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'Don't Call Me Aunty'

23/06/2016 8:40 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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As I devoured a novel by Tarquin Hall, one of my favourite authors for light, stress-busting reads, I found myself deep in thought over a moniker that the author used in a sentence: "On benches arranged along the sidelines, aunties dipped their toes into cool water and ate spicy dhokla." Aunty. Who exactly is an aunty? What characteristics must you have to qualify as one? Is it age, behaviour, attire, attitude or a combination of these? What is it? One of my earliest memories of Hindi film comedy is a supposedly stylish woman saying, "Mujhe aunty mat bolo (Don't call me aunty)." Many years later, aunty jokes still abound in Hindi films. A very recent one involved Shah Rukh nodding his head and saying "naughty aunty" with his mischievous, suggestive, dimpled smile to none other than Deepika Padukone in Chennai Express.

Am I an aunty? The question screamed at me hysterically as I kept the book down...

Am I an aunty? The question screamed at me hysterically as I kept the book down and pondered. I'm sure many women are faced with this disturbing doubt once they cross the "ripe" age of 35. Yet age is not the most important parameter, I concluded after a few thoughtful minutes. After all would you call Claire from the House of Cards naughty aunty or stiff aunty or any kind of aunty at all? No you wouldn't. Visualize any of those women with sculpted bodies, short skirt suits, stilettos and stylish haircuts accompanied by crisp, unsmiling faces and you would not dare to call them aunty. In fact you would not dare at all.

Innumerable types of aunties have come and gone in the colourful history of Bollywood. The supportive, understanding aunty, the mother-like aunty, the conniving aunty, the poisonous aunty, the villainous aunty, the spinster aunty, the strict aunty, the formidable aunty, the sassy aunty, the crazy aunty, the desi aunty and last but not the least, the aunty who doesn't want to be called an aunty. This last kind of aunty is often found in Hindi cinema and leaves us with a smile on our faces, which probably explains her periodic recurrence and consistent presence in Bollywood productions year after year.

What is it about the word aunty and its connotations that women disown it so hurriedly?

So aunty is a stereotype, I realized, propagated by successful attempts at comedy by talented actresses like Bindu, who after completing her first innings as the sizzling vamp of Bollywood, donned a new avatar as the funny aunty who did not want to be called an aunty. Whether in her role as the heroine's mother in Om Shanti Om, who dissolves into a bashful stutter when she thinks Shah Rukh is trying to romance her or the permanently visiting guest aunty in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, veteran film actress Bindu plays the role of this needy yet sweet and sometimes wicked aunty character to the hilt and with her usual histrionic flair.

In the 2001 blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, a very stylish and unmarried "Poo" played by Kareena Kapoor whispers, "Mujhe maasi mat bolo" to her little nephew. Why is it that these ladies who obviously perceive themselves as fashionable and desirable seek to distance themselves from this moniker, as if it brings disgrace to their attractiveness and beauty? What is it about the word aunty and its connotations that women disown it so hurriedly?

With the confusion of all these cantankerous thoughts rattling in my mind, one headline stood out boldly in hideous green, blinking, neon-lit... CRAP! I'M AN AUNTY!

Does the word aunty imply a lack of elegance, sexuality, being sought after, having a great personality? Does it imply that you are nothing more than an aunty now -- an unglamorous creature? A similar reference that comes to mind and presents a comparable image is that of a soccer mom. A person who is trying to hold on to the last vestiges of her sexual, glamorous self and losing it rapidly while bussing her kids to school, classes and birthday parties! Funnily enough, the aunty has a counterpart -- mummy or mommy (not a soccer mom but just plain regular mommy) -- who invokes a completely different image. Mommy is that elegant, loving lady who wipes away all little and big problems with a graceful wave of her hand or a smooth swipe of her magic wand. She is the fairy who makes sure you are well-fed, well-cleaned, happy and peaceful. She is also that person who can yell from the kitchen and make herself heard two houses down the road and hence is a commanding and demanding presence, one that cannot be easily overlooked and one that had better be listened to. Whether mommy is glamorous or unglamorous is quite irrelevant as she, being mommy, is above it all.

Isn't it time to redefine the aunty stereotype when no longer is a mom like Nirupa Roy nor a mother-in-law like Lalita Pawar?

With the confusion of all these cantankerous thoughts rattling in my mind, one headline stood out boldly in hideous green, blinking, neon-lit... CRAP! I'M AN AUNTY! And a bold new thought followed on the heels of that headline: It's time to give "aunty" a new name, a new image and a new reputation all in keeping with reality. After all, didn't Kamal Haasan prove to us in Chachi 420 that not only can Chachi be very intelligent, efficient and quick-witted but highly desirable too, leaving poor Chacha Amrish Puri quite helpless and head over heels in love with her? And if Deepika can be described as aunty, naughty or otherwise, I have no issues whatsoever in being called one myself. Isn't it time to redefine the aunty stereotype when no longer is a mom like Nirupa Roy nor a mother-in-law like Lalita Pawar?

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