Pratheek Thomas, Co-founder of Kokaachi is a follower of No Sir No Madam initiative. Kokaachi is an independent storytelling studio based in Kochi, Kerala. It creates comics and picture books as well as animation for feature films and brands.
After graduating as a mechanical engineer, Pratheek did his master’s in Industrial Design from the esteemed National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. He has worked as a concept designer for a theme park, in a startup that aimed to create stories for the mobile phone. Later he co-founded Manta Ray, an indie comic publishing house, which shut down in late 2013. Soon after, in 2014, Pratheek and his wife Tina Thomas co-founded Kokaachi.
Pratheek makes it a point to follow the No Sir No Madam practice at his workplace. “While we don’t have any employees, Tina and I make it a point that our collaborators and the students who intern with us call us by our names. Even the students we have taught as guest faculties address us as Pratheek or Tina. Exercising the first-name practice has made it more flexible for all of us to communicate with each other.”
Furthermore, he alleges, removing the compulsion of using salutation eliminates hierarchy discrepancy. People can relate to you more closely, and communication becomes more cordial.
Pratheek thinks of himself as fortunate, as he never needed to adjust to Sir/Madam culture after his graduation. While studying at NID, they were allowed to address their teachers by their first-name. This empowered them to be more comfortable and not feel inhibited while trying to clear a query. This open culture helped him in building better relations with his teachers, he opines.
Employing Sir/Madam to address someone has been practiced in India since time immemorial. Even when given a choice of not using salutation, people tend to use Sir/Madam as a prefix while communicating. It is a preconceived notion that they might disrespect someone, if they address someone by their first name.
However, it is now essential to understand, we are like the four wheels of a car. No wheel is big or small. All are equally important to ensure we reach our goals. We should abide this equality in our conversations as well by adapting the first-name concept.
Pratheek vibes Sir/Madam practice predominantly exists in the government sector. Bureaucrats have instilled a sense of fear into everyone for not addressing them as Sir/Madam. Officials refuse or overlook to go through your work, if someone addresses them by their first-name.
Nonetheless, in Kerala, people address officials, seniors, and fellow colleagues as ‘chetta’ (bhaiya in Malayalam) and ‘chechi’ (didi). This practice has inculcated mutual respect and also makes everyone feels at parity.
In India, the type of job you do has created social-difference over the years. Lacking a sense of dignity of labor, people tend to disregard and disrespect working class laborers. Drivers, watchmen, sweepers, and house-help maids are made to feel inferior. Forcing the Sir/Madam taboo habit makes them feel as subservient. Therefore, it is vital that we abolish the culture of Sir/Madam to spread equality.
Eradicating an age-old custom can only be executed from the genesis. Pratheek vocalizes the importance of inculcating the ideology of No Sir No Madam in children. It is essential that we treat others, the way we would want to be treated. Children tend to follow what adults do. Hence, it is the responsibility of grown-ups to learn the difference between imposing authority and showing respect.
Pratheek proposes in person, interaction would help to change the mindset of the masses. Especially in the government sector, where people are reluctant to accept any change. It is crucial that public servants be educated on the importance of No Sir No Madam intention.
He finally surmises by saying, “Although bringing first-name culture would be difficult; it is not impossible. Every individual need to adopt No Sir No Madam practice in their own lives first towards the people they interact with, especially people they hire and employ. As it is important that we first change ourselves before we change the masses.”