By Purba Ray
Let’s get it clear once and for all – anybody who’s portly, balding, and oldish-looking is not your uncle or aunt. Especially when they are rank strangers who had no role to play in your growing-up years. It’s not respectful either; you are resorting to lazy stereotyping based entirely on how they look.
If you haven’t watched the video of the dancing professor from Madhya Pradesh, you probably live under a rock or have an Airtel 4G connection. What astonished me the most was not his nimble moves but the promptness with which all of social media adopted him as its uncle. Sure, I thought, young ones could be forgiven, but when I saw people well into their 40s (including a fiery woman journalist whose name means Rain) share “uncle’s” video on Twitter, I finally decided to choke on my aam panna and die.
On behalf of all the men and women who have been either auntified or uncleised for no fault of their own, I would like to register a protest. Let’s get it clear once and for all – anybody who’s portly, balding, and oldish-looking is not your uncle. Especially when they are rank strangers who had no role to play in your growing-up years. So if you have outgrown Chhota Bheem and are no longer getting thwacked by your mommy for losing her precious Tupperware tiffin box yet again, your auntifying and uncleising rights have been revoked.
Aunty is a dish that no one wants even though it takes under two seconds to serve, comes with a tadka of deliberate callousness, and is stirred lovingly with lots of insensitivity. You don’t know what a bad taste it leaves in your mouth until you have tasted it yourself. At times when this dish is served with an unhealthy garnish of condescension, it causes severe acidity and sometimes violent reactions.
Now that you know auntysim is unhealthy shit and doesn’t even taste like Maggi, repeat after me, being grown up is about realising it is as ignoble as calling someone fatty, shortie, or darkie.
Now if you are going to argue and tell me this is how you show respect to your elders, I will look you in the eye and say bullshit. No you are not. In fact, you are resorting to lazy stereotyping based entirely on how they look. Nobody walks around with their date of birth stamped on their forehead. When you do a mental calculation and decide you are young enough to get yourself adopted as someone’s unwanted niece, you are being a presumptuous fool.
No, still don’t agree that aunty is far from respectful? Let’s take a small test then. When was the last time you called Angelina Jolie, aunty, gushed about Uncle Pitt’s abs and connected with Twinkle aunty to tell her how much you loved her new column. Never, right? So you do accept it has everything to do with how you perceive them.
Now if the first-name basis is too much for your sanskari self, try ma’am or sir (they exist in the vocabulary for a reason) and then let them be the ones to decide whether they are okay with it.
While the 13-year-old you didn’t blink twice before calling the young couple asking for directions uncle and aunty, the 30-year-old you will totally get why your girlfriend attacked the boy like a Ninja warrior while screaming, “Aunty kisko bola, bhosdike!”
I am not suggesting that the aunty- and uncle-calling is always ill-intentioned. Unfortunately, not enough psychosomatic research has been carried out at University of Auntygonia to devise a mechanism that can calculate an age difference acceptable to the receiver and will not raise their blood pressure to dangerous levels. Until then try addressing that someone who looks decidedly older to you by their first name, maybe? When you do that you are letting him/her know, look I haven’t reduced you to a paunch and grey hair. I see you as an individual and not as someone well past their expiry date. You do agree that all of us have this innate desire to be accepted as who we are and not how we look, right? Ok, that’s progress.
Now if the first-name basis is too much for your sanskari self, try ma’am or sir (they exist in the vocabulary for a reason) and then let them be the ones to decide whether they are okay with it. The truth is that none of us is getting younger. Today’s 20 will be tomorrow’s 50. And there will come a time when you will discover one of the greatest fears of ageing is the anxiety of becoming the person that everyone looks through. Since you are no longer considered attractive or desirable, you are made to feel like a piece of antique furniture, ignored and considered good enough for just two minutes of polite conversation.
When my mom used to tell me, in her head she is still the woman in her 20s even though the mirror tells her otherwise, I would scoff at her. Not anymore. Well into my 40s with a mind that fluctuates between 20 and 40, I finally understand the restlessness to do more, take on brutal challenges driven by the anxiety of getting older. And the last thing I need is some chica or bloke I have just met reduce to me to an aunty.
If you consider yourself woke with a decent amount of sensitivity, I suggest you discard your proclivity for auntifying and unclifying random strangers in the same dustbin where you junked all your Madrasi jokes. This is not an infectious disease that you are meant to spread. Just because someone has called you aunty and broken your heart into a million pieces, doesn’t mean you glue it back by calling some other random perfectly good lady an Aunty. Believe me there are better ways to feel good about yourself.
So let’s raise a toast to the newest Internet sensation – the one previously called ‘ Uncle – and applaud his indulgent wife who is happy swaying like a flag in the background and take a good look in the mirror before claiming him as a relative. His name Sanjeev Srivastava and he’s not your uncle.
Purba Ray is an author at Arre.
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