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An elderly couple using a laptop Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Some of the new generation people might find it funny to hear the lady in a conservative family telling her husband, “Aeyji, zara suniye,” (broadly meaning: Please come here). Some would address her spouse as “O-ji”, a slightly crude version of Aeyji.

Perpetuating a mode that has been in vogue from times immemorial in many parts of India, she won’t call him by name because it was considered disrespectful. It would be relevant to point out that in the Hindu society, a woman has for ages been told to treat her spouse like ‘Parmeshwar’ (deity).

Taking his name or for that matter of any other elder, male or female, was a no-no. In earlier times, when domestic helps used to spend their lifetime working in a household, not only women but all those younger to him would not take his name.

The help, male or female, commanded the same respect that was given to any other elder in the family.

Likewise, men in most Hindu families also refrained from calling out their spouse by her name, particularly if some elder was within ear shot. Otherwise, he would also use the prefix ‘Aeyji’ or ‘O-ji’ while calling out his wife. But if there were no constraints, he might freely let out a full-throated call to Vineeta or Suneeta or whoever she is.

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However, with the world coming closer, growing awareness and opening up of the society, newer values have brought about a perceptible change during the past few decades.

Men in most families have, over the years, shunned the taboo. The trend continues. They call their wives by their name. But most women are still shy of doing so. Gradually, they are also coming out of the shell.

It has been observed that in case of an arranged marriage, particularly in the middle and lower strata (where the man and the wife are nearly strangers till the wedding is solemnised), the age-old practice holds its sway.

Almost all their life, they use the time-tested nomenclatures Aeyji and O-ji. But I must say that this is not a norm. There are exceptions.

Things are different in the case of what are known as ‘love marriages’ where the couple have known each other for a considerable time. They develop a close relationship because they had been together at college or were working at the same workplace where they addressed each other by the first name. When married, nobody could expect them to shift to Aeyji, O-ji.

However, things are different in the higher income group families. Here the old couple have no qualms about calling each other by the first name. Happily, in the true Indian tradition, the younger ones accord due respect to their elders.

Interestingly, the changing trends notwithstanding, I have seen even the most enlightened ladies shying away from calling their husband by their first name. So, they found a way out; they would address their spouse as Doctor Sa’ab, Vakil Sa’ab or use his surname viz. Bhatnagar Sa’ab, and the like.

In the countryside where transformation is slow, women in orthodox families use their kid’s name to address their spouse like ‘Raju ke Papa’ (Raju’s dad) or Pinki ke Papa.

Here the old couple have no qualms about calling each other by the first name. Happily, in the true Indian tradition, the younger ones accord due respect to their elders

- Lalit Raizada

The taboo had some other faces as well. Till a few decades back, most mothers-in-law addressed their daughter-in-law as ‘Bahu’. If there were more than one, they were designated as ‘Badi Bahu, Majhli Bahu and Chhoti Bahu’. Today’s Moms-in-law have bid goodbye to these pseudonyms.

The issue reminds me of an anecdote. Some years ago, while narrating an incident, my wife repeatedly referred to some character called ‘Munna’. That annoyed my mother who chided her saying, “Bahu, do you know that this is the name of your husband’s grandfather? Be respectful.”

May I point out that my grandfather Late Munna Lal left this world 71 years ago.

Lalit Raizada is a senior journalist based in India.