Pati Patni Aur Tu!

October 11, 2011
Generally speaking, there is one striking similarity in the urban and the rural couples, of at least North India. The men address their wives as 'tu' (thou). 

Although English language generalizes the way we address all and sundry as 'you', it is the Hindi language which having got influenced by the Mughal dynasties and the Lucknowi andaaz holds three ways of addressing people depending on their age, status, intimacy and respectability as aap, tum and tu.

It's interesting to note that Ghalib wrote, "Teri mehfil mein aakar bade beaabroo hue/ Aap se tum aur tum se tu hue" (I humiliated myself in your company/ From aap, i became tum, and finally tu).

In this post, instead of generalizing the usage of the three words in the different relationships in society, i would like to stick to only couples - married or in a relationship.

In the beginning of a relationship, the men and the women stick to some kind of formal conversations.... some small talk.... trying to strike a conversation and mostly address each other as 'aap'.  As and if the closeness increases, 'aap' changes to 'tum' and  with time or with the feeling of permanency of the partner, it becomes 'tu'.  If the culmination of the relationship is marriage (which is not a reality now a days) the 'tu' is irreversible from the husband's side and the girlfriend turned wife has to mend her ways to shift back to 'aap'. 

The need to address the husband as 'aap' arises more because Indian wife won't use the first name of the husband.  Girls, at least till one decade back, would absolutely refrain from uttering their husband's name, even to call them.  Women would shyly or commandingly call out as 'suno', 'suniye' or the Bollywood auntiji and mummyji style 'maine kaha ji' or (worse!!) 'munnu ke papa' ie., referring to their young one!

There is a great great shift in the way girls are handling their hubbys now.  Most of my friends call out their husband's first name while talking to or referring to them. (Reminds me of a life insurance Advertisement where the young lady enters the home shouting (yeah literally shouting) "Sanjoo" many a times. First time i thought she was calling her pet dog! psst!). 'Eey ji , O ji, sunte ho ji, has been shooed out of the home (and the bedroom ) by ' honey' , 'sweet heart' and 'baby' (huff! that's a relief!!)

Talking about the men addressing their wives, the only person who comes to my mind is the old Hindi movie actor Om Prakash, who was always seen calling his on-screen wife as "Aree bhagyawaan, sunti ho?!" I think, all of us, in North India, have seen our parents sparingly using each other's names, except when they had to fill up some form!

Today, I find it very refreshing when I hear a man say the name of his wife while referring to something like "Ritu loves prawns... so taking some for her".  For me, addressing your partner by his or her name is like marrying the person and not the whole family. Girls were discouraged to use the husband's first name, as that would decrease the respect... and also the mother in law would feel that the girl is trying to overpower her son. Some such thoughts were behind the practice. Thankfully, the young couples are leaving them behind and cherishing togetherness and oneness like never before.

But, it's just 'tu' which hasn't changed in all these years.  I am not talking about a particular caste, or region, or less educated people, or not so well off people.  It's a trend just anywhere. Some use is all the time, and others would speak like that in anger, but a wife remains a 'tu'.

I asked a few men, as to why they can not address their wives as 'aap' or at least 'tum' when the women are respectful enough to them? Believe me, the question surprised them!! They were just not prepared for the question, so hard wired they were about the usage.

Someone said, 'tu' means we are close to each other. Someone said, we are like friends... don't friends address each other as 'tu'? Another MCP kind of man replied "so? should i address her as 'aap'? ye devi hai? pooja karoon iski?" (Is she some goddess? should i worship her as well?)

The answers spoke for themselves.

Although, there were exceptions, but they were few. But I was truly glad to hear from a friend how he always addressed his wife as 'aap', and the reason given was "if she respects me, why shouldn't I?"

Another exception is the young couple, who had a love marriage and were used to calling each other as 'tu' for a long time, and had to somehow give up using 'tu' in front of parents, (i am talking about the girl only)

Why am i so averse of the word 'tu' to be used for one's partner?

Ever heard a man speaking to the house maid as "toone kamra saaf kyu nahi kiya?" (why did thou not clean the room) and in the same breath saying "too jaldi se (shopping) list bana ke de" (thou make the shopping list) to his wife?

Interestingly, some time back, an Urdu teacher in Lahore divorced his young wife when she inadvertently called him "tum" instead of "aap"!

'Tu' is a strange word in our society, and here I'm talking about Delhi culture. When you want to show your superiority, say in front of a labourer or a rickshaw walla or a domestic maid - 'tu' is used maximum. When you want to show comradeship or bhaipanti, u say 'tu'.  When addressing God, some people out of closeness say 'tu' to God.  Elders used to address children as 'tu', which has changed now in educated households.

So, people use 'tu' either when they stand on equal footing (close friends) and unequal footing ( master - servant or God - human).  Unfortunately, marriage in India does not make women stand on an equal footing (proved further by the fact that women cannot address husband as 'tu') and women today are not ready for the unequal grounds in marriage.  The conflict that arises is of this sort.  It starts from language and goes much deeper and much widespread when it comes to equality in married couples.

Respect, like Love, needs to be reciprocated in committed relationships and men must avoid giving those funny logic of being close and intimate and therefore, they call out their wives as 'tu' even in public.  In fact, when a man says we are close (in this context) he almost means 'seen that been there and bored'. 

What do you think about it? Has 'tu' ever irked you the way it does to me? Do you find 'tu' normal? Have you ever told your husband how you feel being addressed as 'tu' or 'toone' or 'tujhe' in public?

Let me know



Aakash Johry said...

It might sound stereotyped... but I don't think it's that big a matter of importance. I see so many couples around me who follow the 'tu-aap' relationship but then they respect each other and the dominance of the husband thing is not there. I guess it's more or less a matter of past generations coz nowadays using names is also quite common. 
Do we really need to dig this issue to give it importance it doesn't deserve is my question. 
Oh btw I am single, blissfully single :D


Vishal . said...

Well... 'Tu' has always sounded a little offensive in the Indian family. Sometimes we refrain from using it even with our siblings, though we freely use it amongst friends. Plus, the rural India is still quite male dominated, wherein women sometimes shudder to speak to their husbands, while the latter conveniently use 'tu' to address their wives. I concur with the point you made of the use of 'tu' in marriages in rural India (men mostly look down at their wives).

BookWorm said...

mmm.. read.. you have a point there. and nicely written too.. since i as a reader, could feel the anguish...!!!! 

anyhow, i am of the opinion that this thing does not matter much. what is required in a relationship is mutual understanding and respect for each other's individuality.. now.. if by calling one's woman as 'tu' define a  situation where the husband does not acknowledge and respect the space for his woman, then there is a problem. but so long as it is not there, and calling his woman 'tu' would be just another way of being informal with her, it's okay.  

by the way, just to shoot one question back.. and this is for all the women readers of this post and the blog.. how would you all feel if your husbands continue addressing you as 'aap' (well, to a certain point not point, rather, but certain time,in the initial days of marriage, it feels okay). don't you think it will amount to both partners being sooo formal with each other..? 

Jack said...


Thought provoking. In Spanish "usted"  is used for you in formal way while "tu" in informal way. Each language has own way. TU shows closeness as you have said it yourself but it can not be one way traffic. We will complete 40 years next month but have been addressing each other by our first names since marriage. 

Take care

PS : Left comments in previous 2 posts also. No views in my space? 

Rachit said...

There is something wrong you mentioned in the post.. as I hail from Lucknow there is no space from tum or tu in the language style of Lucknowiites.. we usually call each other using aap.. using tum and tu are considered to be derogatory and a thing to be used by only the people of western UP.

Weakest LINK

magiceye said...

It is a regional thing. In Maharashtra the wives will refer to their husbands as 'my mister' and the husband will refer to his wife as 'my mrs.' :)

RESTLESS said...

Rachit wrote this comment ( which didn't show in disqus) :

There is something wrong you mentioned in the post.. as I hail from Lucknow there is no space from tum or tu in the language style of Lucknowiites.. we usually call each other using aap.. using tum and tu are considered to be derogatory and a thing to be used by only the people of western UP.

Weakest LINK

RESTLESS said...

@ Jack Uncle, wow! grt to know about how u address ur better half!

You said what i could not explain that 'tu' is fine to show closeness, but i can't be a one way traffic!!! Very well expressed!


RESTLESS said...

@ Rachit - I think i did mention that i am talking about Delhi culture, if not then i correct myself. I know ppl from Lucknow and the sweet language they use. I fact, i myself prefer 'aap' for anyone, just one - younger or older, and it seems quite out of place with many ppl around me.

Well, i don't want to start a war of words betwen Lucknow and Western UP!

thanks Rachit!

RESTLESS said...

Vishal, but i have seen that in urban and educated ppl too. Oh yes, its rampant in rural, urban villages, uneducated ppl.

RESTLESS said...

Aakash, ok so u r single and a guy, so u won't really feel what i am saying :)

I think it's high time men talk and treat their partner as an individual having her own share of respect and for me 'tum' is a symbolic shift towards it.

but thanks for sharing ur view :)

RESTLESS said...

Yeah rightly said, as long the space of the woman is ack and respected... but do u really think it happens. Either the couples are in their honeymoon phase (!) or the guy would give in to the dominating wife ( and vice versa) or he would bother much... and then do u call ack the space?

Quite funnily, not evena single girl has commented as yet!!!

For me, NO. Saying aap does not mean u r formal... it is respect for one's individuality. Esp in Punjabi families.... this is lacking.

Towards Harmony said...

I say Aap to everybody and I love how it sounds. I say 'aap' to kids too and actually I have heard many parents use it.
Its not only in Hindi in Tamil which is my mother tongue also -  the rule is the husband addresses the wife with equivalent of 'tu' and the wife addresses the husband with the equivalent of 'aap'. I hate it when I hear it. Public or not - I shall address my husband no different from what he addresses me. That's my rule.

I like English's neutral You.

Sowjanyaweb said...

My would-be has been my friend from a decade now and he calls me 'Tu'. Yes, infront of his parents/Family i call him 'aap' and when alone i too address him  with 'tu', Not because he objects it, but because I do understand that his parents might not like it. I dont feel bad about it.  I feel how you address doesnt make a very big difference if you respect and love your spouse...  I know he respects me and I respect him. That's all is required.


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