The Not-So-Subtle Art of Meddling: A Guide from Your Nosy Aunty


The Not-So-Subtle Art of Meddling: A Guide from Your Nosy Aunty

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“Kaamna fui, kabhi toh kisi ka acha bola karo!” Remember the malicious aunt from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam who spies on Aishwarya Rai and never has anything nice to say about anyone? That is my Phuppo, my papa’s sister.

I had my first encounter with this creature called phuppo, when I was 15. After the demise of her husband in Canada, she returned to Karachi to live with us. I am a daddy’s girl and was excited have his sister around. That enthusiasm died right after our dua-salaam, when my mother told her I was preparing for my board exams, and she responded with a sly smile said, “Padh lo, padh lo. Ye padhai kaunsa kaam aayegi. Aagey toh kaam aayega wohi chulha, wohi chakki. (What use are your studies going to be, when you’re going to spend all your time in the kitchen?)”

“Must be the jet lag,” I told myself. But as I grew more familiar with Phuppo, I began to run out of excuses. No matter what I did, I found myself at the receiving end of my aunt’s taunts. If I put on a pair of jeans, she’d shame me for being “too fast”. If I wore a salwar kameez, she’d find something to say about the neckline. She’d always give me an earful about how I need to learn cooking and if she found me in the kitchen, I’d either be holding the knife wrong or not slicing the potatoes correctly.

Phuppo has turned out to be a walking, talking reminder of everything that is wrong with me. For years I believed, I probably rubbed her the wrong way and she despised me. But Phuppo doesn’t discriminate, she jibes at everyone from mom to the milkman.

My aunt is suffering from a deadly, pervasive disease. And she is not the only one.  

Phuppoism is a curse that has not spared anyone. A Google search on “Why are aunts so mean?” throws up hundreds of results.

There is a Phuppo in every neighbourhood. He or she is the one keeping a check on the timings of all the girls in the locality and asking young people how much they are earning. They could be your nasty sister-in-law, nosy neighbour, your meddling mama, or the mean girls from your high school. They are all sufferers of Phuppoism, a dreaded condition – a syndrome that finds no entry in The Lancet journal, that no WebMD can diagnose. But don’t let that fool you into believing that this malignant strain is harmless.

Phuppoism is characterised by an ability to constantly find yourself in a place where you have no business to be – such as the lives of others. Sufferers have a sharp tongue and a nose that somehow finds its way into other people’s business. They spend their time gossipping, questioning everyone’s life choices, and doling out free advice. The Phuppo Bible is titled, The Not-So-Subtle Art of Giving a Fuck.  

Pop culture is filled with Phuppos, who take the avatar of evil – but mostly meddlesome – stepmothers or stepsisters in Cinderella and other fairy tales. Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, who make the boy stay in the cupboard under the stairs and make him wear Dudley’s oversized clothes; Simba’s Uncle Scar from The Lion King, and “The Evil One”, Nicholas’ aunt from Saki’s “The Lumber Room” all suffer from Phupposim. Bollywood’s Queen of Phuppoism is Lalita Pawar, so much so that “the Lalita Pawar of our family” has become a catchphrase of sorts. For the millennial, Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister is a typical Phuppo.

Phuppoism is a curse that has not spared anyone. A Google search on “Why are aunts so mean?” throws up hundreds of results. There’s a Reddit post on an “aunt who just totally broke my heart” and a Quora discussion on “How do I get over my aunt shouting at me?” with suggestions that vary from “she’s only human, just a little screwed up” to suck it up, “this is a part of growing up”.

Not enough to pacify me, but it warms the cockles of my heart to know that there are bitchy meddling people everywhere, not just on Privet Drive, King’s Landing, and my home.

Gotta go, my Phuppo is calling out to me. I think I boiled the potatoes all wrong.