Forget the political toadyism and pretty much all the prattle-prattle around the gender-neutral honorific. I have grown up in the heart of Lucknow, punctuating almost everyone’s name with the suffix out of sheer politeness, as the adab is accorded to everyone there still—from commoners like us to premium figures. Like Shukla ji ki chaat, Sharma ji ki chai, Gupta ji ke dahi vade… and now Yogi ji and Modi ji. More than the memes, it kind of brings in the ch’i, an underlying hush of respect.
Contemporary grooming sessions shape up tonal inflexions, but it is this addition that makes all the difference. Ask in an inquiring tone to build a polite query, adhere to the Punjabi way of speaking by latching to coin haan ji, or simply double up in that rather annoying habit as “jiji” to echo the affirmative.
That’s what we do, repeat the same word to strangle and emphasise: in “little details”, “big big houses”… Anyway, it is subtle affixation that makes your point sound louder than bombs, but scathing enough to slide in the right connotation. I remember while gunning for each other’s jugular, fighting, we three sisters used to accuse each other wildly, with furious eyes but mouthing the suffix with our respective names to establish rancid annoyance too. Even the local tailor was then addressed as Masterji, our teachers as Guruji. That was fine. Then sidled up the saccharine Sahebji and Sirji—catchphrases of utmost servility—and spun commercial catchwords for a cellular major, then and now.
Nowadays people slap on the suffix as a colloquial embrace around almost every act of buffoonery, and more: Babaji ka thullu, Aaoji, Jaoji. The Hindi sitcom BhabiJi Ghar Par Hai! too spun a moolah-take on the oft-used Bhabiji. I remember cracking up when actor Akshay Kumar referred to the singer as Snoop Doggji in an interview promoting one of his movies. The same template just doesn’t work for firangs a la Joeji, Putinji…
Shilpi Madan for Sunday Standard