Monday, 18 June 2012

Hey Unkaal!

As I was crossing MG Road the other day, a street urchin tried to grab my attention. He thrust something under my nose, muttering some gibberish.  Being practically stone deaf in my left ear, I ignored him completely, and walked on.  Feeling slighted, he upped the ante. 

“Hey UNKAAL!” he screamed from behind me, “Bas kya??”   

This `nephew’ of mine was apparently trying to market some foul looking concoction which, if his marketing pitch was to be believed, would work wonders on my joints, essentially restoring me from a doddering sixty to a sprightly sixteen!

I have other such `nephews’ too - my barbers, or to use the more politically correct term, hair dressers. I use the plural because sadly, the good ones have a tendency to scoot off to greener pastures. My first guy, aptly named Iqbal, is now practicing his art somewhere in the Middle East. Salim, the next one is now in South Africa, and Mohammed, the present fellow, is just about getting the `feel’ of my intricate coiffure.  What the three of them had in common, apart from the fact that they each wielded a nifty pair of scissors, was their propensity to call me – you guessed it – UNKAAL! “Ekdum mast baal hai, unkaal!” 

Then there’s the butcher at Shivaji Market who, as he pretends to pick the choicest cut of meat for me, invariably adds by way of greeting “Kya unkaal, baut din baad aaye!”

I’ve become an `uncle’ to all and sundry of the next generation - from strapping young lads in their teens to middle aged dads in their 40’s! The burning desire among the youth of the world to ingratiate themselves as my nephews is only mildly irritating, and something I can live with. 

It is the lissome young lasses and PYT’s whose `uncle’ tag rankles the most.  At my age, with more salt than pepper in the mane that provides soul and sustenance to the likes of Iqbal, Salim and Mohammed, I’m considered a `safe bet’.  An avuncular pat from me can never really be mistaken for a wolfish pass – so why the pressing  need to be branded as my nieces, pray? When these hotties call me `uncle’, I gently remind them of the esteemed company they are in, and implore that they atleast pronounce it properly, ie UNKAAL..

Why can’t we ape the West, and use first names? Does it reek of familiarity? The kids at `Junior Master Chef’ always address their hosts by their first names – Gary, Anna, George. In the extremely popular `The Bold and the Beautiful’, Brooke routinely addressed Ridge’s parents as Eric and Stephanie. Ok, admittedly that was the wrong example, given the goings on in that serial, but you get the gist. The heavens don’t fall, the earth doesn’t tremble, and God continues to be in heaven, while all continues to be well on earth. 
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines `uncle’ as `brother of one’s father or mother’ or `aunt’s husband’. Yet, in the Indian subcontinent, any male family friend automatically becomes one’s uncle!  Take a stroll down any Army cantonment with your `lady wife’ (this term, peculiar to the Armed Forces of India and Pakistan, is so abhorrent, so vile, so cringe worthy that it deserves a separate blog post altogether!)  and you will encounter well mannered kids chanting in unison as they pass you “Good evening uncle, good evening aunty!"

So to all you nephews and nieces (particularly nieces) out there, take a cue from my grand niece Ria, all of four years old, resident of Seattle, USA. When she calls out to me in her shrill, delightful American accent "Hurreeesh!", I can all but lay the world at her feet!


  1. Sometime last year I met this 20 something (late 20s) PYT, a mother of one (they can be PYTs too) in the lift. “Hello Uncle” she greeted. It didn’t taste well. I hatched a plot and brought my daughter (early 20s) into the scheme of things. Next time we deliberately caught her in the foyer where my daughter greeted her “Hello aunty” before she could “uncle” me. I looked at her and smiled and she understood. She never “uncled” me again. The word has spread in the colony.

  2. The interesting point here is that pretter the PYT, more the "Uncle" pinches. Correct? Its time you just accept it, Pa - Unkaal is here to stay. We have been trained since we were kids to go "Good Evening, Uncle" whenever we crossed an officer. You taught us that too, remember? We can't suddenly forget all the years of training now, can we?
    Kids of my friends will call me Uncle too, and its ok. Maybe the fogies can start a POT (Personable Old Timer) club or something!

  3. Harish, In this regard, i love the Bengalis. They simply add a Da to the name and that sounds cute, respectful and for senti guys (like You!!) it may be adorable. How sounds Harishda??

    Love srini

    1. There's a hilarious joke about the Bengali `da' - next time over a drink...