As I have interacted with my Father-In-Law over the past year, I have gotten to know him better. We have grown closer bonding over deep philosophical topics ranging from cricket to property prices, Congress bashing to restaurant dosai quality.
What's astounded me is that I've spent the last 15 months without ever directly addressing him. I don't know what to call my father-in-law.
This hasn't been easy. On Day 6 after marriage I was lounging around at my in-law's home dressed appropriately with covered legs and wearing non-college, non-ragged t-shirts. As the new maapilai (son-in-law) at home, the attention being showered was overwhelming. However with a mature 'chance pe dance' attitude, I had shamelessly started accepting every offer of 2nd/3rd/4th round of filter coffee, opening crisp newspapers before the family got access to it, fiddling with the TV remote and other perks.
However the cumulative guilt goaded me to do something for the family. Hence, that evening when the phone rang I shed my lethargy and volunteered to pick it up.
"Thiagarajan sir irukara ?" ("Is Mr. Thiagarajan there?")
"One sec", I said and walked over to my FIL who was busy perusing the tampered newspaper.
I opened my mouth and failed to come up with an appropriate word.
Clearing my throat would have been too filmy, Uncle too distant, Pops too DDLJ, Daddy too familiar a name from my own family.
Finally I accepted my destiny. He was 'Appa' in my life now and this was the moment to give him that stature.
So I peered over the newspaper till the shadow caused mild inconvenience to him. He looked up, smiling.
"Phone..", I gruffed, handed the instrument and escaped.
A few months passed. Home phone calls were conveniently name free, where an innocuous "Namaskaram" hid all predicaments. All conversations involving him were filled with phrases 'your dad', 'Swetha's dad' that obviated any potential name struggle.
In that period, I did extensive research by speaking to a lot of couples facing this predicament. The discussion became an obsession. " So, what do you call your father-in-law ?" became my pet party question, which made husbands queasy and left respective wives amused. It turned out that wives managed to conquer this task with less hassle, less ego and much less thought. Maybe we men just made a big deal about it.
Soon the in-laws visited Singapore. A pleasant trip got freckled with awkward name moments. "Appa, do you want coffee?" became "DO YOU WANT COFFEE?", the decibel level forcing him to look in my direction. Soon I began to plan my location with him as the origin point of my 3-D complicated universe. A week long trip to Chennai this December made absolutely no difference. I treated the newspaper with more care, gulped more coffee than before, but FIL continued to be treated to awkward starts to our cricket, dosai conversation.
The hope still remains. If I can restart this blog after a 2 year crazy writer's block, maybe the hope for calling my FIL Appa isn't that bleak.
Meanwhile, THIS IS PLAN B. OK ?