Have you ever been addressed as ‘Aunty’ by folks not much younger than you? You will relate to this.
Shilpa Shetty just did something groundbreaking, and no one really seems to have noticed. No, I am not talking about her Youtube channel where she prances around with fantastically styled hair and that perennially swelte body, sharing ‘simple’ healthy recipes and other health related tidbits. Her channel is after all steadily gathering a decent sized subscriber base and every video running into a few hundred thousand views and thus a steady stream of ad revenue (smart!)
Neither am I talking about her visit to an Austrian spa that she had gifted herself on her 40-something-th birthday (News courtesy: Indian Express). Shilpa is now alongwith all her myriad ‘roles’, an ambassador of the Swachch Bharat abhiyaan. Whistles! Whistles! But even that is not the groundbreaking something I am talking about. It is the very fact that in one of the ads for this abhiyaan
Shilpa is addressed by a young girl of around 8-9 as ‘Shilpa didi’. The first time, I thought I had mis-heard this. So I ran to the TV screen the next time the ad came around. This time I made sure I missed nothing. The little girl had indeed called Shilpa ‘didi’.
I felt a little tear slide down my cheeks. For all the harried women like me who were called aunties even when we were entitled to be called didi or sista or heck, even a more androgynous ‘bro’, Shilpa had gone ahead and asserted herself in all her 40-odd years old glory. She has made an aunty obsessed Indian society take note of the fact that a woman can stay a didi across myriad generations and across changing hair textures, all if she manages to stay slim, stay relevant, and most importantly evolve with the changing trends. If this is not groundbreaking, what is! Swachhta be damned. Shilpa definitely deserves to be the ‘anti-aunty’ abhiyaan ambassador.
Growing up, I was often told to address men as ‘uncle’ and women as ‘aunty’. And so the biggest conundrum my 5 year old brain faced was how should I address my neighborhood friend’s elderly grandmother. It just made no sense that I call two generations of women the same word ‘aunty’. And when I raised this all important question with my mother, she brushed it aside in a manner that only mothers can do. And yet, apart from a few such stray digressions, the path to aunty-dom was more or less a cake-walk as a child.
The real struggles began when I made the entry into an awkward adulthood. At the ripe young age of 24, I had the shock of my life when whilst on a househunting soiree on the lanes of New Bombay, a request of “Can you pass the ball aunty” was made by a bunch of cricket playing boys who were certainly not much younger than I was then. I did pass the damned ball, but the doubly-whamy-rude awareness of not being able to find a decent house and having entered auntyhood all at once left me more than a little <insert sad smiley face emoji>. I remembered the famously anti-aunty Pooja from Ekta Kapoor’s maiden (and my only favorite) venture Hum Paanch. Pooja aunty often expressed anguish at being addressed as Pooja aunty with her iconic catch line, “aunty mat kaho na”. I wished I could yell at the boys, hold them by their non-existent collars and tell them the same, or better still cast a curse on them that they would turn into premature uncles. But none of that was done of course. Lost and confused, I expected my rather forced entry into the world of aunty-hood.
It probably is our Indian culture that imbibes the treating of everyone from our guests to our teachers like Gods that led to this obsession with annointing people foreceful relations. Like the auto rickshaw driver who becomes your bhaiya, even though that might also subconsciously contribute to prevention of, hush hush, rape and all. Or the middle aged maid who comes to your house and calls you didi even if with the laws of didi-hood it is you who should be bloody well calling her that. Or even the mother-in-law of your best friend who has to be addressed as aunty, because God forbid we call her by her name or don’t call her anything at all.
But somewhere the whole concept of respect has gone for a huge toss, and the addressing nomenclature is as stony-faced as an actual stone. Aunty has become less a way of showing genuine respect and more a means to denigrate. Remember Smriti Irani and the famous Aunty-national?
Of course, if you do not agree with a woman’s political ideologies or her opinions, instead of being critical of it with reason and sense, you jump straight down to headlining her appearance, or rather the lack of it in this case. Call a woman a aunty, and show her her place in the scheme of things. Or for that matter even the most beautiful woman in this world and Bachchan bahu post her motherhood-in-late-thirties had to do a Ae dil hai mushkil with a younger Ranbir Kapoor and seductively shimmy to a redux of a Farida Khannum classic to shut down all her naysayers so that she could get back to being a ‘hot MILF’ from a ‘fat aunty’. Argh!
And so Shilpa Shetty asserting herself as the didi of a girl decades younger than she is, marks the redemption of all the Pooja ‘aunties’ in the world, yours truly included. Finally we have our female public figures giving company to ageless male figures who forever continue to be our bhaijaans even as we start adding decades to our ages. As they say, every aunty will have her day.