The most recent guest post on (a) Bad Aunty, and all the resultant flak directed at her, prompted this response. Don’t get me wrong, the reactions towards her were no-doubt well deserved – even I admit to having a few dark thoughts about what I’d say to her, but preferably under the cover of darkness… because I, too, am a MALLU AUNTY (MA).
What qualifies me? Other than the obvious, being above 35 years of age (a good decade and a bit older, in my case), wearing sarees for major functions (with a certain flair, I might add) and conversing in Malayalam (often enough). I thought I would take to this platform to shine some light on some of our redeeming qualities, but also some of the things we really need help with… We find it hard enough taking life advice and tips from anyone even a day younger than us, let alone our own off-spring, so I just want you to know that I’m reeeeally putting myself out there – so, in the spirit of Easter, please don’t crucify me!
As I learnt during my college days, many moons ago, the best way to get points across to the examiners without rambling on and on, was by making use of bullet points, so here goes… Let me start with the issues we really need help with, before pointing out our more charming qualities – trust me, these exist!
Okay. So, this is the number one problem. I honestly have no excuse for this truly nasty characteristic – but the only way to stop it in its tracks is to call us out on it – if it’s your mom that’s passing on a particularly juicy bit of gossip about someone else’s kid – stop her then and there! Ask her how she might feel if someone spoke the same way about you; about the way you dressed, behaved, or lived your life. She might send you packing with a put-down or a scolding, or even an OTS (one tight slap), but in her heart, she’s secretly very proud of you and the stand you’ve taken. The next time someone tries to pull her in with a story, she might even say “Actually, I’d rather not talk about so-and-so’s child, my daughter/son is against gossiping, and so am I”, or even better, “None of us or our kids are perfect, so let’s not discuss these things”. Nothing like a good put-down for that over-bearing MA who believes her kids can do no wrong! The converse is, if you sit by and just listen or encourage stories about others, and even, God forbid, pass them on – please don’t be offended or hurt when you or yours are gossiped about.
- Commenting about peoples’ looks/weight/colour/lack of suitors/lack of wanting suitors/lack of kids/surplus of kids/this-list-is-pretty-much-endless-but-you-get-the-idea
This has to be a cultural thing as I’ve heard it’s perfectly acceptable in African cultures to tell someone that their baby is ugly – yes, ugly. Not “not that cute”, or “looks more like Dad than Mom” or other euphemisms – just plain, to your face, “Ugly”. Thank Heavens that the poor baby isn’t yet able to register this, and hopefully by the time the child is grown, the commenter would have developed some filters. In any case, there really is no clear solution to this cultural phenomenon, apart from, perhaps, developing a thick skin and a very Malayalee sense of humour.
Having an internal conversation while the questions-and-assessment is happening goes a long way to making it a tad bit more bearable.
MA: “Hello mole, you’ve put on weight! How are you? How’s university/work?”
As an initial greeting, this can be met with varying levels of sarcasm or passive aggression depending on the preconceived nice-ness of the MA… It could play out as follows:
To a reasonably nice MA: “I’m fine, MA, how’re you?” *big smile* [Internal convo: Strike one -mention my weight again and we’re done]
To a not-so-nice MA: “I’m okay, MA, how are you?” *grimace* [Internal convo: Have you looked in the mirror recently? And? Yeah, I thought so…]
To a horrible MA: “Can’t complain. How are you doing? …Actually, MA, are you sure you’re alright? You don’t look too well!” *smile – and hug, if you can bear to* [Internal convo: Alright! Done and dusted – noted the panic that clouded her eyes as she left wondering whether she has Cancer/Diabetes/Hypertension, and cherry on top, now there’s Mallu Uncle (MU) in the dog-house for not listening to her numerous complaints. Hello, needles and blood tests – and if we’re lucky, a mammogram?
I’m pretty sure that you have made out, by now, that spiteful MA’s run in generations and that we’ve also had our share of putting up with them and developing coping mechanisms.
So, let’s briefly go on to the good aspects.
The sweet, genuinely kind MA’s who will stand on the side-lines cheering you on as you make your way out in the world.
The pride we feel when you excel in your chosen fields! That’s so real and seems to transcend all that is petty and small-minded in our community.
We sincerely rejoice in your success and wish that you go from strength to strength. This ultimately means that you can be used as a solid example to hold up to our kids when they come home with their mediocre 80’s and 90’s (just kidding! And yes, we shouldn’t be comparing – we know, we know).
Then there is the help that only MA’s can extend when someone/a family in the community is struck by something serious, perhaps an illness/bereavement/accident. The meals that get prepared without a second thought, the looking after of little (and big) kids who may be affected, the cleaning up of the house/washing up/making of innumerable cups of tea and coffee… Plus, who is going to help you drape your settu-mundu for Thiruvathira at Onam? These are some of the things to take pride in and to nurture and to hopefully pass on to our next generations.
These are just some of the virtues that I extol (yes, Google that) and I’m sure you see many more within your own families. I mean, we aren’t aaaallll bad.
Here’s to changing the face of the Lean Mean MA – slowly but surely, generation by generation, post by post.
– Mallu Aunty