Addressing in conversation, Kashmiri-way

Forms of address are both integral and constitutive of conversation and thus communication
Kashmiri men conversing on the banks of Dal Lake on Wintery morning. [Representational Image]
Kashmiri men conversing on the banks of Dal Lake on Wintery morning. [Representational Image]Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Conversation is something we all always do with one another. It is “face-to-face, person-to-person, at the same time”.

In this digital computer age, it can be online conversation on cell phone, WhatsApp, Messenger, tweeter, 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. Forms 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 in businesses & others.

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 the 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” (Tr: Father/Dad, 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 is seen that husband usually addresses his wife by “Tu”, while wife responds by “Aap”, or between lovers or friends.

The famous lyrical Urdu song of Tasleem Fazili sung by Mehdi Hassan “rafta rafta vo mirī hastī kā sāmāñ ho gae” contains a line “aap se phir tum hue phir tū kā unvāñ ho gae” which explains how among romantic couples the closeness is subtly & gradually achieved with change in modes of address from Aap to Tum to Tu.

Tu is also used while addressing a subordinate or a person of lower socio-economic status, in such situations it abounds with arrogance and pride on the part of the addresser.

Kashmiris, way back in last decade of 19th century recorded by 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” or sometimes as “Adab Arz” who respond to the Muslim-addresser by any of the three forms mentioned above depending on closeness with him or his socio-economic status.

But, many among the readers might not knowing that “Mahrah” is short form of the term “Maharaja” coined during the Dogra dynastic rule when Kashmiri Bataas, also called Kashmiri Pandits as per caste-classification, occupied all high and low positions in the monarchic officialdom though they constituted a small ratio of the population of Kashmir.

The majority were just subjects with no rights in the administration, education and so on. The female of each Mahrah was invariably addressed by Muslims as Raze Baih which means consort of Mahrah or wife of Mahraj or queen.

This form of address towards lady Panditaniyaas was actually by-product of subordination that the Kashmiri Muslims since ages had been carrying from class supremacy of KPs in socio-economic-administrative set up of the State. “Adab Arz” comprises two words, Aadab & Arz. Aadab is an elegant Persio-Urdu way of addressing each other and Arz means “a petition, a plea”.

Actually, in Dogra Era, Dogra Maharajas were addressed by the subjects whenever they had a petition in these words: “ Maharaj Arz Hay!” For getting attention of the Maharaja, the petitioner-subject had to show & pay an age-old Nazr, a customary token of submission to the Ruler, in practice among the Rulers & their nobles of Kashmir.

Arz in “Aadab Arz” is derivation from that “Maharaj Arz Hay!” But, Arz has remained in written & spoken Urdu & Kashmiri genre as a polite, poetic & literal form of addressing someone to get his attention.

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” (Tr: 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 was thrust on them by the despotic rulers.

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 “Huto/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, in some Dogra-dominated areas of Jammu and outsiders address Kashmiri-labourers [Mazdoor] as Huto purely in terms of historical arrogance.

I have been told by some friends who were doing business in Shimla that they have seen the Kashmiri-labour class addressed as Huto by locals there. “Huto culture” which some Kashmiri Muslims till now habitually follow represents and symbolises their age old slavery & arrogance of foreign masters in the past.

It is pertinent to mention here that Kashmiris in their utter simplicity and total ignorance of originality of the word still address Kashmiri Pandit-brothers by the form “Mahrah”/”Raz e Bai” and others as “Hat Haiz”.

It is also observed that some Kashmiri Muslims address outside labourers [ Biharis in common parlance] & tourists by the words of “Tum” or “Tu” which is highly indecent.

As a matter of ethics, Kashmiri-Muslims should always address others, irrespective of their socio-economic status, caste & creed, 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.

A funny but interesting episode:

In J&K Bank there was an officer Mr. P. He was a resident of Jogilangar Rainawari, Srinagar. Once in his service career he was posted at Area Office Mumbai. Mr. A was a young officer from Srinagar. His initial posting was also in Mumbai.

He was posted in Fort Mumbai branch. In connection with his official work, Mr. A had to often visit the Area Office Mumbai which was at a distance of some kilometers from his branch. There at Area Office, he would often see & meet Mr P who apparently looked like a Bata/ Kashmir Pandit, as sometimes men look like others in their features, characteristics and the way of behaving & acting.

Mr P being senior officer & colleague was always respected and greeted by young man, Mr A. However, A always addressed him in these words :” Aadaab Arz Marah”, Sir! This is the usual way Kashmiri Muslims address & greet their Pandits or Batah countrymen.

But Mr P never objected to the way he was addressed & greeted by Mr A for several months whenever the two encountered each other at Area Office Mumbai. Then, it so happened one day, Mr A saw Mr P was talking to some Kashmiris in his office room who were addressing to him as “Ahan’Aiz , Jinab, Hazrat”, which is the familiar way Kashmiri Muslims address each other. Mr A who was watching the conversation between P & Kashmiris was quite astonished.

He was naturally confused about the real identity of Mr. P & intrigued to ask Mr. P about his religious identity. When Kashmiri friends left P’s room, A asked him: “Sir Mihaiz Chu Akh Arz, Tohi Chiva Bateh Kineh Musalman?” [Tr. Sir I have a curiosity. Will you please tell me , are you Muslim or Pandit ?] P smilingly revealed his identity in these words: “Edh Henah Yi, Edh Henah Hu, Ed Henah Yoor , Edh Henah Hoor”. [Tr. My one half is Muslim, while my other half is non- Muslim].


Sir Lawrence observed towards the end of 19th century that Kashmiri Musalmans partake of many a good practice & habit of Kashmiri Pandits.

Was he forecasting in it the future “cultural assimilation” of Musalmans of Kashmir under new avatars of socio-cultural-political changes that were going to happen from 20th century onwards.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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