Indian Expat Parent: What's in a Name?
“Mom, Rosy asked me to bring this to you,” my daughter said, thrusting a letter into my hands.
“Wait, isn’t Rosy your teacher?” I asked, confused.
“Yeah, silly,” she said and laughed it off.
This simple conversation left me befuddled and hurt. My daughter had addressed her teacher by her first name — that confused me. And she went on to call me silly — that hurt me. Just give me a minute and I’ll explain my predicament.
You see, in India, especially in the south, teachers are revered, along with parents and God. “Mata, Pita, Guru, Daivam” is an age-old adage that explains the essential order of reverence or respect a person should show the people who impact his or her life. The mother comes first (yay!) — she is the first person in a child’s life and is the one who introduces the father. The mother and father later entrust the child into the teacher’s hands to create a fulfilling future for their offspring. It is through the teacher that the child reaches God.
In Indian culture, addressing teachers (who are essentially considered knowledge-givers and scholars) by name is an insult to the teacher and shows a profound lack of manners in the child. The upbringing of such an ill-mannered child is always questioned in our society. And so, I was taken aback by my daughter’s irreverence to her educator. I immediately felt defensive.
Was I bringing up an ill-mannered child?
When I was young, I was taught to address my peers by their first names. But anyone older, even by a day, had to be addressed as an older sibling: Bhaiya — big brother, or Didi — big sister.
If the age difference is large — 10 years or more, I was taught to call them ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle.’
My parents insisted on this practice. We respect our elders. We respect age, even if the older person believes that their little village is the center of the universe and there’s no life beyond the 20-km radius. This is the expected decorum. It’s how a well-brought-up child would communicate in a social setting.
And here, my kid was abandoning courtesy and resorting to disrespect by calling her Guru, who was clearly older, by her given name.