On Valentine's Day, a tribute to Aunty K, without whom my love life would have loped, not lumbered along
My love story had a villain too. No, scratch that, every one of my love stories has had just the one villain — Aunty K, from apartment 2D in the building right opposite ours.
If there’s one thing that Bollywood has proved to us, time and time again, it is that there can be no love story without a bone-tingling, knuckle-biting syaapa. I mean, there can be, of course — I had grown up hearing about the heroic exploits of my second cousin, twice removed. Cousin N had had the good sense to fall in love with a boy from the same community, from a far wealthier family than her own, and whose parents were good friends with her aunt’s sister-in-law’s brother. Not even a token, faint whiff of syaapa was to be found lurking anywhere in their story. But the utter lack of any romanchak twists and turns in their story also made it the dullest love story I’ve read, heard, or watched. I mean, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge would be over in roughly nine-and-a-half-minutes without Bauji and his bulging eyes. Means, Shah Rukh Khan’s impish grins are heart melting and more, but it is Amrish Puri’s broad, disapproving, English people-hating, sarson khet-loving shoulders that actually carried the film to its destiny.
Point is, every good love story deserves a villain. These villains are the tadka that make the butter in the pan hiss and sizzle. Without them, there would be no masala, no mazza.
My love story had a villain too. No, scratch that, every one of my love stories has had just the one villain — Aunty K, from apartment 2D in the building right opposite ours. And this Valentine’s Day, as I total the body county of my depressing love life, I can’t help but marvel, and admire, her unwavering dedication to squarely placing herself in the path of young love, lest the young women she had tasked herself with protecting succumbed to the hormones swirling in their bodies and gave away her most prized possession.
To make matters worse for me, she was also my mum’s friend. So keeping an eye out for me was not just an afternoon hobby; it was Aunty K’s sacred duty. Since I was the Chosen One, nothing I ever did, or even thought of doing, escaped Aunty K’s x-ray vision. She was a bit like a gecko, like that — attuned to even the slightest change in my colour if I happened to be around a boy I liked.
I was 11 and head over heels in love with Shashank Pandey. I scribbled my initials and his in my book with all the conviction of a woman who has met the father of her future babies. Our “affair” as Aunty K called every girl-boy relationship that was not blood-related or marriage, lasted four days, but no length of time was too short to fly under Aunty K’s radar. I remember choking on my cornflakes on Day 5, when Aunty K decided to interrogate me about the boy she had been hearing about, followed by a monologue about how we girls weren’t even safe in a girls’ schools, to which my mother just rolled her eyes while she wasn’t looking. Twenty years later, I still sometimes wonder what, or who, the source of her information was.
At 14, I am convinced that Aunty K knew of my crush on my tuition sir before even I did, given how she made it her life’s mission to convince mom that I would benefit a lot more by studying in a group.
At 16, she would magically appear at the window every time my then boyfriend dropped me home, making me so nervous that I once slapped his hand away so sharply when he tried to shyly hold mine under the building that it was swollen for several days after.
At 18, realising that I could get married and have sex without legal consequence, every visit to our house was peppered with cautionary tales of out-of-control girls who had torched their futures and their parents’ izzat with their modern ways. This was also the time when a family situation required my parents to travel extensively and often, leaving me alone at home for days at a time. Needless to say, Aunty K volunteered to come over and stay with me for as long as necessary, so I wouldn’t “miss my mom”. It took me threatening to leave home — and packing my belongings to show that I was serious — for the idea to be abandoned. I have no way of proving it, but I could feel Aunty K’s gaze peering at me from behind some unknown window or curtain, every time I so much as even thought of inviting my then boyfriend over to spend the night.
In the 15 years since I started dating, boys have come, gone, and been unceremoniously thrown out. But there’s been just one constant: Aunty K. She has been the iron third wheel in all my romantic relationships, ensuring that while other women’s love lives loped, mine could just about lumber along. She’s the reason I was the last remaining virgin in my group — I had to put several hundred miles between us before I felt reasonably sure that she didn’t have a way of finding out and tattling to my parents.
I’m dedicating this Valentine’s Day to Aunty K and all other aunties in 2D. May your tribe take up crocheting and turn it into a giant brand on social media. God knows you have the smarts.
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