Horrific Honorifics

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose; By any other name would smell as sweet,” said William Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet.

I was reminded of this quote on seeing a government advertisement some time ago. It was very practical, and refreshingly different. Names of public office holders and political leaders were written simply, like we ordinary people write ours; although their presence continued to be august!

There were no appendages like ‘Ji’, ‘Saheb’ and not even the usual ‘Honourable’.

While I wouldn’t term any of those folks as dishonourable, I see no reason to emphasise their honourableness with unnecessary verbiage.

It is possible that the leaders themselves do not encourage such practices. Maybe it is their enthusiastic and loyal followers who occasionally indulge in such display of adoration, but sometimes it sounds too sycophantic.

The leaders of pre-independence days had earned public respect by their selflessness and sacrifices, so sobriquets like Mahatma, Pandit, Sardar or Maulana sounded natural and fitted them perfectly.

Even today, in Indian context and tradition, being respectful to seniors and elders by adding a ‘Ji’ after their names, like Modiji or Soniaji is alright, but as I saw on a billboard, ‘Srimatiji Soniaji Gandhiji’ is perhaps stretching it jist a bit too far.

I do know that the great man would certainly not have claimed it, but the name ‘Gandhiji’ has been implanted in my mind since childhood as the trademark of the Mahatma and I think all the other Gandhis, despite their immense following, have some way to go before they measure up to the same lofty levels of esteem.

I cringe at the sight of huge hoardings with photo-shopped images on street corners, congratulating unknown local leaders for obscure achievements or wishing them Happy Birthdays. Even those self styled social workers have lots of garnishing around their names in the hope of adding to their respectability. Such earnest efforts only make one wonder if they’re trying to hide something.

The British had exalted forms of address like ‘Your Highness’ and ‘His Excellency’, but even they have become direct and simple like the Americans. That happened, I suspect, not the least because the self proclaimed ‘Last King of Scotland’, the late ruler of Uganda, Idi Amin, outflanked and outranked them with his horrific honorifics by calling himself, ‘His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal, Al Hadji, Doctor, Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular’!

I’m sure he was not aware of the possibilities of extra terrestrial life, or he would have lorded over the aliens too!

Fortunately, we have not had such megalomaniacal dictators in India. Yet we need some restraint in the way we address our leaders. Therefore, whoever authorised the above advertisement deserves kudos for this ground-breaking new initiative.

And did it make those leaders any less respectable? Certainly not.

Ever heard of Williamrao Jeffersonji Clintonsaheb or Margaretdidi Thatcheramma?

©Avinash Chikte


9 thoughts on “Horrific Honorifics”

  1. Umesh Shastri

    Nicely written. While on the subject, I’m personally quite intrigued with the honorific ‘Honourable’, and her cousin the ‘Right Honourable’, that’s used for our politicalwallahs, given that they are seldom Right and very rarely Honourable!! Any thoughts.

  2. Ranbir Singh

    A very valid point brought out so clearly and pleasantly.

    Keep it going Chiket .

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: