Uncle!

Though I am in my late 40s, I usually feel 30ish and on good days, 20ish. The world however never misses a chance to remind me that I am not 20 or 30 years old anymore.

Last weekend my wife and I flew to Hyderabad for a running event. I had pre-reserved the seats 1D and 1F, hoping no one would sit in 1E, thus giving us the whole row. As luck would have it, an old wheelchair bound lady occupied 1E and because of her edema feet could not exchange seats with us.

We continued to talk across her. Once, when I got up to go to the toilet, she asked my wife, who incidentally is just 1 year and six months younger than my 48 odd years, “Yeh aapke mamu hai?” (Is he your maternal uncle?). I guess, old people with their cataract eyes find it difficult to figure out ages. I have no idea what made her think I looked like my wife’s uncle!

The next day, around the 8th km of the half-marathon run from Secunderabad to Gatchibowli, a pretty, young, woman running beside me, told me, “Keep it up, uncle.” I immediately snapped, “From what angle do I look like an uncle, kiddo?” She mumbled some apology and then told me that she was upset because I had called her a kiddo. She seemed to be in her late 20s or early 30s. We bantered a bit and then I moved on.

The final straw came during airport security on the way back. As I passed the frisking, the guard manning the x-ray scanner called out and asked if the steel-grey Tumi was mine. I said yes and realized he must have seen the metal medal from the race in the bag. He asked whether I had run the race and after I said yes, asked me what my time was. When I told him that it was a little over 2:30, he said “Aapke umar ke liye to achha hai!” (Your timing is good for your age). I challenged him to guess my age. A little embarrassed, he backtracked and told me he thought I was in my 30s. Interestingly, everyone from the guard frisking the next passenger, to the passenger being frisked, to those waiting for their bags and the rest of the guards…all stopped doing what they were doing as if they had been “statued”, to listen in on the conversation. My wife kept grinning away.

It is bad enough that my kids’ friends call me “uncle”. This started around 10 odd years ago, and I had no choice but to let that go. But when people in their 20s and 30s without any thought address me as “uncle”, it really gets my goat. Call me by first name, or Mr. Last Name or “Sir”, but uncle…? I am not your mother’s brother, or your father’s brother or related to you in any way whatsoever.

Two weeks ago, while looking for some “kantola” in Matunga Market, the bhajiwala addressed me as “uncle” and I had to threaten him with a walkout before he stopped. The problem is he then had no clue how to address me.

Not that I haven’t been guilty of similar faux pas’ when I was younger. And till recently, when I came across people in their 60s and 70s, I often used “uncle” and “aunty”, without really thinking, until it struck me that if I didn’t like being referred to this way, I am sure there are many others who can’t stand it as well! I have since stopped.

And you?

40 Comments

  • Hehehehehehehehehehehe . . . . !
    Especially if the “kiddo” is a very pretty one, I’ll bet !

    Yes, have had the same experiences – the heart feels very young – in fact it has not aged at all – but to someone else, my salt and pepper grey hair makes me an uncle…..

  • Bibhas DasGupta wrote:

    Never bothered me :-)

  • GS Dastur wrote:

    Hmm. My 86 year old mother recently complained about being called ‘Aunty Katy’.
    By a ninety-four year old lady.

  • Haha, so true and so annoying.. I guess this is an Indian trait..any stranger becomes a ‘uncle’ ‘aunty’ ‘bhabhi’ ‘bhaiya’ etc.. I’d prefer using ‘sir’ ‘maam’ or my fav ‘boss’ :-)

  • Ajay Bhonsle wrote:

    Well well well! ‘Uncle’ used to irk me too,especially when some pretty young thing addressed me thus, but not any more. There are so many people of all ages(some older than me) calling me uncle, that now I have started taking it as a compliment! (It is definitely better than ‘hey you’)! And yes! I can imagine the smile on Mrs.Jankharia’s face- Mamu!

  • Vasumathi Sriganesh wrote:

    By that logic, would you be okay if your students did not address you as Sir, but by first name? Am curious :)
    In India we have a mix of all such feelings; some things having changed over years.
    Traditionally anyone older was never addressed by name – it would be Uncle / aunty or Dada / Didi etc.
    It is mainly in the US where addressing someone by their first name is common. I still do find it odd when my brother in law’s grandkids (who are partly American) address him by his name! And so do his students who are younger than his kids…

  • Start wearing T shirt with Words I am Bhavin in English, Hindi and Gujarathi as you are in Matunga.

  • Vasumathi Sriganesh wrote:

    And incidentally in South India, people of the same age used to address each other as Mama / Mami – because addressing by name was not considered respectful!
    Life is tough in India :)

  • Lol…you are so real…thats why i like to read ur column…things that people take for granted…
    In south people are addressed as ‘Sir’ and ‘madam’…
    I can also imagine Mrs.Jankharia’s smile…:)

  • LOLZ….. Even I am mighty upset at being referred to as Uncle!!! Makes you feel so old. Gimme a break kids… I still call people uncle so how dare am I being branded Uncle?

  • Janak Sheth wrote:

    Uncleji accept your age and move on. There are better fights to pick at street corners. :-)

  • Thrit E. Bharucha wrote:

    I am 63, and granu to two beautiful boys. But I believe I look like I am in my forties and feel like I am in my twenties. Some years ago, when I used to go about in shorts at home over weekends, someone had thought I was my husbands daughter. And now people have the audacity to call me ‘Maaji’! And my hair is not even that beautiful silver as my husband’s yet!

  • “Uncle” The term, is used in India to pay respect, although you might find it offensive because it implies that you are old, but in the same case you should also point out the proper meaning of the word “uncle” which is one’s parents brother. So, accept your age, as have I when I’m walking across my neighbourhood and the kids call out “Uncle ball!! PLEASE ..” and I’m half your age.

    Cute article though … Would you prefer if we call you “ChaChaji”?

  • The flight incident, I do feel bad for you…. Try dressing younger…

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    I was dressed young…enough.

  • Yeah, at 31, i find it odd how to address people in that age group.it gets funny when you grow with someone. so when i was 15 and a neighbour was 25 or thereabouts, he was fine with uncle, but now i am very carful to call him that! i have found that addressing them as “sir” is a good way out!

  • I have an elderly friend who is 87 and he calls me Mami. I have threatened not to talk to him till he call me by my name. He is learning, a bit slowly though!!

  • P. Venkatraman wrote:

    I and my wife have a 7 year age difference. But her friends have looked at our FB photos and asked if I was her father in law etc.

    I do not want to tell her that this is because I do not colour my hair :-)

    Life is tough Uncleji Sir. “Chill yaar” as the Kiddo might say :-)

  • Manisha Ginde wrote:

    Heh heh heh. Vasu had a heart attack 17 years back when first year engineering students of a class opposite to our lab called him “Uncle”. He does not respond to that term anymore. I can imagine Bijal grinning from ear to ear.

  • H. L. Chulani wrote:

    ‘Uncle’ is respectful- imagine being addressed ‘Buddhe’!:))

  • Dr. Rahul Navalkar wrote:

    This one really puts things in perspective …
    My name is Meena. I was sitting in the waiting room for my first appointment with a new dentist.
    I noticed his BDS diploma on the wall, which bore his full name.

    Suddenly, I remembered a tall , handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in my high school class some 30-odd years ago.

    Could he be the same guy that I had a secret crush on, way back then?

    Upon seeing him, however, I quickly discarded any such thought. This balding, gray-haired man with the deeply lined face was way too old to have been my classmate.

    After he examined my teeth, I asked him if he had attended St Mary’s high school.

    “Yes. yes, I did.’ he gleamed with pride.

    “When did you graduate?” I asked.

    He answered, “In 1984. Why do you ask?”

    “You were in my class!!!!”, I exclaimed.

    He looked at me closely.

    Then,
    that
    ugly,
    old,
    bald,
    wrinkled faced,
    gray-haired,
    decrepit,
    son-of-a-bitch,
    asked,

    “What did you teach?”

  • Lakshmi menon wrote:

    I liked Meena’s story though it doesn’t seem true.

    In mid 1970s (yeah go ahead and guess my age!!!) I was a librarian at a convent school and I encouraged the students to call me by my name. I reasoned that they could hardly call me “teacher” and I did not like to be called “Miss” – not when you are just about 20 years! The school staff was horrified and felt that the youngsters would not respect me (I was barely a few years older than the students). See how obsessed we are about our age!!!
    Then a few years later at the university library, we staff members were addressed with a honorific “Miss” Menon (Ms was not yet in vogue). I was amazed and questioned this practice and I was told so that the peons do not act familiar with the women female staff. Gosh!!!

    Now I have grayed and I am sometimes addressed “Maaji” and I innocently turn around to look for the ma. Honestly I have stopped caring what people think. When we address or refer to youngsters as “Kids” they snarl in response. So no matter what age, we hate how people regard us.

    Bhavin, I think this is a very trivial issue you are wasting a column on. Please stick to pertinent issues, two of your earlier ones I had serious objections to, but I was too tired to comment on.
    Lakshmi

  • Sundaram M R wrote:

    Best solution, grow old, gracefully! Take ‘uncle’,’mamoo’, ‘chachaji’ as terms of endearment or (I’d like to think) acknowledgement of age, exxperience and ‘wisdom’ :)

  • nanda bhadra wrote:

    Hi! Reading ur article has revived my experience.i believe addressing by their name or mam or sir may not be offensive.how much ever u try to cover ur grey, face is our barometer.?

  • I never mind any one calling me uncle for a long time now. I normally address others as “bhai”

  • Bijal Jankharia wrote:

    I’m still chuckling “mamu”

  • While talking about “Whom to call what”, when everything failed to clear footpaths crowded by ladies of all ages while passing some select shops, I found a sure shot. I call them – “Maataajees, Excuse Me”. They turn their necks in shock to glance at me and soon my way becomes clear!

  • Its funny how we look at ourselves as ever young and handsome or beautiful. When I see myself in the mirror and when I see the image of my recently clicked photograph, I don’t recognize my own self. But photographs never lie.

    But why take life so seriously, if some stranger calls us uncle or aunty affectionately, which is a respected way to address by the way, instead of ‘old man’ or ‘chasmish’ or some such expletive.

    The trouble with us is that we never want to look or grow old.

  • Sriganesh wrote:

    I think being called Uncle is better than being called “Bhai”, like Dawood Bhai, Mirchi Bhai etc.

    Kerala – It is “Chetan” – Elder Brother

    Tamilnadu – It is “Anna” – Elder Brother

    Bengal – It is “Dada” – Elder Brother

    I feel these are much better than Uncle, Sir etc.

    Anyway all Gujjus are Bhai and Ben so they cannot stand Uncle, Aunty and Elder Brother, I guess.
    :-)

  • This article, as I can see, has struck a chord in all. Isn’t it time we re-train ourselves and our kids to Mr or Mrs whoever they address. I like the american way of addressing your elders with a Yessir or Yesmaam. It doesn’t show any disrespect to the addressee, neither demeans them.
    I am amazed to see people your own age or even older ‘Uncle’ing you. High time they’re set right. Wish you could turn these responses into a followup column.
    Kudos Bhavin

  • Ravi Ramakantan wrote:

    Hi! Uncle Bhavin,

    Have a great week end!

    Ravi.

    :-)

  • Dr Jagmeet Kaur Chawla wrote:

    he he bhavin
    it sure hurts, but the final straw was the mother of a 2 year old patient, before getting up told her son say bye bye and thank you to dadi. I started looking around in my clinic whose dadi and realized she was addressing me. i nearly fell off the chair!
    as if aunty was not enough!

  • Taral Nagda wrote:

    Bhavin
    Time to listen to song Dil to Baccha hai ji !

  • Unless I am missing some underlying humour in the whole thing which I don’t think I am I am honestly surprised that you of all the people will be affected by such things….I really thought you are above all this :-)

  • Sir ! i think there are more things to sit and worry about than uncle/aunty. How many times do we ourselves follow something called dignity of labour, and treat all people with respect eg. vendor, help, chai walla etc..

  • Armaity Patel wrote:

    Madam and Sir belong to the Angrez who ruled us for many years and insisted that they be addressed as such to distinquish us and them Masters and slaves!

    After they left many wanted to discard Sir and Madam so a few started with Uncle and Aunty, slowly these were replaced by Maaji, Babaji, etc.

    But now our youngsters of say 4 years onwards address the house maid as “aunty”, and drivers of school or home as “uncle” how do you look at that? Can you suggest a solution?
    Our house boys and female servants including the gangabais address us as “Mummy”, “Daddy” or Baiji and Sethji !!
    and if the employers are young they address them as bhaiji and bhabhiji or didi etc!
    Now we are so used to that we accept being addressed in any form as long as there is no DISRESPECT in addressing.

    Your coloumns bring out the best/worst in us and a brainstorm begins! Good for our mental health! Good Luck!

  • Armaity Patel wrote:

    Madam and Sir belong to the Angrez who ruled us for many years and insisted that they be addressed as such to distinquish us and them Masters and slaves!

    After they left many wanted to discard Sir and Madam so a few started with Uncle and Aunty, slowly these were replaced by Maaji, Babaji, etc.

    But now our youngsters of say 4 years onwards address the house maid as “aunty”, and drivers of school or home as “uncle” how do you look at that? Can you suggest a solution?
    Our house boys and female servants including the gangabais address us as “Mummy”, “Daddy” or Baiji and Sethji !!
    and if the employers are young they address them as bhaiji and bhabhiji or didi etc!
    Now we are so used to that we accept being addressed in any form as long as there is no DISRESPECT in addressing.

    Your coloumns bring out the best/worst in us and a brainstorm begins! Good for our mental health! Good Luck!

  • Jayesh Desai wrote:

    There are two aspects to this thing, mindset of addressor and that of addressee. Since you can not control others it is best to control ours. As long as you are confident of yourself, why worry what others choose to call you? then only thing remains to be decided is if one is addressed with respect or not. Well you can choose to respond in kind, respect with respect and disrespect with dignified silence.
    This is the 38th response! you do manage to touch the sweet spot!

  • Indira Laul wrote:

    Hi B! Totally empathize with you. What’s with us Indians and the age thing? But, guess what–I’ve often been mistaken for being my husband’s daughter…and I love it!

  • Hi Bhavin

    Quite hilarious

    I have had people calling me uncle since I was 20, people who are themselves much older. So I just started ignoring it.

    My Mom feels vegetables vendors and presswaalas get a kick out of calling all ladies ‘aunty’

    For me, ‘Boss’ works best when in Mumbai

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