Around 7 this morning a mason who works on the construction of a house on our street showed up at our gate and asked me if the owner was in.
Now this conversation took place in our garage where I was standing next to the car with Zoozoo the puppy. Legally, I am the sole owner of the house and the car. As for Zoozoo’s ownership, the other residents of this house would have no hesitation in telling you that I am the mother, guardian and sole person responsible for Zoozoo and all her actions. And that I guess would effectively make me her owner although Zoozoo certainly thinks she owns me.
So I said ‘yes, I am the owner’. The guy laughed and said, ‘I want Saar, the owner’ and he stressed on the word ‘owner’ just in case I did not get it. That is when it dawned on me that ‘owner’ is a translation of ‘the Kannada word yajamanaru’ which means master, owner, husband et al. dating back to a time when the patriarch owned everything in the house including wife, farmhands etc.
What irked me was the fact that he laughed when I said I was the owner. Made me realize that my legal rights and status were of no concern to him. In his thinking, my husband would be the yajamana, the owner.
I am not a great fan of politically correct expressions but occasions like this make me wonder if such expressions might actually help in sensitising people to social changes and in changing stereotypes.
Stereotypes tend to get deeply rooted in our psyche and surprise us by showing up most unexpectedly. Bollywood stars are generally known for playing safe and being very correct in their statements . But on Saturday Abhishek Bachchan sprang a surprise by calling a lady who could not be much older than his wife as ‘aunty-ji’ on a game show hosted by him. The lady looked like someone in her late thirties. Even if she was in her late forties there is no need for a 35 year-old guy to refer to her as ‘aunty’. I feel that it is all this aunty- ing that makes most women in this country ‘feel’ old by the time they hit their forties. Our society even has norms for the activities considered ‘appropriate’ for women of that age. Some people say that it is a cultural thing. We are not supposed to call elders by name. I don’t know about that but I guess I speak for my entire generation of urban Indian women, that we would much rather be called by our names than be called aunty by anyone older than twenty-five unless they happen to be our own nephews or nieces or friends of our children.
Most of the time when people in their mid thirties call me as aunty I know that it springs more from their inner urge to feel younger than any respect for my age. And in any case, why respect someone just because they have been in this world for so many years? I guess getting rid of this respect-for-age concept would help us look for some genuine qualifications to respect a person rather than just a few gray hairs or a walking stick. The hypocrisy about all this ‘respecting elders’ thingy was pretty glaring while watching Mahabharatha on television. Duryodhan and his siblings would unfailingly –ji and –shree all the elders like Thathshree, Kakashree and Brathashree while showing gross disespect and sometimes even contempt towards them. It would have made no difference had he called them ‘hey Bhishm’ or ‘yo Yudhishtr.’ Respect manifests through one’s demeanour and attitude and not merely by mouthing some words that are supposed to denote respect. I wonder how many women reading this feel very respected when they are 'auntyji'ed.
Are their similar words in your language or in English that irritate you?