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Life hacks from Agony Akka | How to deal with Chithis

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi  

Dear Agony Aunt,

Ever since Kamala Harris has become Vice-President elect, and particularly after she gave a shout-out to her chithis, my own mother’s spinster sisters (who have seven cats between them) have been acting very weird. They insist that I too publicly acknowledge — several times a day — their materteral influence in my life. If I demur, they get their cats to hiss at me in chorus. Please tell me how I can deal with such chudail chithis. I am beginning to now wonder if Kamala mami humoured her desi kinswomen under similar duress.

Nephew Under Tremendous Stress

Dear NUTS,

First things first. Let me acquaint you with a woman in Etah, Uttar Pradesh, who recently earned her 15 minutes of fame for the same reasons that have over the years won our plucky pugilist Mary Kom much distinction in the square ring. The story, from what I’ve been able to reconstruct from the graphic ground reports provided by my Ladies’ Group members (all of whom have a healthy interest in strangers’ lives), is that the woman went shopping ahead of the Karva Chauth festival, when suddenly she got caught in a feisty catfight with a teenaged girl. Initial speculation focused on the possibility that our calorifically endowed Cat Woman was perhaps irritably afflicted by a marked diminution in blood sugar levels, such as one might reasonably expect in anyone who contemplates the prospect of fasting for a day.

But more sustained interrogation established that the hostilities were triggered for non-endocrinological reasons. Turns out the teenaged girl had thoughtlessly addressed our Cat Woman as ‘Aunty’. Which is when Cat Woman, who rightly saw it for the ageist affront it was, came out swinging and very nearly kayoed the girl.

Now, NUTS, none of this has anything to do with Kamala Harris or your chithis. But I am sure you know by now why I enriched your life with this compelling narrative. I may not be from Etah, but you address me as ‘Aunty’ only at the risk of having your facial features reconfigured. If you wish to claim any sort of kinship, you may address me as ‘Agony Akka’, but that’s as good as it gets.

Now, for your chithis. From the body of anecdotal evidence you’ve furnished thus far, they come across as mildly whimsical. But they are no more so than you might reasonably expect to see these days in any extended family with forward-happy WhatsApp uncles. In fact, compared to a few other cuckoo characters I know, they seem to lack a defining oddball characteristic. In Odisha, for instance, there was a man who took to living on a tree for 15 years after a sudden breakdown in diplomatic relations with his wife. And compared to the decidedly dotty things that go on within families — check out the #MyFamilyIsWeird hashtag confessions that came in response to a call-out from comedian Jimmy Fallon a while ago — and your catty-batty chithis seem positively pedestrian. In any case, the gold standard for auntly absurdities was set in Truman Capote’s short story ‘My Side of the Matter’. Once you read it, I feel sure you will see your kinswomen as perhaps somewhat deserving of janmabhoomi mandirs in their honour. So long as you don’t suddenly find your sambar garnished with protein supplements — of the sort that might be procured from a Wuhan wet market — you’re fine.

There is, however, one characteristic in your aunts that holds appeal for me: their seeming cat-whisperer capacity to channel feline ferocity. It strikes me as a useful leverage to acquire against my own nephews — in the unfortunate event that they someday take to calling me their chudail chithi or write letters to newspapers to cast aspersions on my mental faculties.

— AA

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2021 5:16:21 AM |

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