None of us saw it coming, not even my mother. And she knows things.
Well my auntie, my mother’s sister, a real gem of a doll had recently undergone an unfortunate hip replacement surgery which had rendered her immovable for the next three months. Painful, definitely, but the operation did also come with the compensatory bonus of a few months of welcome rest – a time to really kick back, spread out and wedge. With a pillow under the bum of course. Now, I’m not saying this was ideal, but one could certainly see the silver lining in the crack.
Not so much my auntie though.
You see, my auntie is a rather gregarious personality. Generous with her love and her opinion. If you’d met her, you’d probably remember her as lively. She is what they call the true social butterfly – bustling with activity, the toast of every evening, friend of every friend, the real dish of the day. And this unplanned sabbatical didn’t go down too well with her plans of mass pollination. Especially with Diwali around the corner.
Diwali, as you would well know, meant endless evenings, copious bouts of socialization, opportunistic weddings and a general sense of brouhaha towards strangers and family alike. Missing this would be like missing the Royal Rumble. A personal loss for auntie no doubt, but also a spanner in our family’s long term ambition of infusing some much needed funk into the Baniya ways of debauchery. You see, she was our chosen flag bearer at the upcoming Punjabi card parties. Whiskey for every whiskey. Joke for every joke. Shahi paneer sticking it to chicken malai tikka. Without her, what were we but some vegetarian starters discarded in a corner?
The mood, you could safely say, was not too festive. The season was about to begin and our quarterback was perched firmly on the bench. What were we to do? My 16 year cousin suggested the use of technology to make up for this unfortunate hiccup. Specifically a new cellphone – the touchy feely, internet induced, icon spewing, multitasking, mega GB gadgetagooboo kind. Something that would arm my auntie with the necessary tentacles of connection, ensuring her adequate presence in our lives and of course some much needed peace of mind. The only catch was, she wasn’t much of a technology buff. Not a novice either, but a sure rookie in the ways of our cellular generation.
A 3 week training schedule was thus hurriedly devised. Quarterly modules on etiquette, language, models and platforms with a special two day workshop on the internet and the space beyond. The workshop, of course, was open for all. By the end of the first week she was ROFLing, LOLing, XoXoing like a pro. By the end of the second @auntiee556 had added us on all possible platforms and networks. By the third, she was everywhere. All the time. A three side flanking technique that looked impressive on paper but would soon become her signature strategy of annihilation. The seed had been sown. The monster was slowly rising.
We didn’t know it yet it, but this was perhaps the beginning of the end. We were hoping to groom a graduate of certain merit, a modern day domestic icon, a service to the community, an auntie free with technology and the takda, swyping with purpose, pleasure and precision. What we got was, well…
You see, it wasn’t the ROFLing, XoXoing and #tagging that was the problem. It wasn’t even the :), 😉 and the :P, though they were quietly stretching the boundaries of familial restraint. It was in fact the little noticed and oft discarded ‘!’. Yes, that same tiny ‘!’, that harmless drop of joy used to connote a certain sense of excitement and revelry from the sender. Now I know what you’re thinking – what damage could an innocent ‘!’ really do?
Well, I sincerely hope you never have to experience the answer.
They came from everywhere. Those blobs of menace, splattered across every line, often in diads and triads, daring us, egging us, begging us with their unbridled enthusiasm and relentless cheer – have you ever been high on cocaine?
Hi auntie. How you feeling?
Good!!! How were you?!
I’m good. Hows the pain?
Bad!!!!! Hurts a lot!!! Lots of medicines!!!
That’s tough. Can I help?
No!! You can’t!! No one can!!!
Oh, I’m sorry
Just pray :P!!!!
Yes yes!!! Please do!!
The thing with cocaine is, and this I’ve only heard, that it injects your brain and body with so much energy that the person feels almost infinite. I’ve read of cases where people haven’t slept for hours and have eventually had to be sedated in quiet desperation. Now, I’m not saying my auntie was high on cocaine, hell no. But just try, for a moment, to understand the sentiment.
I was quite well behaved the first few days. Responding in respectable hmms and hellos, and oh my, I hope you get better soons. Not feeding the ‘high’ as the experts dutifully recommend. But soon, the messages became more demanding, rising in intensity and frequency, almost commanding an urgency in replies.
Where are you!!!
What are you doing!!!
I’m so bored!!! 😛
Now I love my auntie. I really do, but this was getting out of hand. The strain of faking consistent enthusiasm was taking a toll on my impeccable nephew next door persona. I found myself cursing and cringing every time the phone beeped. The knuckles hurt, the wrists screamed, the burrow furrowed. Something had to be done.
Luckily, streams of dissent had begun to emerge from the rest of the family as well; my parents, my sisters, the part time maids. We were all a bit mad and found ourselves with few choices but one.
On Saturday morning the following week, a few of us, handpicked by the elders on account of experience and respectable hygiene, missioned it to my aunt’s house for an honest to god chat.
You see auntie, it’s not the messages, but the exclamation marks, my sister began.
They’re just not right you know auntie.
You can use them of course, but not all the time. Ok auntie?
She seemed to understand I think. Though her eyes looked deeply sullen, as if suddenly robbed of all energy and blood. Her head down, her finger’s crossed. We left without tea.
Things didn’t change much. By the end of next week, the pace had quickened again, this time reaching us across multiple forums and topics. There were new exclaims about the government, the prices, the festival, the food, the neighbours, the pets, the neighbour’s pets, the poor and the upcoming wedding of our second cousin’s step daughter.
This program needed some serious medication.
A doctor relative recommended we make it difficult to find the drug itself. In our case it was the wild idea of stealing her phone one weary night, and getting it adequately corrupted through the vigil agents of my neighbour at work. By morning, the phone was as good as brick.
So sorry to hear that auntie. I might have a spare phone in case you need it.
Sure I did. An old Nokia 3310. Hah. The original prodigy with big podgy numbers and an exclamation mark that took at least five presses of the number 9. That’ll show her I thought. Skillful, yet quite considerate. Next door nephew for the win.
It was not to be of course. By evening, wily auntie had mastered the controls of her new gadget, switching guilefully between the right thumb and index finger, with enough time to break every snake record I had accumulated during my extended years of puberty. Things were getting personal now.
What do we do? I asked her husband in desperation. Something has to be done uncle, we can’t go on like this. We’re losing sleep, we’re losing relatives, we’re losing credibility! The card parties are about to begin and we’re not even invited! How will we ever recover from this?
Hmm, he said after taking an extraordinary amount of time in contemplation. Maybe we need a long term strategy. Maybe I need a nap. Maybe something that will make her forget this problem once and for all.
You mean an extended period of abstinence?
Exactly. How about London?
London! That’s perfect. We can send her to Khan’s uncle’s villa for the winter!
And maybe give her a phone with a, well, ‘not so appropriate’ data connection
Which will make it difficult to send a single text… genius! Plus, it’ll save us money, so ye to the Baniya way!
It’s decided then, London for the winter. I think I’ll take a vacation too. How far is Kaniyakumari from Trafalgar square?
By January, three more months had passed and we hadn’t heard a word from auntie since. I’ll admit I missed her a little. Her passionate updates did at-least cheer up my mostly dreary days at work. And after work. And before sleep. And in the middle of the night. But I’m not complaining. Apparently she wasn’t either.
I was later told that she had returned from London in the start of January itself. But still no news? Not a single Hello! Was she alright? It wasn’t till the end of the month that I finally mustered enough courage to ask how she was doing.
Hi Auntie! How you doing?
Hi. I’m ok.
Ok? Are you sure?
How was London?
I’m told rehabilitation is a tough tough program. Patients suffer from depression, anxiety and the gloom of persistent relapse. Most leave as hardened individuals – often numb to the world and it’s previous pleasures. And I could see that change in my auntie too. Suddenly, our conversation was bereft of her usual cheer, as if the love had been sucked out in one hard stroll in the by-lanes of Piccadilly. I blame myself. I don’t know what happened back there, nor can I imagine how bad the period must’ve been, but somehow I think I was responsible. It was my own inadequacy, my own inability to deal with the situation, my own insecurity and selfishness that had brought this upon my auntie. I love my auntie goddammit. I thought I’d save her, not make her half the woman she used to be. I’d ruined everything. For everyone. I mean who uses full stops after every word huh? Staccato. Really. Auntie. I mean. Really?