I vividly remember the day when I first heard this word. Of course, I had been using it all my life but someone using it in my context caught me unawares. I was barely 24, married for just over a year. It was a usual weekday morning until the door bell rang. Outside stood our neighbor’s teenaged son with yet another missive from his overbearing father. “Aunty, your cooler is………”
My entire neuro-sensory system stopped responding. My world came crashing down. All I could hear was the sound of my sobbing heart. “Does he think I am old?” “Have I aged overnight?” “Is this the end of my youth?” “Why me??” I was an anguished soul seeking answers from anyone who cared to listen.
We Indians are a congenial lot and we take the adage “the world is a family” rather seriously. All our lives we are constantly forging new relationships. The sabziwalla, raddiwalla , gaswalla are our long lost brothers, so we address them as “bhaiyya”. Men and women in indeterminate age groups are relegated to the category of “Uncle” and “Aunty”. Names are meant for family members and fools. “Uncle, can you please not park your car in front of my gate!” “Aunty, your pesky son has been hurling live bombs in my balcony yet again!”
Of course there are times when people do not take kindly to this term of endearment. Like our 50-something landlady of a house we lived in a decade back. She turned vivid shades of blue, red and green when I tried to forge this loving bond with her. She let out a woeful litany on how the whole universe was ganging up against her youthful self. Even 70-somethings at the Mother Dairy booth were clamoring to be her nieces. Empathizing with her, I hurriedly swallowed my ‘aunty’.
The same wronged lady, however, had no qualms in addressing my parents, barely a few years older, as “Uncle and Aunty”. That left me literally fuming. Anti-ageing creams be damned, these magic words are enough to make you feel younger, as long as you are the one hurling these at others.
My age has always been subject to a lot of speculation. Since the age of six, I have always managed to look younger than my age. Of course, now I take it as a compliment. My 30’s were plagued with a tussle between “didi” and the dreaded A-word. The younger lot insisted on addressing me as “didi” while their parents wanted to consign me to aunty-dom. I have had instances of a stray sabziwalla trying to aunty me up, only to be met with the iciest of glares. Thank god, looks don’t kill.
Gently introduced to my 40’s now (that took guts to put in print), I am finally in the reconciliation stage. I still get mildly outraged when a college type kid addresses me as Aunty. Old habits are hard to get rid of, especially vanity.
My 15-year old daughter gets even more livid when people gush about us looking like sisters. “Do they think I am old?” “Have I aged overnight?” “Is this the end of my youth?” “Why me??” she asks anyone who cares to listen.
Life indeed has come full circle for me.