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?

43 Responses
  1. In a system where one is not supposed to mouth the husband's first name audibly, I don't see us graduating to a stage where someone younger than me will call me by my first name. I've been called Tai(sister),Bai(lady),Kaku,Mavshi(aunty) ,Aji(Grandma), not to forget Hey, and Oye!.

    I basically decide how old I feel. The rest dont matter. :-)

  2. sunith Says:

    Well, It is even more nasty in Kerala. The wife calls her husband "chettan" which means brother. I have no clue why, but that is the way it is.. Incestuous, I say!

  3. Anil P Says:

    Call them back by the same 'title' they use :-)

  4. DivSu Says:

    "Yo Yudishtir" loved that!!!

    BTW, I always referred to you as "Usha aunty", I hope you didn't take it amiss. I am over 25, though not very much over it :D

    BTW, you and I share the same IndiRank, yay!!

  5. Sunil Deepak Says:

    Living in Italy, it took me some time to get used to calling people by their names. Now I also prefer being called by my name rather than being called uncle or sir, though I understand that many young Indian students are uncomfortable about it (though every now and then I do find persons who are cool with "Sunil ji", which is great)!

  6. Praveen Says:

    I refer you as "aunty" ONLY when I am talking to A, else Usha wonly :D

  7. Vijay Says:

    So what happened to the he still working?

  8. Sri Says:

    Hi Usha,

    Whenever any outsider comes home, they invariably want to speak to "Saar"..its only if the "Saar" is not at home,that they speak to the womenfolk..Even i was shocked when AB Junior called that lady aunty on National Bingo Night...even she seemed a bit shocked but tried to smile..

    I agree about ur Aunty point but i have to admit one thing-i call my MIL Aunty and not Athai and she is very happy about it, i dont know why!;)

  9. kusublakki Says:

    Lol @ 'Yo Yudhishtir'

  10.'s crazy that even in this era and age, the man is unequivocably considered to have the final say in matters at home...and I guess that's the reason the mason asked for 'Saar'...I would have been furious...specially given the fact that it's perhaps the woman, and in a lot of cases the man and woman share the responsibility, of taking care of all the nitty gritty details of day to day life as well as taking the big life decisions!!

  11. Neethi Says:

    I am sorry but I fail to find a main context of this post. I started reading it thinking maybe it would be a stab at social conventions about the man being the owner but you digressed to women being called "aunties" after they reach a certain age. Though I agree with both points, they either deserve separate posts or you need to seamlessly go from one point to the next. While mixing both together, you have not addressed both issues and have just stated the obvious. I apologize in advance if this comment annoys you.

  12. Usha Says:

    Suranga: It is standard practice in bangalore to call women akka or amma and men as anna. That sounds ok. But when the cable guy or the saleman at the local super market tries to 'aunty' me it irritates me. Having been married at 20 I became an aunty even to 18 year olds even when I was 21.

    Sunith: I have found that usage a bit confusing too. :)


    Divsu:Not an issue although Usha is just fine too.

    Sunil: Yes, use the name and if you must show respect add ji. I remember at my bank the men would always insist on calling me Usha madam!!

    Praveen: Haha, I know that! That'sbecause you knew me before you knew A. A's friends obviously call me aunty.

    Vijay:Heheh. kaal kai en muridilla guru. He is fine!

    Sri:This Eureka salesperson comes and gets all the details from me and then asks 'saar's name?'

    Kusublakki: Hehe

    Priyanka:Ya they expect the man to be the decisionmaker. But what irked me more was the use of the word 'owner'

    Neethi: The point was to talk about cliched usages which no longer make sense today and how they tend to reinforce stereotypical ideas.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Oops.. same reaction as Divsu.. Sorry I called you Usha Aunty. I do have the same problem as you, though in my case it's college going kids calling me aunty just because their mom works with me. I wish I could tell them, that long ago, when they were in elementatry school, I was still in high school, and so they have no right to make me their aunty!

  14. Ravi Says:

    Misplaced respect in India creates this comedy of errors. I have been called 'Mama' and 'Uncle' by boys and girls not much younger than me. I realized they were not being disrespectful. Its just that they were hesitant to address me by my name out of respect.

    Parents have the help teach their kids the proper way to address elders. Uncle and Aunty even when suffixed with 'Ji' doesn't jell when addressing someone not related to you.

    Remember the old Godrej dye ad where the word 'aunty' echoes while the woman looks at herself in the mirror in disbelief? I think there was a similar one for 'Uncle' also. That insensitive ad summed up Indian ignorance.

  15. Bones Says:

    I think it's our culture of respect that's responsible for this...I've been called an aunty since I was 30! I too find it difficult to address an older person by his/her name at least initially...I usually start off as Mr.X or Ms.Y...I'm sure the majority of people would be offended if some younger stranger address him/her by his/her name at the first instance...

  16. Serendipity Says:

    Usha, I think there's one person who's very relieved when she's referred to as "Auntie" , and thats the Pillpopper.Owing to her husky voice , most people(on the fone, thankfully)call her "Uncleji"


  17. Seema Says:

    I am all of 31 years old.
    Last weekend,some youngsters(19-20 years old)called me Aunty.
    I was so amused by this as I think I fell into the 'Aunty category' simply coz I am a mother to a 1.5 year old son.But I dont think they would have called my husband( who is also 31)Uncle.different rules for different genders.

  18. AS... Says:

    I would prefer being addressed using my name than aunty, anyday!!I am 24 and am getting married in June. 10-15 yr olds in my fiance's family have started to address me as aunty. It gives me creeps and makes me weep...

  19. Raj Says:

    Usha, I urge you to be more considerate to Abhishek Bachu. One day he has to play the role of a teenager, the next day the role of a father of a 12-year old son played by his father in real life, the third day the role of a 25-year old in love and proposing marriage to the heroine who is his wife in real life... He must be one hell of a mixed up person, forever losing track of relationships. Is it surprising that he referred to a lady of his own age as "Aunty"?. I wouldn't be surprised even if he called her "Uncle".

  20. I'd prefer to call people who I don't know by their names, but the flip side of this is that when I do, the very people stare at me or think I'm being disrespectful or "aping the West."

    I feel very uncomfortable, calling someone "aunty" or "uncle" especially when I'm acting in a professional capacity, but the truth is, most women want to be called that out of respect.

    Any suggestions on how to avoid these words without offending?

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  22. Anonymous Says:

    I call a lot of women Ms X or Ms Y - aunty is only for mothers of friends from school.

    I find 'auntyjee' is also sometimes used to taunt or insult.

    Some of my nieces and nephews call me by name, and now I realise why... :)

  23. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" - Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1594 :)

    So, Usha, whom did you find more offensive, Abhishekh Bachchan or the mason?

  24. WA Says:

    :) as a 20 year old I used to get called 'aunty' by teenagers just cos I was a married woman. I just used to stare back in disbelief. Now my teenager's friends me by my first and that throws me as well.

    As to the shopkeepers, salesmen etc calling customers aunty, that is so not right. Annoying

  25. Rachna Says:

    I was working in Jharkhand for a brief period of my life- and there, once somebody asked me where my "malik" was. I was horrified!
    Besides, I was not marrried at the time, so no "malik" anyway.

  26. Parvathi Says:

    Persons in their mid or late thirties calling women in their fifties as aunty is funny.It is accepted that the way youth dress and look different over generations, but old are expected to be stereo typed over ages with their Zari sarees, judas and Ram Nam on their lips.I have seen people adding "Amma" once woman crosses fifty like, Suseelamma for P.Suseela and Janakamma for S.Janaki. It is insulting.

  27. Sirpy Says:

    You are perfectly right. Respect is hardly garnered out of an internal feeling; it is more like an antiquated play to say the right thing.

    Needless to day, the society is already sensitized to this. Just that the fashion it has may seem different not wrong. Anyway, I am all of 24 years old and have been talked to like "Uncle, please pass the ball" by a bunch of college kids.The worst part is I dont even sport a beard. :)

  28. hillgrandmom Says:

    I agree with Ugich Konitari--what you're called doesn't really matter- it's more like when a child you once taught in nursery class comes with their child!! Now that is old, whatever they might call you :-)
    But I think the respect bit is good, only maybe we should use the Brit system, with the Mr./Ms/Mrs tag?

  29. Lively Says:

    It is out of habit and many people in india, the ones older than 30 feel ok if they're aunty-ed or uncle-ed by kids. But the age gap in which you aunty or uncle someone is important. My husband's nephew calls me and him by name and it doesnt bother us one bit. He's 4 :)

  30. Anonymous Says:

    My first time here - followed a link to this post.

    I have been called Aunty ever since I got married at age 22! The weirdest is a neighbour of mine who must be at least 20 years older than me who always calls out loudly to me addressing me as Aunty! It sounds So weird that my mother took offence to it and asked her why she called me Aunty. To which she coolly replied that Aunty is English for Maami and thats how women refer to each other and address each other in South India. :D

    I had no comeback to that and even my mother was just flabbergasted!

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  32. starry eyed Says:

    Yeah, I always resent that yejman is used in place of the man's name or title. How ridiculous.

    You know, with most people, women are not heard (except as hysterical, silly frivolous), not seen (except as objects), but when a man says the same thing, prompt action and response are the result, whether it is the 'lower' classes or the so-called upper. Blech.

  33. CW Says:

    A friend of my husband's, who is 2 years younger than me, called me mami the first time we met (and I was 24!). I could not stop laughing. Demanded that he call me by my name, but SouthIndianness steeped deep in his blood, he refused to do so!

  34. Well said.

    The reverse is also true. Ladies in their 30s calling men in 40s 'uncle'. One called me so by e-mail and I started my reply with 'sister' and there was no more 'uncl'ing.

  35. Banashri Says:

    I read this in Bangalore Mirror on 09.02.2010. I chose to visit your page on blogger just to say I liked it very much. If ladies feel insecure being called aunty, we poor early balding men feel awkward being addressed grand-pa. It is the way world desires to name others.

  36. shakuni Says:

    well, perhaps 'elder sister' or 'elder brother' is more appropriate than first names.

  37. Unknown Says:

    Marriages within relations, at times, create confusion among the new members of the family. They relate me and call me as they think fit.Funny! I just tell them to call me by my name. Your post is an interesting thought. Thanks.

  38. Usha Says:

    NRImaami: As someone said in a comment earlier, I think people start with 'aunty' as a safe option. And most of the time the addressee fumes inwardly but doesn't object. I think we should let it be known if we are ok with being addressed by the first name with or without ji.

    Ravi: I can understand youngsters feeling awkward about calling an older person by their first name but only until they are 20 or 25. Beyond that there should be no problem calling someone by their name with a ji suffix. safer and more appropriate.

    Bones: I can understand a 15 year old addressing a 30 year old as aunty but not a 20 year old. And certainly their was no need for AB jr. to call anyone aunty. He is not a boy anymore.

    Seren: Ya, She told me this once. But I think ppl who call her uncle need to have their ears (and heads)checked.

    Seema: Ya this is another thing that puzzles me. Men are not uncle until they have a paunch and a few gray hairs. Women are , the minute they have a baby!

    AS: Hahhahah. I guess you should tell them right away.Nip it in the bud!

    Raj: I see your point.And his father is attracted to a girl half of AB Jr.'s age in Nishabd and about his age in Cheeni Kum. So he is not sure who he has to call aunty. And I love the usage "Abhishek Bachchu" Much better than Bachchan Junior.

    Mridu: Ask them straight away when you meet them first. If they insist on aunty/ uncle Go ahead. else name with a JI suffixed or Mr /Mrs so and so shd work fine for both.

    Anisha: Thanks for the kind words. I got to see the electronic version of the page where this post appeared. Thanks, It looked nice.

    IHM: Ya sometimes you are so used to seeing someone addressed as aunty or rohan ki ma etc that you dont even know their real name. Or they are known as Sharma Aunty, Misra aunty etc.Unfair no. What is a name for then?

    The RF:Rose by any other name might smell as sweet cos it doesn't know its name is Rose. But we do, hence the trouble.
    I found them equally offensive but Bachchu a bit more because he is expected to know better.

    WA:At twenty it offends you a lot more.

    Rachna: hahahha. I suppose that was Ghar ka malik. Here it is my yejamanru (master/owner).

    Parvathi:Yes I got up one morning about 10 years afo and realised that I had graduated from ushakka to ushamma!

    Sirpy: You don't even get to be anna before becoming uncle. That is unfair no! :)

    Hillgrandmom: I think Mr/Mrs/ Ms should become the norm or the -ji suffix and its regional equivalents for elders.

    Lively:Ya when there is a considerable age gap it doesn't bother you so much.

    Shankari:Ya I have heard this maami funda too from some people in Bangalore. I think it is some misconception they picked up watching Tamil films!

    Starry eyes: I think it is a carry over from a bygone era. The world around has changed but their thinking hasn't - In their imagination, the yejaman is still the decision maker lording over the people of his house.

    CW: ada kashtame. So tell him to call you akka no!

    Bala: This is what I find ridiculous - 30 year olds addressing 40 y.o as Uncle. Makes me wonder if they do it to feel younger.

    Banashri: Thank you for dropping by. It is not really a sense of insecurity but it somehow feels inappropriate to be called aunty by someone hardly a few years younger than yourself.

    Shakuni: If they must use a relationship ya, that seems better.

    Swaminathan: I can understand when your own nephews or nieces address you as Uncle/ aunty. But why a complete stranger like the salesman at the grocery store or the postman?

  39. hijabiamma Says:

    Usha ji, I don't know about you, but for me it feels awkward when men or teachers call me by my first name. I expect the teachers to call me by my last name because of their professonal capacity, and men because... I feel like I belong to my husband, and as I'm married now they should acknowledge that status by saying Mrs. Shah.

    Of course neither the teachers or the men do this since I live on the West Coast, but I wonder if these constructions were created to protect our boundaries, those things personal. I rather resent how everyone calls one another by their first name here... It's so different from the South(ern US).

  40. DivSu Says:

    @Usha (minus the aunty) - I quoted you here


  41. CatGunHome Says:

    This is called: Mardon Waali Baat.

  42. astatine Says:

    I came across your blog thru random clicks.. love it. Nice to read a blog by someone who is not a twenty something.. it is refreshing to read something different here...
    In my twenties I was called akka..and somehow the same kids' younger siblings call me aunty now..when I am 33!!!..
    I want to say that you have a great blog here...aunty :-) (Dont kill me)

  43. Anonymous Says:


    hilarious blog entry..but why should you keep a rule saying that a person below25 can call you aunty.
    Anyone above 18 is an adult & adults ahouldn't call you anyone else uncle or aunty.