The first thing that had been difficult to comprehend and blend into, when I had married, was the nomenclature attached to each individual in my husband’s family. It is important the address is not messed up, for if I address his mama as mama and not Periappa, I’d run the risk of rendering my nuptial into a sibling one, or so I was told. If that wasn’t confusing enough, it is considered near blasphemy to address someone by name followed by the direction, like “chandru mama”. And of course, I am not even going into the logistics of addressing one’s husband.
So as you can well imagine, I am still working on getting the directions and names right, while fumbling on tendency to swallow names and repeat only addressees. My M-I-L has been a real sport and mouths me the addresses while I try to make conversation in broken tamil to my extended family. Having never followed the formalities to the T myself, at home, that even the cousin fifteen years older is addressed by name, I had taken a while to understand the norms and come to realize their need.
In some cases the addressee would be confused to be called “mama, chittapa, athimbar” and what not that it’d finally be rendered easy to take the name or invent new ones like “baby, kunjappa” et all and that’s how it stayed, with akka, anna et all dusted away in the background.
While I had initially regarded the stringent nomenclature a sign of formality and absence of closeness, I believe they are there to show you respect and family unity. And having been brought up without any siblings, only makes it more murky in my capacity. So when I was eight and my cousin thirteen, she was still V akka to me; today we are still the best of friends and the akka is lost somewhere, that I had almost forgotten that my younger cousins still addressed me akka.
So yesterday my cousin Kichu sent me a file of songs and he called the file “toAkka”. I swelled a little like the eight year old taking care of a 3 year old Kichu, who’d back then shower me with undue pinches and like a proud owner of his new milk teeth, enough bites too. May be for that tiny moment it came clear to me why N’s family obsessed over the address; Probably the strangeness with which we sometimes fail to relate to blood-relations does unwind with a meaningful address… maybe we should all give it a try… Probably even the Ambanis should.?