Of Names And Addresses
The success of startup cultures, the emergence of under-40 millionaires and an ambitious young workforce point towards disruption of past stereotypes
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It is interesting to study the varying cultures in different Indian organisations in terms of how people address each other, particularly seniors.
In government and bureaucratic circles, the convention of using a Mr or Mrs, Shri or Shrimati, or the Ji suffix to the family name indicate that formality remains universally prevalent. Manufacturing behemoths of veteran vintage and Indian origin, somehow have stayed true to such formal traditions. Being deferential to the seat of power and according respect to designation have been the mainstay of the structure of these organisations as well as related society. The highly placed within a political or business structure would be addressed as per their role such as Madam Chairman or Your Excellency.
But as one enters the portals of relatively younger organisations, especially service businesses, especially those touched by global cultures, formality gives way to a loosening up, enough to give credence to first names.
North India also has adopted its own unique version of respect by a first name-cum-Sir-or-Ma’am synthesis. I would be called IG Sir, rather than Mr Gupta. Bengal would grant its Babu appendage to the name, and when pushing the envelope on endearment, transgress into a Da or Di after the first name.
However, there are institutions (quite a few schools, for example) which foster the culture of addressing other colleagues exclusively as Sir or Ma’am. While this may satisfy some egos, this terminology may also inculcate an impersonal type of culture that puts system above individuality. One usually uses Sir or Ma’am when one doesn’t know a person’s name, such as at an airline check-in counter. However, when a Business Class flyer is addressed as Mr (Surname) when being served his meal on-board, he feels acknowledged and important. Similarly, in any organisational setting, among colleagues, addressing another by given names or surnames honours people as unique individuals and not cogs in the wheel; people feel good to hear their own names on the lips of others. Doesn’t one feel affronted when someone you’re with suffers from a senior moment and forgets your name?
The use of first names (sans title) by a younger person while addressing a senior in terms of age would be frowned upon in our country. But in the western world, university students are encouraged to call their teachers by their first names and do so with natural ease. In the early days of bureaucracy, seniority of designation came with seniority in age. In today’s India that paradigm has been overturned. The success of startup cultures, the emergence of under-40 millionaires and an ambitious young workforce point towards disruption of past stereotypes.
While I am not advocating the dilution of Indian culture, it is perhaps time for new-age India to embrace an informal and open approach to relationships, and consequently naming, without too much of layering.
Just as names emerge from a cultural reservoir, so should naming lubricate an evolving culture. India’s progress can and should be reflected through its internal organisational conduct, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As someone said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”
(The views expressed are personal)
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