I remember studying about the North Star in geography class. The star that’s always there. But that’s in the sky. On the earth, and in India, if there’s anything that comes even remotely close, it’s the neighborhood aunty.
The neighborhood aunty comes in multiple shapes, sizes and forms. The ‘enthu cutlet’ type who has taken over the responsibility of moderating the neighborhood whatsapp group, where her daily dose of optimism and enthusiasm is clearly visible in the ‘Good Morning’ messages she broadcasts every day(never mind that her benevolence is blocking up the internet). Or the sanskaari version, where every neighborhood mata ki chowki is a roaring success, thanks to her efforts. Or she might 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, she’s running late for her kitty party.
But we all have one. Or two. Or three. And irrespective of age, size, shape and background, they all have a few common characteristics. A nose for gossip. Your neighborhood’s answer to every news outlet on the planet. For she has the latest scoop on everything that’s going on in the neighborhood, 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 soiree. Where the Mehtas are going on their next holiday. Not only that, she has the ability to start rumors 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. Oh, and most important of them all, 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 classmate’s baby is doing fine.
She plays multiple roles. Occasional babysitter. Frequent moral police. Supplier of dhaniya, mirchi, aloo, milk, everything your household has run out of, including gossip. Local Google. Because who else will know which darzi you should go to when you want that same lehenga you saw Deepika wearing on Instagram? And what makes her give this search engine a run for its money, is that for every question you ask her, she asks you ten more. Did you get that promotion, beta?. What you were doing with that ‘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 with enquiry, comes advice. On your sense of fashion, never mind her own. On how you should think about marriage. For beta, everything should happen at the ‘right time’, you know. Every bit of advice, ending with a corny, beta don’t mind, 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 she thinks is perfect. 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. Which means 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. And that is the day I shall lose every inch of my self-restraint and unleash years of pent-up irritation, and give her a piece of my mind. Remind her that I haven’t appointed her as my consultant. Or psychologist. Or counsellor. Of how I’m not interested in her sermons. And how it genuinely annoys me that she keeps poking her nose and leg into my supposedly private matters, which are, well, not private anymore because she’s made sure everyone knows. And all she’ll say is “It’s for your good, beta’.
That same night, I’ve just gotten out of my post-dinner shower and ready for Netflix, feeling a slight tinge of guilt for having spoken to aunty so. And then I’ll hear mom call out to me. “Beta, look what Gupta/Sharma/Kapoor aunty has sent. I mentioned you weren’t feeling well, and she’s made her special haldi-wala doodh for you.”
And then suddenly, I’ll be thanking the universe for her existence. Oh aunty. Why, oh why must you do this to me. Why is that I can’t live with and without you? A necessary evil. That’s what you are, aunty dearest. Making a mental note to send her flowers and a ‘I’m sorry card’ tomorrow.
P.S: As for my virginity, I lost it. At 21. And if you want to know where it went. you might want to ask your son.