We Tamils are fond of using the word 'Sir' frequently in our conversation.
திருச்சி எம்பி சிவா அவர்கள் மக்களவையில் பல்லாண்டுகளுக்கு முன்னர் பேசியது இன்றும் என் நினைவில் நிற்கிறது. ஏன் தெரியுமா? அவர் வார்த்தைக்கு வார்த்தை சார் சார் என்று சொன்னது தான். சென்ற வாரம் டாக்டர் அப்துல்லாஹ் (பெரியார் தாசன்) அவர்களை சந்தித்துப் பேசிக் கொண்டிருந்த போதும் உடன் வந்திருந்த நண்பர் அவரை சார் சொல்லிப் பேசினார்.
சார் போட்டு பேசுவது எந்த அளவுக்கு சரி?
கிருஷ்ணா The Wallstreet Journal இல் சுவையாக எழுதி இருக்கிறார். விவரம் வருமாறு:
I had turned on the television soon after getting home from work in the hope of wiping out a rough day.To read the full article click here.
The FilmFare awards — Bollywood’s tribute to its own - were on. The speaker was Neil Nitin Mukesh, an up and coming heartthrob in Tinseltown. He was addressing superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan, the comperes for the awards ceremony.
The two Khans, in an attempt to inject humor into the proceedings, were posing questions to other actors in the audience. Those questioned, in turn, were expected to respond with creative insults, tongue-in-cheek, to the two Khans — all in good humor.
Shah Rukh is in his mid-forties and Saif, I suspect, just turned 40. Wikipedia tells me Neil Nitin Mukesh is 28. When I heard Neil speak, it made me stop and wonder why a grown man was addressing the two Khans as “Sir.”
My first thought was that it was the sheer inadequacy of the English language. In Spanish there is usted — a respectful form of you. And of course nearly every Indian language has the Hindi equivalent of aap — a pronoun reserved to demonstrate respect to someone senior, elderly or even, at times, a respected colleague. The use of these forms, from Bhojpur to Chettinad, is rarely about status or inequality but largely about courtesy and culture.
But there remained a niggling feeling: What if this is not a linguistic shortcoming but something deeper?
I shared my theory the next morning with my two business partners, who were actually working instead of wondering about Bollywood’s sociological makeup.
Did not most Tamil folks in Chennai use “Sir,” abandoning the more archaic (and potentially feudal) “ayya,” they argued. The Tamil movie industry, too, is rife with Rajni-sir and Kamal-sir, though I wasn’t sure if that bolstered their case or not. By that point anyway they had returned to doing real work.
What is my gripe with “Sir,” you ask? Yes, it is perfectly serviceable for class 8 students to use it when addressing their English or even their Hindi teacher. Possibly it works for the maitre d’ at a fancy Euro restaurant since his snooty attitude does away with any illusion of who’s the master.
Any other time, there’s far too much of the servile tone of a colonial job applicant imbued into “Sir,” which 60-odd years of Babudom have only cemented further.
Spend an afternoon sitting in a bank manager’s office, on a manufacturing shop floor or in a police or income tax commissioner’s office and you are likely to encounter “Sir” enunciated in every imaginable accent. If you have been in a hospital, you can’t but help see the doctors get their share of “Sir,” many a times as “Dr.-Sir.” Even within the information technology industry — despite its global exposure and purported performance-based culture -– deference, at times even subservience, follows the “Sir.”