Why We must go Beyond Form and Imbibe Substance in our Conversation(s)?

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By M J Aslam

Conversation is something we always all do with one another. It is “face-to-face, person-to-person, at the same time”. In this digital computer age, it can be on online conversation on cell phone, Whats-App, Messenger, audio or video chatting, between the people. It is “synchronous”, that is, happening at the same time. It is an “informal’ discussion or way of talking to each other. Form(s) of address are both integral and constitutive of conversation and thus communication. Forms of address in conversations vary from community to community, culture to culture, region to region, country to country. Within the same country or region, there will be different forms of address used by people in their day to day conversations with each other or others. These , in routine conversations in daily life must be distinguished from rule-bound speeches, statements and addresses of the people. Change of socio-economic conditions often changes or modifies forms of address in conversations. But among some communities due to simplicity or ignorance or illiteracy, it does not happen so.
In English there is only one way of addressing each other in informal conversations which is pronoun “you”. However, among Urdu or Hindi speaking people of the subcontinent, there are three forms of address in conversation of people. Three “pronouns” in place of the English “you” are “Aap”, “Tum” and “Tu”. The three words of conversational address are connected to relationship, status & power.
The first one “Aap” is used to show respect to the addressee who may be an elderly, a teacher, a superior, a boss, a preacher, or any other person of a higher socio-economic status. Nowadays, with increasing impetus in schools and homes given to socio-religious mores of elementary formal and informal education, the form “Aap” is used by younger generations towards elders within their families, relations and localities as a mark of respect, though in some rural areas children still address them by using “Tum”. But it does not mean lack of any respect towards the latter by any means of measurement. It actually arises from sheer love and intimacy, that the young people call their elders like “Bapu/Pita Ji/Walid Sahab Tum Kaise Ho” (Father, how are you?). Same words are used while addressing their mothers, uncles, aunts, siblings and grandparents.
However, the form “Tu” is generally taken as offensive in its use against such relations as mentioned above, and superiors and elders. This form finds its use in extremely intimate relations as between spouses but there also it is seen that husband usually addresses his wife by “Tu” while wife responds by “Aap”, or between lovers or friends. It is also used while addressing a subordinate or a person of lower socio-economic status in which situations it abounds with arrogance and pride on the part of the addresser.
Kashmiris, way back in last decade of 19th century recorded Sir W R Lawrence, had three forms of address in conversation. While addressing a superior they call them “Hut-Haz”, in their address of equal they call him, “Hutsa/Ahansa” and in addressing an inferior or a person of lower socio-economic rank, they call him “Huta/Hato”. These three words in common parlance are till date in vogue among Kashmiris in their daily conversations. While addressing non-Muslims especially Kashmiri-Bataas, the Muslims use the form of address differently such as “Mahrah” who respond by any of the three forms mentioned above depending on closeness with the addressee or his socio-economic status. But, many among the readers might not knowing that “Mahrah” is short form of the term “Maharaja” coined during Dogra dynastic rule when Kashmiri Bataas, also called Pandits, occupied all high and low positions in the monarchic officialdom though they constituted a small insignificant ratio of the population of Kashmir. Kashmir is 96% Muslim. The majority were just subjects with no rights in the administration, education and so on.
A good number of Kashmiri Muslims unfortunately most of the times fail to notice that the three forms of address in conversations, mentioned above, do not bear nuances of insignificant importance and impression among those who know the difference between these terms. They may be using these forms of address with each other and others sincerely and simply but keeping in mind that three words contain a visible difference in their connotations when used in conversations. The majority of Kashmiri Muslims under the influences of Islamic code of conduct which teaches and preaches “Arash e azeem khut e gow khuliq e azeem bodh” (best manners in talking stand at higher level than the crown of God), properly address each other and others in their daily conversations. However, in some segments of the population, the discretion in use of the forms of address is ignorantly, or innocently, not considered while addressing others. It is chiefly because of age old illiteracy and poverty which have been thrust on them by Dogra rulers and other assorted outsiders. It is also because of ignorance of Islamic code of morals to be adopted by Muslims in their speech and conversation. Improper or inadequate guidance and training in schools and at home may be also responsible for wrong use of the forms of address because it is rightly said that “parents are like mirrors to the children. The mirror should endeavor to give the best reflection”.
The “Hato/Ho” culture’s genesis accrues largely from Kashmir’s convoluted history. The Dogras of Jammu had been addressing Kashmiri Muslims as Huto during Dogra Shahi days. Even today, some Dogras and outsiders address Kashmiri laborers as Huto purely in terms of historical arrogance. One of my friends told me that some 10 or 12 years back when he was in Shimla, he saw the Kashmiri labour class was addressed as such there. He is further of the opinion that “Huto culture” which some Kashmiri Muslims till now habitually follow represents and symbolises their age old slavery and arrogance of foreign masters. It is pertinent to mention here that Kashmiris in their utter simplicity and total ignorance of originality of the word still address Kashmiri Bata brothers by the form “Mahrah” and others as “Hathaz”. As a matter of ethics, Kashmiri Muslims should continue addressing others by the form “Hut Haiz”. They should do away with “Huto culture” as these words and similar phrases as “Hoye” or “Tum” are an indecent, offensive, improper and uncivilised way of addressing others in conversations.