in this chain then leads to the whole family voting for the same person, following the same religion and subsequently doing the same to your own children.

Indian culture is well fed on the right nomenclature and hasn’t given into the modernization of these yet. But I’d urge us all to take it a step further. Respectfully speak out, learn and educate yourself. Have those uncomfortable conversations, even if they lead to the ‘agree to disagree’ conclusion.

Draw that line between respect and devotion towards your elders. Love them with all you have but also don’t hesitate to disagree with them. That’s not what is expected of us, and both children and the elders need to understand. Disagreement in world views does not mean disrespect, it just means the lack of devotion and the presence of one’s own identity.