The Complex Indian Art of Saying No and Addressing People

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Akanksha, Anu, Ashok, Conrad, DeliriousGaelikaa,  GrannymarMagpie11,  Nema, Noor, Ordinary Joe, Paul, Maria the Silver Fox, Rummuser , Will Knott, and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get seventeen different flavours of the same topic.

The Complex Indian Art of Saying No

Indians do not like to say ‘no,’ be it verbally or non- verbally. This stems from the basic premise that every person who comes to you is an Athithee or guest of Honour and is the representation of the Divine. So you cannot say no to God can you?

Rather than disappoint you they will give a reply that they think you want to hear. If you ask for something, isn’t of saying that it is not available, Indians will offer you something else closest to what you asked for. This behaviour is not to be considered as dishonest. An Indian would be considered terribly rude if he did not attempt to give a person what had been asked.

Since we do not like to give negative answers, we may give an affirmative answer but make it so complex or so vague about any specific details that it will baffle you. Actually we are sending out non-verbal cues, such as a reluctance to commit to an actual time for a meeting or an enthusiastic response to a proposition taking into consideration that on that day we are already committed to a family event, an alumni meet and the kids performance at school!

Indian names too can be pretty complex. It could be based upon caste, religion, social class, community, village of origin, family house name and region of the country.

Amongst the Hindus our Gods have hundreds and hundreds of names. In the north, many people have both a first name and a surname.

In the south the given/first name is the main one. So I would be R Padmini instead of Padmini Rajgopaul and N Padmini instead of Padmini Natarajan. The initial of father/husband appears in front of the given name. I could also call myself Padmini Iyer (Ayyar) or Padmini Sharma as my husband is an Ayyar—(one who belongs to the common religion amongst the Brahmins called Sanatana Dharma) and all Brahmins are called Sharma’s. If I were a strict adherent to Vishnu’s sect, then I would be called Padmini Iyengar. I could also take on my village name and be called Umayalpuram Rajgopaul Padmini shortened to U R Padmini and after marriage Melattoor Natarajan Padmini shortened to M N Padmini.

Many women used to change their first name after marriage. This has changed to some degree and surnames have come into being especially in the urban, MNC, Western influenced families.

People associate themselves by the groups to which they belong rather than by their status as individuals. A person is affiliated to a specific state, region, city, family, career path, religion, etc. This group orientation is based on the close personal ties we maintain with our family, including the extended family through marriage and alliances. The extended family creates many interrelationships, rules of behaviour—in terms of respect, doing the honours on a family occasion or festival or celebration and hierarchy. A deep-rooted trust among relatives is also taken for granted.

So this is just a thread unravelled in the matter of names and the complexity involved in relationships. If I were to sit and explain to you the different names that are ascribed to relationships according to paternal and maternal ties, you would be completely at your wits end. I hope I have been complex enough.

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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11 Responses to The Complex Indian Art of Saying No and Addressing People

  1. rummuser says:

    When you think about it it is complex. When you don’t, it is simple. It all depends on the kind of brain washing you have had in your formative years. You must read “Thinking Fast And Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.


  2. Delirious says:

    Oh my goodness this is complex! I had no idea about the practice of not saying no. It kind of reminds me of the Chinese idea of “losing face”. Instead of saying no, which makes you the asker lose face, they will give a vague answer. This is an important thing to know if I ever come to India!


  3. blackwatertown says:

    There are many Irish practitioners who are also expert in this complex art of answering. It can indeed be frustrating, but it’ sone of those things you either get or you don’t. I didn’t, but then I did. Life became so much clearer for this straightforward northerner who had moved south. (And even before then, the other benefits made up for the communication mismatch.)


  4. grannymar says:

    Hello! :waves: Am I allowed back? Finally with Elly’s help we have licked my commenting problem! I hope you didn’t think I had fallen out with you.


    • padmum says:

      Oh! I was just wondering whether you have learnt the Indian art of saying ‘No’ considering your quiver full of friends from this part of the world. “we may give an affirmative answer but make it so complex or so vague about any specific details that it will baffle you.”


  5. This is five years late, but I found you due to an internet search. I am wondering if Americans visiting India need to be concerned about saying “no” to Indian hosts?


    • padmum says:

      Hi..mainstream business practices have addressed this matter and people have been trained to ‘nod’ according to the customary international practices. The common man however does answer with such gestures…but usually, it is accpompanied by an oral denial or acceptance. So don’t worry…you can always counter check too.
      Thanks for the visit.


  6. newerthanthis says:

    I’ve only just come across this – interesting what you say about Indians not liking to say ‘no’ and it certainly seems to explain a number of frustrating incidents I’ve had with Indian call centres.

    If you’re dealing with other people in India or other Indians around the world then perhaps I could see why that happens. But to British people, we expect straight and direct answers when it comes to services that we pay for. Regardless of whether it should not be seen as dishonest as you say, it certainly comes across as dishonesty if you either give us an answer you know is not correct or deliberately mislead us. Simply give us honest and straightforward answers, I don’t see any problem with that.


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