NOTHING transcends geographical borders like the mom, dad, beta, baby syndrome that catches on with a long innings of a couple. I wondered who an elderly woman was addressing as “Abba” a man her own age, in Lahore till he answered “Ammi jaan…waqt par hun”.
It felt just like home merely 60 km away in Amritsar, where dad used to address mom as “Mummy” and mom vice-versa to dad as “Papa”. Now we too were doing that even before our silver wedding anniversary. It is not Lahore and Amritsar’s shared culture to be blamed for turning couples into each other’s mom-dad but a worldwide trend in marriages nearing a sterling silver.
I remember my most beautiful paternal aunt got married to a Merchant Navy guy. Exposed to countries other than “Mera Bharat Mahan” she addressed her husband “darling” and “sweetheart” as grandmother glared and we teenagers giggled. Tickled endlessly by the endearment, from Mills and Boons reading spree, we could not see the “darling” as the TDH (Tall-Dark-Handsome) but the not so familiar “sweet nothing” in Indian domestic circles surely stirred youthful longings.
A number of gifts from foreign lands kept granny mum but when a new daughter-in-law started the “darling” routine, granny mumbled her choicest expletives: “Hindustan vich reh ke, pati nu ‘darling darling’ kardi hai”. Our giggles were never ending . That was in 70s when we heard mothers call their husbands “Oh ji, Ay ji or Suno ji” and approving nods by grandmothers, till it became a hearty joke in films. Actually, schooling had changed all.
Often peer or parental nicknames either spread warmth of familiarity or turn one glacial in later life. My sister when addressed as Nane Shah felt prickly. ‘Petha’, ‘kaddu’, ‘nali cho-cho’, ‘tiddi’, ‘chiku’ ,’drum’, ‘elachi’ and ‘ghori’ were names of our tennis buddies. I felt that more often childhood names re-bonded the shared pranks but most don’t share my enthusiasm. Some even take offence over shortened names as familiarity no more fits them. So when I called my classmate, now a principal, by her short name, she boomed: “Call me Mrs Sandhu”.
However, my ‘darling’ aunt had a unique penchant for name-calling and so musical that none felt berated. A stay at her place was indeed enlightening. Early in the morning she exclaimed “Dhoop aa gayi” for the morning maid and “Raat aa gaya” for the evening servant. A vegetable and fruit vendor outside her house in the morning smiled widely when she asked him “Chor, itne din kio nahi aya?” while her grandchildren danced a merry-go-round with “chor aa gaya..chor aa gaya”. Why she called him “chor” is a long story.
However, some instances can hardly be forgiven. My husband called me by my pet Pomerian’s name: “My Guccu”. “Am I your dog now”, I retorted. “Oh my ‘Beta’, he said teasingly. Another time when I called my friend on mobile and called out “Dain” and somebody asked Seema who is “dain’, she replied: “Rashmi Honi hai…
FIRST PUBLISHED IN “THE TRIBUNE” PAGE 8 ISSUE DATED APRIL 28,2010