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  Opinion   Columnists  14 Jan 2024  Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | Those agony aunts who are bad news

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | Those agony aunts who are bad news

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a humour writer, novelist, columnist and screenwriter
Published : Jan 14, 2024, 1:07 am IST
Updated : Jan 14, 2024, 8:44 pm IST

Dive into the whimsical world of Aunty Panku's bad news sagas, where laughter meets melancholy in a humorous tale of mayhem.

Navigating Laughter in the Face of Aunty Panku's Melodramatic Tales. (Image: teksomolika on Freepik)
 Navigating Laughter in the Face of Aunty Panku's Melodramatic Tales. (Image: teksomolika on Freepik)

I have this aunt. Before my extended family gets their loincloths in a bunch trying to figure out whose mother I’m referring to, relax. She isn’t a relation. She’s an aunt in the Indian sense, like everyone is aunt or uncle.

If lore is to be believed, this aunt, god bless her, has never brought good news to anyone in the last seventy years. When she walks into a room, one automatically knows that, along with the extra-long pallu of her resplendent Kanjeevaram, must come tidings of melancholy, misery or mayhem. 

For instance, the last time I ‘met’ her, after having successfully avoided her at a wedding (where I saw the bride, groom and purohit weeping in unison after she’d had a word with them) and a funeral (where she apparently told the already devastated widow of the departed how the recent Chennai flood had brought snakes into an old age home), it was because my luck outran me on my morning walk a couple of days ago. Said aunt identified me from 400m away and came at me with the speed, precision and ruthlessness of a poet promoting her latest volume at a lit fest. 

‘How are you, Aunty Pankajam (name changed, obviously)?’ I mumbled, having failed to duck into a nearby open drain in time.

‘How do you expect me to be?’ she said.

I had no choice but to ask her the question that one never ought to ask her, and yet, somehow, everyone was literally hypnotized into asking. Such was her power.

‘Why, what’s wrong, Aunty Pankajam?’ I said, even as my unmentionable parts braced for impact.

‘What is not wrong would be a better question,’ she said, taking a deep breath.

This meant that the Tam-Brahm version of a Greek tragedy patented by Aunty was about to unfold. (I strongly believe that Aeschylus got the idea from one of Pankajam’s ancestors from the Vedic period.)

‘You know what happened to the Kuriakoses?’ Pankajam demanded, and without waiting a second, continued ‘Well, remember the quiet park they had next to their ancestral bungalow? Some wretched businessman has managed to annex it, and now they’re building a mall there. With all the JCBs and construction workers going in and out, Mrs Kuriakose is now permanently covered in a fine film of grey dust which not only makes her look like a dehydrated version of Swamp Man but has also given her a terrible rash. And poor Mr Kuriakose has gone deaf. In his left ear, too.’ 

As I saw it, it wasn’t all bad. Mrs Kuriakose was an ardent, loud, and indefatigably off-key singer and this meant that Mr Kuriakose would hear even less of her. It was rumoured that, decades ago, his right ear had decided to malfunction at Mrs Kuriakose’s inaugural concert and remain that way. But I desisted from pointing the tiny silver lining adorning the cloud of dust.

As my eyes slowly glazed over and I longed for my mother’s lap to rest on, Aunty Pankajam narrated an epic tale of distress and destruction starring the hapless Kuriakoses. I walked away in a daze at about the time she began showing me how Mr Kuriakose was hanging from the gaping jaws of the earth mover and deploying language at the operator that would make a Malayali sailor lose his way to the Gulf.

When I returned home, it took me a good fifteen minutes to remember my wife’s name.

We all have an Aunty Panku in our lives. I have three or four, in fact. While the others are not quite in her league, they all revel in bringing bad news. That it might not always be connected to anyone you know doesn’t matter. They get their kicks from dimming your light, deflating your spirit, offing your will to live. They are the ones who specialize in RIP posts on social media. If there is an earthquake in Japan, a rail accident in Germany, a mass shooting on Mars, they’ll make sure you get to hear about it. If they see you coming out of a Laurel & Hardy double bill, they can make your tears of laughter change to tears of anguish in a second.

Tags: krishna shastri devulapalli, aunties