Yeah, like in how do you address your hubby actually. Indians are quite formal and respectful towards anyone older – within the family and outside even random people are your uncle ji aunty ji, so ‘ji’ suffix added to extra politeness or sweetness like in guruji, masterji, panditji, and universal bhaiyyaji. You never find us off guard, calling our neighbours elders or teachers, by names, a minister is always mantriji, or the prime minister is never a Mr Prime Minister but, Modiji, sometimes even English terms aren’t good enough until tweaked into sir ji, madam ji and aunty ji or mummy ji, not just auntie or mom.
Women in India did not address their husbands in public or private by their name only now it has caught on. Actually there’s a curious history to it. Indian women were brought up to believe that husband is god, pati parameshwar. Olden times husband were addressed as Nath, Swami, Yajman which literally translates into owner indicating wife as possession, so husband was actually considered custodian or owner of the wife. Some lessons in patriarchy here. Also good wives never called or referred to husband by name out of fear of reducing longevity of the life span of the husband. Men are free to call out their wives, longevity is not supposed to be a issue.
Sometimes wives referred their husbands by their profession, especially the well placed as doctor saab, vakil saab, thanedar saab, or masterji. In turn women got tagged by husband’s profession by default and were addressed by others similarly. Such as a village headman wife in marathi was called Patlinbai meaning the Patil’s wife, Doctorinbai like doctor’s wife. Funnily, respect flowed from husband’s rank or position in society. The Maharashtrians have a ritual during marriage and family functions, called ‘naav ghene’ or ‘ukhane ghene’ meant taking your husband’s name, where the woman recites a small rhyming couplet which contains the name of the husband, coyly, ribbed by her relatives. No, but it’s meant for women only, husband can call out wives name without any ado.
Women in northern states add ‘ji’ or ‘saab’ to the husbands name like in Virji or Tandon saab. So, again we’re just being respectful. Or it’s ‘sunte ho’, ‘suniye’, ‘ai ji’ ‘oh ji’. All meaning please listen. Many of older generation called out their husbands as bacchon ke papa (children father),sometimes as elder child’s father like Sonu ke papa, or Sunil ke baba, sahil ke abba. Now that is DNA test in oral for you. Hilariously, out of sheer force of continued habit of calling their husbands as papa or baba for children, wives actually end up calling their husbands as baba over period of time. We had a neighbour who in her 60 actually calls her husband ‘pappa’. I’m not sure of the scene if he started addressing her mom. Queer, as it is.
Telugu speakers call husband as ‘emmandi’, Tamil it’s ‘ennegai’, meaning what yet with respect. Malayalis strangely say ‘chetan’, ‘cheta’ or ‘ettan’, corrupted version of chetan, which literally meant brother, and why we did that I never know, because we call our elder brother as chetan too, some confusion here. And now we have Mohettans, Rajettans, Vijayettans. Malayali Christians say it as acchayan. Again few Malayalis say ‘dey noku’ literally meant look here or ‘keku’ meaning please listen. Gen next got a notch above and called husbands “da” more lover like “hey dude. We’re are now- come da, po da, fine da, okay da.
Even during our times, the English speakers were fashionable with terms of endearments – dear, darling, love, sweetheart, honey, honey bunny, babes cupcakes, munchkins etc, but all out of earshot of in-laws. Now since we’ve moved Hinglish upgraded ourselves to sweetu, shona, baby, jaan, jaanu, and frankly they are done to death.
Many of us who learnt to call our husband by name freely and confidently, owe it to English education. Idea of freedom and equality helped us to overcome our inhibitions. Several of us were remonstrated, chided even corrected to not address husband’s publicly.
Many years back, I remember at a party, one of our friend’s mother came up to me, a new bride to find how fared in my marriage. I happened to refer to my husband by name, and was ticked off for being casual and upfront. She asked me to be respectful and address him as Muraliettan. Last being the suffix ‘ettan’ short of chetan or brother. Of course I stood my ground, but it definitely ended ruffling feathers, one of my first offence in marriage.
Call a man by his name, after all why must men have all the fun. Trust me it’s definitely liberating.