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The Aunty Syndrome

Updated on March 4, 2011

(Written for and published previously at

Call me behen, didi, bhabhi, ma’am, even (gasp) behenji! But not Aunty! It is a widespread phenomenon (or do I mean malaise) of the Indian subcontinent, that the minute a woman gets married, she becomes an aunty. Suddenly teens and near adults who had been looking upon her as a ‘didi’ start to look upon her as ‘aunty’.  

 In India it is such a ubiquitous phenomenon, that the corner store chap who sells you your bread will call you aunty as you unsuspectingly hand him the money. The milkman will hurt your sensibilities early in the morning with a cheery “Kitne litre chahiye Aunty?” if he is sufficiently young and perceives himself too ‘modern’ to use the old fashioned behenji. When young chaps follow me around on the streets of Delhi hoping to sell me a ‘Showpiece’, a book, trinket etc. with the words “Lelo Aunty”, I can tell you for free that the guy won’t make a sale.  What he will get is an earful about why I am not his aunty.

 The very worst is the domestic help calling you aunty. For me it was the last straw that the cheerful young thing of about 20 that did the sweeping and swabbing for me, started out referring to me as Aunty; something that I nipped in the bud I can tell you! So I sat her down, and I explained to her, that she had a choice; she could call me didi, behenji, the professional sounding ma’am or even the archaic mem’saab, but please, please eschew the Aunty tag. She was bewildered. She though aunty was a nice modern way to address her employer; a familiarity that she thought I would not mind.

 And she was right; it is not the familiarity that I mind. It’s just that the mind shies away from the image conjoured up by the term aunty: a matronly, well fed, woman of uncertain middle age and a disapproving gimlet eye and authoritative voice; one does not want to be an ‘aunty’. In fact during our college years, we used the term as deprecation “Don’t be such an Aunty”; by that we would mean don’t be such a stick in the mud, or old fashioned, or basically a killjoy.

 Alas for us, Aunty is here to stay and it isn’t going away anytime soon…


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