Oh dear! Thank you for the free entertainment, Smriti

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    Dear Smriti…. Oops! That’s a faux pas. I am sure I can address Indra Nooyi as ‘Dear’ Indra. But I won’t make the mistake of calling her ‘Sweetie’ or ‘Honey’. Nooyi hit international headlines when she stated her dislike for those two words. I am entirely with her. I am sure countless female professionals globally nodded their heads in agreement. After reading Nooyi’s remarks, I tried a reverse tactic by addressing fellows as ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Honey’. They blushed. But didn’t mind.
    Closer home, another super successful and equally feisty lady, the redoubtable Smriti Irani, also caused a major flutter across media platforms when she ticked off Bihar Congress president and education minister Ashok Choudhary. Irani vociferously expressed her annoyance at being addressed by a prefix she found offensive and somehow derogatory. The gentleman had the gumption to start his Twitter spat with the lady by calling her ‘Dear’. How cheeky! He was immediately put in his place by the minister sahiba who mocked him for his salutation…a totally harmless, gender-neutral ‘Dear’.
    I am not a fan of ‘Dear’ myself, and find it outdated, silly and entirely out of sync with contemporary communication. It was indeed comical and archaic of Choudhary to tweet Dear@smritiirani ji… etc. I mean, the ‘Dear’ part is understandable but the ‘Ji’? Those two don’t go together at all! He could have addressed her as ‘Priya’. But that sounds a bit too intimate. Like a long-lost lover trying to get his beloved’s attention on a public platform. How about ‘Manya’ to show respect? Perhaps, Choudhary was just displaying angrezi-style good manners? Maybe he thought it would appear impolite to address the mighty Union HRD minister directly by her Twitter handle?
    Unfortunately, his attempt backfired. Smriti Irani reacted like she had been deeply insulted, and was forced to speak up on behalf of all women. She asked him, ‘Since when have you started addressing mahilas with a ‘Dear’?’ He must’ve been stumped. Chill, Smriti! ‘Darling’ toh nahi kaha, na?
    Irani has a point. But a small one. Not everyone is as hyper sensitive. Not every woman sees slights and putdowns in innocuous words like ‘Dear’. This is hardly a sexist form of address! It is a practice we have inherited from the British. Most global communication begins with the standard ‘Dear’, even when the ‘Dear’ is a faceless stranger.
    ‘Dear’ is safe. ‘Dear’ is considered polite. ‘Dear’ is gender-free. It can be distant, formal, businesslike and cold. Or it can be affectionate and warm. These days, we are investing far too much time and energy micro-analysing form, and ignoring content. “Honourable Phalana Rao ji Saheb Dheemka” has become the norm in Maharashtra, even when the person who’s being so grandly and effusively addressed is just a political pup, the son of a political top dog. Bowing and scraping on billboards and posters is an art mastered by professional sycophants. Birthdays of political patrons provide the perfect occasion to parade one’s shamelessness. Official functions feature large, hideous backdrops on stage with photographs of the birthday boy along with his chamchas.
    Lauding the feats of their hero in ridiculously exaggerated terms, they add a few more honorifics to ‘Rao ji Saheb’.
    Twitter spats provide a great deal of moofat entertainment. We must thank the Honourable Smriti Rao ji Sahiba Irani for never letting her fans down. A few weeks ago, she indulged in a delicious war of words with an equally outspoken Congress spokesperson, Priyanka Chaturvedi, which ended a bit too abruptly, just when trolls were getting set to launch the next lethal attack. And now comes the ‘Dear’ controversy.
    Why not set the rules of social engagement here and now, Ms Irani? If not ‘Dear’ or ‘Priya’, what should friends, admirers, fans and foes use as a form of address? Just ‘Smriti’ should be fine. Nobody calls Hillary Clinton (the woman who may soon become the most powerful person in the world) ‘Honourable Shrimati Hillary ji Clinton Sahiba’. She is ‘Hillary’. Straight, upfront and simple.
    That’s her name. Why not start a similar campaign in India to drop all these antiquated, depressingly feudal forms of addressing one another? Smriti Irani can set the pace and make it a trend. “Call me Smriti!” sounds so cool! How about it, Minister? After all, what you say is law in your party. Once you make it official, all the others will automatically follow. Educate the ignorant, Smriti! That’s your mandate, remember?
    Opinion By-
    Shobhaa De in Times of India

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