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.