Your mother has a very horrible impression of your communication skills (with good reason, too) and she turns The Gaze on you, too, to watch you falter and stumble over societal niceties. She provides no help when you’re asked, “What are you doing now?”
Now, usually there are several motives behind this question. Sometimes it really just is plain curiosity, or even just an attempt to include you in the conversation. Whatever you say might not be heard in the din of the celebrations and you’ll still receive an emphatic, understanding nod. You might even say you’re studying the composition of vapors from a compost pit and she’ll look impressed.
On the other hand, it might be their diplomatic way of inquiring about your future status in life. Doctors, engineers, and CAs are all safe. Off-track careers and other degrees receive the felicitation of The Eyebrow, and God forbid you’re doing aimless things like saving the environment, or The Auntie’s eyebrows might accidently merge with the white roots of her hair.
More diabolic intentions include the need to broadcast to society that so-and-so’s daughter/son is studying this (!) in so-and-so place (!), or even worse, to determine whether you are of marriable age. A day over twenty and they’ll follow it up with, “Have you started looking for matches yet?” Your face crumples, as does your mother’s. Excuses are waved aside and offers of introductions are made by The Apparently Well-Connected Auntie.
Let us assume you haven’t encountered this question yet. 9 out of 10 times it is because The Auntie has an unmarried offspring your age. You call him/her ‘The Offspring’ as the very sight of ‘it’ is distasteful. It is taller than you, better-looking than you, dressed better than you; confident and ever-smiling. Your mother adores it. You doubt it is smarter than you, though. These supposed societal role models for people your age are usually rather silly, obviously. The mothers begin to ignore you in a subtle nudge to get you talking to The Offspring. Neither you nor The Offspring seem to find any interest in each other, and stare at your respective mothers with polite, socially acceptable smiles instead. The gravity of this stare pulls the women apart and just when you think it’s all over, The Uncle arrives. This necessitates your father joining the group.
The Uncle repeats The Auntie’s questioning procedure: academics, future plans, and dear me, have we run out of topics already? Let’s talk about something only The Uncle likes!
This seems to alarm The Auntie who sees the conversation heading in a direction that cannot include her. She throws out her anchor: “Where did you get that? It is so lovely!”
‘It’ varies from person to person. It can be jewelry. It can be clothes. In desperate situations, it can even be you.
Like a deer in headlights, you stare at the pudgy finger in your direction. Your eyes follow the loops of the bangles that sit tight on the arm. The lights in the periphery of your vision seem brighter. But you cannot answer this question, for your brain has been dumped in liquid nitrogen: the necessity to answer an unexpected question after the introduction is over. Your mother comes to the rescue and names locations that fly over your numb brain. Now that at least one awkward moment has been achieved, you know that it is time for the families to part. Time for dinner, finally!
Let us assume The Auntie does not throw out this sort of anchor. Instead, her eyes will glow. Slowly, steadily. Until she reaches either “You’ve grown so much! You were this little the last time I saw you!” or “Have you made friends in college? Do you miss home?” The exclamations about growth tend to exasperate, because it only reminds you how long it’s been since you’ve actually grown other than your steady horizontal expansion. And as for the question about missing home… the polite answer in front of your parents is yes… but a stubborn streak in you refuses to give up loyalty to college and cast it in a negative light… and so the war begins. College or home? Your parents do not fail to notice this. A plan to diffuse the situation that is sure to occur at home begins in your head, effectively distracting you for a minute.
Either way you approach The Awkward Silence that indicates that the meeting is over. The Offspring cordially takes its leave from your parents. Now you’re expected to do the same (or so the looks of reproach indicate) and after your less graceful attempts at the same, The Offspring’s good wishes bestowed upon you unwillingly are received with some resentment. Now etched in your parents’ memory, The Offspring will come to haunt you again and again for every failure of yours, starting from your inability to remember The Auntie’s name (“Did you see how The Offspring greeted me by name? And it remembered your little sister’s name too!”).
But it’s over with now, the umpteenth interaction of the evening, and soon you’ll leave and reach your safe, comfortable abode, curl up with a book or laptop, and forget about everything. The spread is scrumptious and the desserts look fantastic. The real reason you’ve come here is splayed out in front of you, just within your reach, if only you could reach that plate through the crowd! Someone hands the plate over to you. You decide to thank them, looking into their face, only to see — Another Auntie!!!
Disclaimer: Pure fiction, pure humor, and nothing serious about stereotypes. =)
– Monica Reddy (UG1)