Corona is doing strange things to me and my life. Two years of isolation gave me a sense of tremendous liberation including the determination to stop contributing to the coffers of L’Oreal! I can’t tell you how gleeful I felt about this decision. I could now divert that sum towards better purposes. However, other consequences of this decision are rather discomfiting! In this part of the world, it is common place for young vegetable vendors to address a person even in her 20’s or 30’s as ‘aunty’. Imagine the shock when I was first addressed that way! From being treated like the dimwit infant of the family to ‘aunty’. I came home and started counting the grey strands in my head. There had been a time when I treasured every single grey on my head in the hope that it would fetch me some ‘respect’! But ‘Aunty’ in my mid 30’s was still a shock. Which brings me to the definition of that word ‘respect’. Long, long ago, I remember an occasion when an elder who wanted to bless me, demanded that I prostrate to him in order to ‘earn’ those blessings. (Thought in my head at that time: Preconditions for blessings? Do I need such blessings?) Much as I did not feel great respect for a person who demanded from a younger person that (s)he touch his feet, I complied. Not that I had a great option without creating a scene. So surely, prostrating to someone does not imply respect. There are people whom one feel like prostrating to – they are truly inspirational and have achieved something tremendous beyond the mundane achievement of having lived ‘x’ number of years on earth and ‘y’ number of years more than oneself. That, however, should be left to the judgment of each individual. Yet another sign of ‘respect’ is the ‘ji’ which seems to be universally and often mindlessly added to names these days. It especially brings to mind political and Bollywood circles and has an air of not deference but excessive servility. But that is my personal opinion. Corona and the resulting refusal to fatten L’Oreal’s coffers has led to undesirable if not totally unexpected consequences. Of late there are many young people who address me as ‘aap’ or ‘ji’. It feels really strange, to say the least. Do I not appreciate ‘respect’? I certainly do, provided it is genuine. I do not wish anyone to touch my feet – it makes me very uncomfortable, in fact I hate it. I would much rather a hug or a hand shake or even a plain Namaste, which seems more egalitarian. I would much prefer love to come my way along with that respect, a feeling of approachability and affection. But it is also difficult to tell someone, especially a stranger, not to ‘ji’ me, for fear that it would be mistaken for vanity!!! Maybe their conditioning makes them uncomfortable if they don’t! Cultural habits are extremely deep rooted. How do I address an elderly stranger? It would certainly feel audacious to address a person just by first name - unless the person explicitly wishes to be addressed that way. Mr/Ms XYZ sounds very alien and formal. So the easiest way forward is acceptance – just grin and get used to it. We never choose in life do we? Neither as youngsters, nor when we grow older. The existential problems of life, I tell you!