Cross-post: Just Because

She got the promotion.

She is good at her job.

If the first sentence is a result of the second sentence, there are three ways to write it:

She got the promotion because she is good at her job.

She got the promotion as she is good at her job.

She got the promotion, since she is good at her job.

In an absolute grammatical sense, all three sentences are correct. But, as with all self-proclaimed language mavericks, we are uncomfortable with “as” and “since” used as causative conjunctions.

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The family props

Yesterday, I had to deliver some financial documents to my auditor and landed at his office half an hour before the appointment.  I needed to pass by his living quarters on the first floor (American second)  to get to the office on the second floor (American third).  The auditor was in his living room, with a lungi around his waist and a towel across his chest, churning buttermilk for lunch.  He saw me pass by, called me into his home, gave me freshly churned spiced buttermilk, and chatted about family and stuff before he changed into formal wear and we went to his office.

Mr. S has been my auditor since I was 21 and started submitting IT returns.  He was the auditor to my dad and my dad’s older brother, when they were in the fray as well.  In fact, he has practically retired now, and has passed on most of his clients to his daughter-in-law who has taken over the running of the firm, but has retained a few ancient clients like me.   He knows my financial history completely – the times that I was broke, and the times when I did exceedingly well.  He is, in effect, my “family auditor”.

Having “family professionals” is not new to traditional Indian families.  Apart from Mr. S, I have a family doctor, Dr. R.  He started practicing when I was four, and knows my physiological profile in and out.  I still go to him for my ailments.  I never see a specialist unless Dr. R recommends it, and so far, the need has not arisen (ob-gyn being an exception).  I have never taken my child to any pediatrician except for vaccinations.  For all of her other ailments, it has always been Dr. R.  I have been judged by many people for not taking my little one to a pediatrician when she was sick, but she grew up fine.  

Until a few years ago, we also had a family lawyer.  He was the lawyer to my grandfather and then my dad, not that we needed much legal assistance – just in some property purchase kind of operations.  I don’t have a family lawyer now – Mr. N died of ripe old age. It bothers me, but one of my friends is a lawyer, and so, if need be, I can go to her.

Ours may be one of the last families that have (and are fast losing) family-professionals.  I have grown up with these people that I cannot think of going elsewhere for these services.  I dread to think of the day that Mr. S and Dr R retire.   At least in Mr. S’s case,  his daughter-in-law would take over, and the business will continue within the same family.  When Dr. R retires, I will be lost.  I’d better stay healthy. 

On relationships

Yesterday’s post and the comments on it set me off on this post in my head, and although I have a pressing deadline today, I must write this one, else the world would end.

“Uncle” and “aunty” are new concepts in my side of the world, i.e., they are less than 20 years old. When I was growing up, only Anglo-Indians (or what remained of them) were addresses as such. For the rest, we addressed as Mama and Mami. To know what exactly Mama and Mami are, you need to know the relationships in Indian settings.

In almost all cultures of India, and all linguistic communities, each relationship has a separate name. Here’s the list in my native language, Tamil.

  • Mom: amma (some communities, Aatha)
  • Dad: appa (in some communities, apache)
  • Older sister: Akka
  • Older brother: Anna
  • Younger sister: thangai or thangachi
  • Younger brother: Thambi
  • Grandfather: Thatha (in Tamil, both paternal and maternal grandfathers are called Thatha, but in many languages including Hindi, they have different names. E.g. in Hindi, maternal grandpa is Nana and paternal grandpa is Dada.)
  • Grandmom: Paati (in our community. There are other names like Aachi, among other Tamil communities. Also, in Hindi and other languages, maternal and paternal grandma’s have different names – Nani and Dadi in Hindi, for example)
  • Father’s sister and her husband – could be older or younger to father: Athai and Athimber (in some communities, Athimber is mama)
  • Father’s older brother and his wife: Peryappa and Periyamma (literally big-father and big-mother)
  • Father’s younger brother and his wife: Chithappa and Chithi
  • Mother’s brother and his wife (could be older or younger to mom): Mama and Mami
  • Mother’s older sister and her husband: Periyamma and periyappa (same as dad’s older brother and wife)
  • Mother’s younger sister and her husband: Chithi and Chithappa (same as dad’s younger brother and wife).
  • So, technically, Mama and Mami mean mom’s brother and his wife, and we address non-related older couples as that.
  • There are also other relationship names that have gone out of circulation like Atthaan (athai’s son), ammanji (Mama’s son) etc. We don’t use them any more.

I have left out a whole bunch of relationship names on the husband’s side. Like mamiyar (mother-in-law), mamanar (father-in-law), nathanar (husband’s sister), machinar (husband’s brother), sakalai (wife’s sister’s husband – yeah we get that specific), etc.

Now here comes the part that is icky to Westerners.

Marriage between cousins is allowed. But not all cousins. Only specific sets of cousins. Cousins can marry if their respective parent siblings are of different genders – brother’s child can marry sister’s child. Children of the same sex siblings are considered siblings themselves and it is incest to pair them. For example, my father’s brother’s children and my mother’s sister’s children are my siblings. But I could marry my father’s sister’s son or my mother’s brother’s son. I personally consider it icky, but I know cousin-couples. A girl is also allowed to marry her mother’s brother. Again, I find it weird, but one of my childhood playmates is married to her mama – mom’s brother.

Another thing is that the relationships don’t stop with the first circle. The above descriptions hold for dad’s cousins and mom’s cousins too. So, dad’s older male cousin is still Periyappa, and dad’s female cousin is still athai. And their children are also our cousins.

Leendadll commented on the earlier post that even friends are called cousins, among the Indian community. I’ve heard many people say that, but that is just as weird to me, as it is to you. I don’t call my Indian friends my cousins. However, our circle of relations is large. Anyone even distantly or remotely related to us are called cousins. Cousin of cousins are called cousins. For example, if you are Indian of a certain age, you’d know our erstwhile cricket champ Srikanth. Srikanth is my second cousin’s cousin. So, I call Srikanth my cousin (“why are you always related to famous people?” my daughter whines all the time). My cousin’s Periyamma on her mother’s side is also my Periyamma, although I am related to my cousin on her father’s side and, in Western viewpoint, have nothing to do with her maternal relations. Have I confused you enough?

That said, we also tend to thrust relationship names to people who are close to us, but not really related by blood. For example, my grandparents had an adjunct house (“out house” it was called) that they let out to families. One particular family became very close to us. I would address the couple as Mama and Mami, which was nothing new, that’s how we addressed any older person, but their children addressed my mom and dad as Athai and Athimber (dad’s sister and her husband) – although my mom and their dad were not related.

Leendadll also said that she has heard of communities introducing themselves along with age, so that people know how to address them. I’ve never heard of it. In my community, the men (are supposed to) introduce themselves by quoting their lineage, because we are all supposed to have descended from seers and sages millennia ago, and we (the men, actually – it is a patriarchal culture) should mention whom they descended from. No one does that anymore.

All these relationship names are dying out, at least among the metropolitan, cosmopolitan Westernized generation. Everyone is aunty or uncle. I repeat what I wrote in the previous post, it is ok for old things to die out and new to form, but it is a loss when cultural practices disappear. Personally, calling people by relationships reinforces that we have a blood-bond between us, which strengthens the relationship. I still feel that when I address a non-relative older person as mama and Mami, they warm up to me instantly, as against the more disinfectant and alien uncle and aunty.

But then, I am a boomer.

On culture

When I went to an American grad school at 21, I addressed my advisor and all other professors as “Sir” and “Ma’am” and all of them asked me to either call them by their last name (Dr. So-and-so”), and in some cases, by their first names. While I could adapt to the last name bit, I was extremely uncomfortable about first-name-calling.

A few years back, I communicated with an Australian through his blog to learn more about something he specialised in. I always addressed him as “sir”, until he wrote back saying “I know Indians have this practice of addressing strangers as sir, but you can call me by my first name”. I was uncomfortable, because I considered him my “teacher”, but I did (and do), because he asked me to. I occasionally write to a few non-Indians that I “met” over blogs, and I address them by their first names, even though it doesn’t feel right because (a) they are older than me and (b) I don’t know them enough. Some Indian bloggers that I now know well, I have no qualms being on first-name basis (Laksh, Momto2cuddlebugs and Maha, for example), because they are good friends and around the same age as me.

So, to summarise the above, I have grown up calling people older than me as “sir” and “madam” (or “Mama” and “Mami” – uncle and aunty – if I know them in a non-professional or non-academic setting). It’s hard for me to call people I don’t know by their first names, unless they request it.

I find that the younger generation of Indians, at least the Westernised ones, have no qualms addressing all and sundry by their first names. Case in point. One wing of my work involves editing manuscripts for college students. It pays pittance for the effort involved, but I do it, more as a service. Usually, the students, who are not Westernised and are not particularly conversant in English, address me as Ma’am.

Recently, two of my friends, who are professors in a high ranked institute in India, introduced their students to me, and requested that I help edit their manuscripts. Strangely enough, both these students addressed me by my first name. Oh, I am not offended. It just felt weird.

One part of me remembers a 13th-century Tamil verse that roughly translates to “the passing of the old and the entry of the new is but a natural order*”. I have been part of the passing of the old myself – in the simplest example, my grandma wore 9-yards saree as daily-wear, my mom, 6-yards, and I wear salwar on a daily basis, with both 9- and 6-yards relegated to occasions. So, why can’t it be so with address as well?

But the other part of me (“the boomer” as my daughter calls it) feels wistful about the gradual loss of a cultural practice. Cultural heterogeneity has its own beauty, what?

*பழையன கழிதலும் புதியன புகுதலும் வழுவல கால வகையினானே

And now for something completely different

To be honest, I have no idea what I am going to write here. I just want to post something that would remove that rant post from the top of my blog.

So, here’s the ramble.

I occasionally drop my daughter at college, and when I do that, she plays her kind of music on the CarPlay. Sometimes I engage, sometimes I switch off. Her choice of fusion pieces usually speaks to me. Recently, she played a fusion cover piece of an Ed Sheeran song, Shape of You.

This cover is by a bunch of British-Indian (I think) youth and I loved it. Even more than the original piece. You know, I often hear rants that start with “kids these days..” that go on to list the deficiencies of anyone less than 40 years of age. When I listened to this piece, all I thought was “kids these days are so darn talented”. They have the opportunity, and they use it to the hilt.

And attitude. What attitude.

So, here’s the cover version.

And the original is this: