Friday, June 4, 2010

Respecting elders big and small

Some respect and reverence is given to elders in south Asia, so it's only fitting that there are several ways of referring to them:
  • "Uncle" and "Auntie" are often used for those who are elder but may not be related to you
  • An urdu term of endearment may be added to the end of your name or your role (the closest English equivalent for which might be something along the lines of "dear sister")
  • The Urdu terms for big and small are also often used

(On a side note, if you've ever seen the American movie Role Models, then you may remember that the 2 main characters are set up in big bro mentoring roles and are referred to as bigs and that their mentees are referred to as littles.  Of course neither of them are cut out to be role models and hilarity quickly ensues.)

Like French, Urdu uses the masuline/feminine language model, so the Urdu word for small is chota (masc.) or choti (fem.), and the Urdu word for big is buda (masc.) or budi (fem.).  Listening to native speakers, you'd find these words used a lot.  In south Asia when referring to people, nobody finds use of these terms offensive, and their use seem to carry equal reverence as does the one where a term of endearment is used.

As an American, I have to admit that we're slightly obsessed with being thin and don't like it when people refer to us as even the slightest bit overweight.  So for me, it's funny to hear these "small" and "big" terms used in the context of people, but (from what I've seen,) it's common among desis and in south Asia.

In our home in south Asia, we have several servants who are paid to clean the house and do the daily cooking.  Two of these servants both have the exact same name: Shaynaz. Since it becomes a bit confusing when you're talking about them, they're often referred to as choti Shaynaz and budi Shaynaz. The elder Shaynaz has been our cook for several years now.  The younger Shaynaz has been our regular servant who does light cooking (mostly chapatis, breakfast, and afternoon chai) and cleaning for the last couple of years.  Several years ago when I first met the elder Shaynaz (budi Shaynaz), she was quite a bit heavier (literally), so the name always seemed to fit. More recently when I saw her this year, she had lost so much weight that I barely recognized her. Despite that, the name budi Shaynaz has stuck with her, but now she is most certainly not big (at least not from the weight perspective).

We also have a nephew who is the son of my nand (sister-in-law) and nand-dui (sister-in-law's husband). Since my husband is the eldest of his siblings, when we visited after the baby was born, everyone wanted to call my husband "big uncle" (buda mamu), which of course made me the "big aunt" (budi mami). My husband seemed fine with it. I, on the other hand, wasn't digging it so much.  Even though there's a separate word in Urdu that means fat, for whatever reason, budi and buda always seem to mean F-A-T in my mind.  I'm sure it's just me being a crazy American I know it's not meant to be offensive, but since I'm anything BUT fat, I prefer not to be called budi.  Thankfully, I don't think my in-laws were too heartbroken when I asked them to switch from budi mami to Meliha mami.

1 comment:

  1. Regardless of the meaning of the words, the sound of budi mami is kind of cool. I like it.