In my high school Geography lesson, I remember studying about the North Star. The star that maintains a constant position relative to you. Almost as if it came with a compass whose needle was forever pointed in your direction. But that’s in the sky. On earth, and particularly in our desi world, if there’s anything that comes even remotely close, it’s the neighbourhood aunty.
Or rather, the good old neighbourhood aunty.
She comes in multiple shapes, sizes and forms. Ranging from the enthu cutlet type, whose taken over the responsibility of moderating the neighbourhood Whatsapp group; where her daily dose of optimism and enthusiasm is clearly visible in the ‘Good Morning’ messages she broadcasts every day (never mind the fact that her benevolence is blocking up the internet). To the sanskari types, who ensures that every neighbourhood mata ki chowki is a roaring success. Or even be the high-fi types, the kind who you only see when she comes out in the garden to admire her precious orchids and dahlias, or when she’s shouting out to her driver to get the car out fast because she’s running late for her kitty party.
Whatever might be her flavour, but we all have had at least one of them. Or two. Or three. And irrespective of age, size, shape and background, they all have a few common characteristics. A nose for gossip. Your neighbourhood’s competition to every news outlet on the planet, with her latest scoop on everything that’s going on in the locality, every tiny detail. What time Mrs Sharma’s daughter came home last night. Which store Mrs Ahluwalia picked up the diamond set she was wearing at the last community gathering. Where the Mehtas are going on their next holiday. A unique prowess of being able to start rumours that spread faster than wildfire. Shall I tell you one little secret, just don’t tell anyone, okay, Mr Gupta’s son is, you now he is (in hushed whispers), gay. And an insatiable interest in your matters. Right from where you bought that dress you’re wearing in your Facebook profile picture to whether your friend’s sister’s cousin’s baby is doing fine.
While I might not be her biggest fan, with absolutely no sarcasm intended, I do indeed have to compliment her the multiple roles she plays in our lives. Occasional babysitter. Constant moral police. Supplier of dhaniya, mirchi, aloo, milk, everything your household has run out of, including insider information on pretty much everything that concerns your neighbourhood and the folks living there. Local Google. Because who else will know which darzi you should go to when you want that same lehenga you saw on Deepika’s Instagram story? Maybe even a step ahead of Google, because she comes with an added feature. For every question you ask her, she asks you ten more. Did you get that promotion, beta? What were you doing with ‘So and So’s son last Saturday night? On days where she’s feeling rather adventurous, she might also ask you about the status of your ‘virginity’.
And where there’s enquiry, there’s a truckload of advice. On your sense of fashion, never mind her own. On how you should consider that marriage proposal she sent your mother. I know the family personally, they’re my brother’s classmate’s nephew’s neighbours. Not to mention every bit of advice ending with a corny, beta don’t mind haan, I’m just like your mother (You’d better stop minding because even if you tell her that you do mind, the constant outflow of advice shall never stop).
Another defining characteristic of this woman is that she has a son or daughter, (more than one, if you’re unlucky) who, in her opinion, is God’s greatest gift to mankind. This child is the usual yardstick against which every achievement of your life shall be measured. Which usually means you’re going to be scarred for life. Because somehow, this child is going to be that irritating board exam topper, debate club captain and Prefect, combined into one. The kind of competition you can never come even close to. Yet your parents will always berate you for not being anything like this kid.
More often than not, I have a firm belief that aunty was manifested for me to be able to test my patience. Because coincidentally, on the day I’ve had a bad day at work, am feeling a sore throat attacking me any time soon, and have had a fight with the boyfriend, I shall bump into her, and she shall give me one of her idealistic speeches on how good girls of the locality shouldn’t stay out after sunset. How I might consider a more modest outfit the next time I step out; off-shoulder tops only look good on celebrities who don’t have to walk on Indian roads and invite stares and letches from the male species. And that is the day I shall lose every inch of my self-restraint and unleash years of pent-up annoyance, and give her a piece of my mind. Tell her that I haven’t appointed her as my consultant, psychologist, or counsellor. Remind her of why I’m not interested in her sermons. And confess how her interference in my private matters, which are, well, not private anymore because by now she’s made sure everyone knows, genuinely annoys me.
Of course, her response to my ten-minute rant shall be, a confused glance, a rather innocent smile and an “It’s for your own good, beta”. Yet the day will take a twist, when that same night, I shall begin to feel a slight tinge of guilt for having spoken to aunty so. Which shall coincide with my mother casually mentioning to me. “Beta, look what Gupta/Sharma/Kapoor aunty has sent. I mentioned you weren’t feeling well, and she’s sent some of her special haldi-wala doodh for you.”
Suddenly, I’ll find myself in a change of heart scenario, where I’ll be thanking the universe for her existence. Oh, aunty. Why, oh why must you do this to me? Why is it that I can’t live both with and without you? A necessary evil. That’s what you are, aunty dearest, I shall conclude.
Following which my rathe fickle heart shall make a mental note to send her flowers and an ‘I’m sorry card’ tomorrow.