Why? Reason is very simple. The full form of the word SIR is “Slave I Remain”
(Some people say, SIR stands for; S = Servant,I= I,R= Remain. Its “Servant I Remain”, during the Queen’s time. The title was given to loyal Knights. In French it is ‘Slave I Remain’)
India was the only country in the world that never had a slavery system for the last 10,000 years! Indians were made slave by barbaric invaders and pirates of Europe (Yes – The British, French and Portuguese didn’t come here with peace mission. They were just pirates, robbers and uncouth).
And India is the only country in the world where racial discrimination never existed.
We traditionally believed all are equal.
The advent of IT industry took this “equal” concept in different dimension.
Just like Americans the IT kids started using first name while addressing seniors and juniors. I don’t know if they call their parents too by first name! It’s quite possible, given the profile of the imitators.
The equality concept in India has nothing to do with that of Capitalistic countries or Communist socialistic countries. I know capitalists are lesser evil or lesser hypocrite than the communist socialists. If you address a local left leader just by his name, you are digging your grave. They expect you to call them “Sir” or “His Holiness” though in speeches they would promote equality and socialism.
Indian culture is founded upon equality. We see presence of divine equally among all. Only small men discriminate. Those who live magnanimously would respect each and every individual.
Ancient Indus Valley Seal print (5300 years ago) showing Namaste had been discovered by Archaeological scientists. That shows when two people in the Indian sub-continent met each other 5 millennium ago, they said “Namaste” (Namaskar or Namaskaram) means “I bow to the divine in you.”
It was a customary greeting when individuals meet or depart. Namaste is spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. This mode of salutation continues even today….
And in Sanskrit, we addressed others as “Shri” (Incidentally, it is a feminine gender. Shri has the root meaning of goddess of prosperity – Lakshmi but we used it for males. Similar to the ‘Mister’ in English). Married women were addressed as Shrimati (abbreviated Smt) (this is equivalent to Mrs in English) and unmarried (independent of marital status) women was called Sushri.
But in English, a woman in a position of authority or control is addressed as “mistress” (thus head-mistress in the school) – but be careful of using this word. In some parts of the world, mistress means a woman (other than the man’s wife) having an illicit sexual relationship with a married man!
Coming back to India, we respectfully addressed each other adding “Ji” in Hindi and Hindustani. Such addressing is basically an honorific suffix. In Indian sub-continent, we also use ‘Sāhab’.
In post-independent India, we solemnly pledge: All Indians are my brothers and sisters – I guess only Rajiv Gandhi walked the talk. Rest is history – it resulted in a super IQ child potential boy Prime Minister, who can even tell you the name of the capital of our country by-heart!!!
Haven’t you noticed, our kids routinely call complete strangers “Uncle” and “Aunty” ?
In short, we Indians respect each other. In Tamil, Thiru (acronym of Thiruvalar for males) and Thirumathi (for females) and Kumari for girls. Traditional Tamils would even address his daughter adding the suffix, “Amma”!
The honorific suffix in Telugu is Chi.La.Sou (Chiranjeevini Lakshmi Soubhagyavathi); in traditional Kannada honorific is the suffix -avaru; in traditional Marathi honorific is the suffix -rao, in Tamil it is the suffix Avargal/Vaal; in Telugu honorific is the suffix Garu. ln Bengali honorific for ordinary men is the suffix Babu…. this much I know.
Ancient Indian scriptures have elaborately defined the dynamics of the various relationships within families. For example, a grandchild can tease and joke with a grandparent in a familiar way, not permissible with the father or mother.
Manu Smriti talks about family relationships. The wife of an elder brother is for his younger (brother) the wife of a Guru and should be respected as mother; but the wife of the younger is declared (to be) the daughter-in-law of the elder.
We respect age. It’s not that a person elder than us is anyways superior. He/she probably won’t be smarter, intelligent or skilled than you. But we give respect to their age. For, elders and the respect for elders is a major component in our culture. An individual takes blessings from his elders by touching their feet. Elders drill and pass on the Indian culture within us as we grow.
“Respect one another” is a lesson that is taught from Ancient scriptures. All people are alike and respecting each other is ones duty. In foreign countries the relation between the boss and the employee is like a master and slave and is purely monetary. (Hence they called Sir).
If a person is even one day older than me, I call him “annu” ,”anna”(elder brother) or “Mam” (uncle) – all are Konkani words. In Malayalam I call Chetta (elder brother) or Chechi (elder sister). I am trying to avoid “sir” as much as possible, though it is not very practical (We are used to it and might need to address others “sir” under social pressure. We are ignorant about the true meaning and cultural implications. The word “Sir” came to India along with British)
Some people (readers or add-request-friends) would ask me directly, “you are older than me, what should I call you?” I tell them: “Call me elder brother in your mother tongue” for instance in South Indian languages “Anna”, in Konkani “Annu” ,in Hindi “Bhayya” so on…
Because, that word comes right from your heart. That word has a beauty and melodious tone. That’s your mother tongue. You will stop pretending at least for a second. You cease to live as hypocrite in the superficial society at least for a moment. And, above all, there is love, affection and affinity in it. Mērē priya bhā’iyōṁ aura bahanōṁ, śukriyā.
© Uday Lal Pai. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing at email@example.com