CALL ME FRANK
An aunt of my mom – mom’s mom’s sister – was brought to Bombay, by one of her uncles, when she was barely 11. So, as years rolled by, she lost contact with her family in Mangalore. Her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all got disconnected with their relatives in hometown.
Recently, one of mom’s cousins, from this particular family branch, got in touch with me. He was very keen to reconnect with all his relatives from my mom’s side. Thus, we decided to meet here at my place, last week.
Mr. Frank Furtado is my mom’s cousin’s name. He is in his seventies… but is good-looking and healthy. We both felt very happy meeting each other. He had many interesting stories to share with me; all of them he had heard from his mother when she was alive…
“Call me Frank,” my mom’s cousin told me during the course of our conversation… I was addressing him as ‘Sir’.
“Well, that won’t be possible for me, Sir,” I sincerely confessed, “It’s not in my nature to call you by your name.”
“Same here, with me, too,” my mom’s cousin said, “even though I just encouraged you to call me by my name.”
We finally settled for ‘Uncle’… My mom’s cousin was quite happy with that!
Some thirty-five years ago, when I was relatively new to this city, a young friend of mine, who was then studying in First Year BA in St. Xavier’s College, had invited me to attend a programme in the famed college. While he was taking me around the corridors, I heard him greeting, “Hi Joe,” “Hi Denzil,” “Hi John,” and so on…
Joe, Denzil and John, I learnt, were all my young friend’s ‘Jesuit professors’, who wore layman’s clothes!
It was the first time I was getting a kind of culture shock. I spent an hour arguing with my young friend as to why it wasn’t a proper way of going about…
Well, I lost the argument, that day… But, I did gain a very valuable insight: ‘My focus should be not on how to address the other person; the focus should be on how sincerely I should respect him!’
Ever since that day, whenever I find some of my own students, who once addressed me as ‘Sir’, now addressing me as ‘Gerry’, I don’t feel offended or shocked at all. At least, when they were my students, they did not call me by my name in ‘my corridors’. So, I still cannot fathom fully how my young friend, years ago, coolly kept calling his own Jesuit professors by their first name, as though they were his classroom buddies!
I have not checked this out with others… I don’t want to. If both the parties are fine with it, so be it!
We do not encourage our little kids to call their Nursery and Primary school-teachers as ‘Mary’, ‘Juliet, ‘Pooja’ etc. “Say Miss,” we teach them. If it a male teacher, it is always ‘Sir’. For High School and college teachers, it is always ‘Ma’am’ and ‘Sir’.
We do not encourage our children to call our religious priests and teachers by their first name… It is always ‘Brother’, ‘Father’, ‘Swamiji’, ‘Guruji’, ‘Master’ etc. If it s a woman, it is always ‘Sister’, ‘Mother’ etc...
No matter how high we rise in life, or how old, my father will always be a ‘Dad’, ‘Papa’ or, as I call him in Konkani, ‘Baab’. And, my mother will always be ‘Mom’, ‘Mamma’ or, as I call her in Konkani, ‘Mai’. I can never ever bring myself to call them, one fine day, "Hi Alex" or “Hi Celine”!
Ditto will be for my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and brothers, sisters, and cousins who are older… Ditto for my teachers, bosses and various officials, even if they are much younger in age… I just cannot bring myself to call them by their name. If I do, it will be only with a suitable Prefix: Mr., Mrs., or Miss.
But, then, I am not trying to demean anyone’s way of going about it. If it is culturally fine, so be it… If it is fine with both the parties, so be it.
It all started with my mom’s cousin, who is much older than me, nudging me, last week, “Call me Frank.” He is my ‘uncle’, you see. Therefore, I like it that way… The old-fashioned way. We both are not only happy about it, now… we are at peace, too!
Pic.: Pradeep Nanda