For those interested in the many facets and quirks of the Desi culture especially relating to relationship dynamics, there is the intriguing world of those bound in matrimony (the married folks).

You may, or may not be aware, but there are many many phrases and references in desi circles to the husband, all without actually using or referring to his name in any shape or form.

Some examples being:

  • Mere Sartaaj: My crown (literal translation crown of my head)
  • Majazi Khuda: Worldly God
  • Jee: affectionate term best translated as “Dear”
  • Jaan/Jaanu/Jaani: My life
  • Khasam: Husband (not terribly PC – used in Punjabi dialects and commonly when referring to another’s husband rather than one’s own)
  • Khawandh: Husband (in ye olde Urdu)
  • Shohar: Husband (in ye olde Urdu)
  • (insert childs name)’s Abbu: Father of (insert childs name)
  • Mian: affectionate term, best translated as my dear one, darling. (In Urdu books they always referred to the parrot as Mian Mittu (sweet darling) )
  • Wo: (Formal) Them
  • Aap: (Formal) You
  • Unko: (Formal) Them
  • Mera Bhudda: My old man

Amongst some Desi women calling the husband by his name would be a considered rude, disrespectful, perhaps a sign of defiance, ill manners and (in the extreme form)a method of belittling his authority or insulting him. For some it was the local custom of the culture to call the husband using the children’s name as a suffix to Father e.g. Father of X. Some even believed using his name would incur wrath or bring about bad luck from the spirits, the worst case scenario resulting in his death.

Such attitudes are still held amongst the elder generations where women still refer to their husbands in the formal “them”. As a result one resorts to referring to the husband using formal language or speaking of him using the formal rather than informal nuances (e.g. using “wo”, “uney” (“they” or “them”)) – anything but definitely not calling him by name.

Part of these attitudes and customs go back to the idea of respecting the elder or those superior to you. Not calling elders/superiors by their first name is a code of conduct in Desi cultures – you refer to them either as brother, sister, aunty or uncle. And as  the husband was (and is) considered the “leader” the same rules governing conduct relating to names were (are) also applied to him.

However, as time passes these attitudes, ideas and superstitions are dying out particularly amongst the educated city dwellers in the Indian Subcontinent. There remains a small minority of the rich upper class to refer  the husband in the formal in the company of others- perhaps as this is more appealing for their social standing, having an air of aristocracy reminiscent of the nawabs – haut monde .

But you can still come across the odd scenario where a woman will want to gain the attention of her husband in a gathering of other couples. She hesitates to use his name and will instead say “sunaiyeh” ((Formal) listen) or a combined with “jee” to get “sunaiyeh jee”. This results in all the old men turning around assuming their wife is seeking his attention or calling for them.

Hilarious. I kid you not.