Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Auntie syndrome

Anyone that has married (or dated, or even been born) into an Indian family can potentially understand this: I'm afraid of Indian aunties! Ok, not in a "I need to run 'cause I saw a sari-clad older woman on the street" sort of way but definitely in a acute self-awareness and unease way.

When did this start? Most probably right in my first visit to India and my first encounter with the said aunties. When the fear of not getting things right materialized into a scorn, comment, or a comment passed on to A. later when I wasn't around. The fear became a syndrome in the sense that there is no way I can control it since, by definition, I don't know what is "wrong". Such as inadvertently crossing my legs while sitting on the sofa (and therefore sort of pointing in someone's direction with my foot) which is how ladies are always supposed to sit where I'm from. Or occasionally forgetting the left hand taboo and reaching for something with it. Or... Or... At the same time, the aunties tend to be very good at making faces or comments at you and then turning to their nephew/son/etc with the sweetest voice and changing topics, which complicates reactions.

And when I returned to India for my wedding the syndrome definitely settled in. There are so many things you can get wrong in a wedding ceremony that trying hard is almost useless. And to top it off some aunties are just mean... like the auntie that said that no, I could not use the toilet before rewrapping the 9 yards sari (it ties in between your legs, making it impossible to pee unless you untie it). I obeyed, thinking it might be some belief related to purity. When I asked A. after the ceremony he got pissed and went to talk to her... the auntie had just said that to make life difficult for me!!

When did I self diagnose this syndrome? Well, a few weeks ago, when I went to a South Indian restaurant with A. and some old Indian ladies came to sit next to us. Immediately I sat straight, unfolded my legs. When the food came I sat on my left hand and concentrated hard on eating without making a fool of myself (was having dosa and eating with my hand). I was sure they were watching (actually staring and scrutinizing) me. But when I mentioned it to A. he insisted it was all in my head. So... am I going crazy?? Or do you also relate?


  1. When we pass strangers on the street, A watches for scrutiny from White people, while I don't notice even the most blatant looks. However, if there's an Auntie anywhere on the street, I watch every variation of "Why are you with her, I could have found you a nice Indian girl!" cross her face.

    We struggle with my level of paranoia, which is part of what I'm talking about with my fears of visiting India. I know that I err on the side of paranoid caution, but I also believe that he ALWAYS says it's in my head, like a knee-jerk reaction, then will sometimes admit that I have a point later.

    So...you might be going crazy, but I'm right by your side on the trip to cuckoo town.

  2. no its true...guys often dont see alot of that magnifying glass because to be honest, its a stupid and petty thing that women do to each other.
    i have recieved more than a few pointed looks from aunties (and uncles!) (not ones i am actually related to though) when i am out at the mall or park with my gora husband. first, the teenager/older desi girls will look, maybe tug on their mom's arm, or their mom (aunty) will LOOK (you know the kind of stare i mean), to figure out if they know me or what, then they look at my husband, then back at me then huff and turn away grabbing thier kids as they leave.
    gee thanks.
    happens everywhere, from toronto to london to paris. :P i cant imagine what it will be like to take him to india....

  3. in response to sarah, i feel the paranoia in the opposite way when i am in smalltown goraville (midwest) where my husband is from. i am ALOT quieter, and hardly speak up and know that all his aunts are LOOKING at me and judging, how did he end up with someone like this!? why couldnt he get a 'regular' midwestern blonde girl? :P

  4. I, too, suffer from acute auntiephobia. They terrify me with their looks of almost constant disapproval. To a certain extent, Mr. 4B experiences this syndrome as well--at least whenever he is with me. A couple days ago I needed to buy some underpants. Nothing skanky, just every day cotton underpants. We made a quick trip to a local department store. I went up to the women's department, picked some undies out, and then came back down to the shoe department and found Mr. 4B. We started walking over to the check-out, but as soon as we saw that the clerk was a desi auntie, Mr. 4B grabbed my elbow, turned me around, and said, "Let's go to a less judgmental check-out, shall we?"

  5. You are not going crazy. What you mentioned is 100% true. Unfortunately, there is no solution to this auntie menace other than growing yourself a much thicker skin.

  6. How could I forget to mention the "Why did you steal an Indian" look! As Sara and BBBB mention the auties usually look at you and then to A. and the look follows. They always *know* he could have gotten a much nicer Indian girl.
    But I must agree with :) that women everywhere make lives of other women harder. As my MIL says herself, if she does not take care of traditions, who will? sigh...

  7. Big Auntiephobe here, and I live in India I'm surrounded by them, trust me in my old neighbourhood in Bangalore my neighbours all had a say in how I should raise my daughter, take care of her,what to feed her, and frankly that made me really really really scared to go out for a stroll in the afternoon because I simply couldn't take any more of their critics desguized as advices. I used to go out for a walk the earliest possible in the morning with my dog because then I knew all these ladies would be inside cooking meals for the day.
    And of course it doesn't help that there is a completely different breed of ladies out there that actually seem to despise my being a foreigner but are relieved that at least my daughter looks indian as I mentionned in a recent blog entry.
    One of my regular reader even commented saying I was quite an auntie magnet LOL
    Hoping that the new apartment we are shifting in in 10 days will be better since it's in a very commercial area and I might be free of bickering bored old aunties. One day I swear I might actually strangle one of these out of frustration :)

  8. @BBBB LOL I love the "less judgmental check out, I can just picture the embarassment factor if you stayed at that counter.

    And I really keep wondering why everywhere around the world women tend to make life for other woman so though. You don't see men going to another man telling him he should not do this or that, or ask questions about how they take care of their family...but boy oh boy Aunties do!

  9. I have never really been bothered by aunties or the hounding of women by other desi women.

    When I first started seeing Vishav, I was very careful to keep my mouth shut & not give anyone a reason to say 'I told you so' or to partake in stereotyped gori behaviors!
    After my first few days in India, when I noticed every stare by every villager and felt completely stupid & out of place my FIL told me very simply "Only dogs stare, so let them stare. Only dogs bark, so let them bark" and that is something I have kept in mind ever since.

    I guess having a really relaxed mother in law, that doesn't buy into the gossip, and backs me 100% is hugely helpful.

    On the other hand, I just don't care.

    If someone wants to bitch about me, how I look, how I am, how wrong it was for Vishav to marry me - then that is their issue.
    If they can't come to terms with two people being in love and happy - it has much more to do with them than it will ever have to do with us.

    Miserable people, share misery. Happy people, share happiness...


    I guess this reiterates my 'bad bhabhi' title.
    I am no muss, no fuss & believe in fairness and will never bow down to unrealistic ideas of respect.
    I am also lucky to have such a simple & reasonable husband with simple and reasonable in laws.
    They don't participate in a lot of traditions as they are Sikhs - but beyond that they are modern.
    They understand I am a gori & have no desire to change me, just to accommodate me!

    If something needs to be said, I am happy to be the one to say it!

    When times came when the stares bugged me, I would simply ask people 'ki hoya' - what happened and walk off... The look on their faces was good, but it was even better when I bowed my head, folded my hands and said Sat Sri Akal to them!!

    My sister in law loves the sweets you get after dinner at restaurants, so I used to load up napkins with spoon fulls of sweets to give the aunties something to really look at!!!

  10. I'll agree with :) that we get lots of scares when we visit my teeny-tiny town, like at my cousin's wedding. And, some male FOB students definitely glared at this gori holding an umbrella over an ABCD yesterday...I thought about this discussion!

  11. By scares, I meant "stares." A does get a little nervous, though...watched too many prison supremacist gang documentaries.

  12. @Sara--We got followed by a pack of 3 FOB grad students at the Safeway the other day. Mr. 4B always explains the look on their faces as "Wait--that's an option?" LOL.

    @Cyn-- I am praying that you'll be safer from aunties at your new place. Some women, especially those who haven't had their own careers or a very fulfilling marriage of their own, seem to think that they can take things out on younger women. Women with small children seem to be the most vulnerable to their unsolicited advice. My friend was walking down the street with her two sons the other day and her youngest boy removed his hat as he was growing overheated from playing. Some woman just appeared out of the blue and starting asking my friend where her son's hat was! So stupid!

  13. Hi Cyn,
    Auntiephobia is one of my biggest concerns about living in India. Not that it would stop me from moving, but I think it would spoil some perfectly fine moments. I guess I need to grow a tougher skin as Dsylexic Hippo suggested (I'm working on it, but it does not come easily to me).

    Hi Sara and BBBB,
    I love the comments about the FOB students. I must admit that I can't help but feel sorry for them not having picked up that "staring is rude" social rule...

  14. I've been in India for over 7 years now, growing a though skin is an absolute necessity here, but boy these Aunties bite still can be hurtful, I'm a bit of a coward I guess I try to avoid being cornered by them, or hanging in places where I'm sure to see less of them :) Fortunately they are easy to spot from afar :)