Sep 21, 2016

The World of Agony Aunts


Many of us read, openly or secretly, agony aunt columns where the aunt offers advise to lesser minions who have dared to share their problems openly (semi openly, one might say, as the identity is never fully revealed in a newspaper where such columns usually appear. The names could be fictitious, the problem could be half-printed, the contents of the problem could be altered for dramatic effects and so on) . In such a world, the job of an agony aunt is never easy. In fact, if you happen to speak to one, you might find some peculiar behaviour – she might keep on asking you many funny questions, like, when was the last time you brushed your teeth with talcum powder, when did you last meet your husband etc.

I sometimes read some of these columns and enjoy the exchanges. There are really many women – and men, no doubt – who have issues to deal with which sometimes get a bit too much to handle. So then they seek the help of an AA (agony aunt) who can a lend a shoulder and an advice.

Take this case, for example.

“Question: I am a 40-year-old woman staying in Mumbai. I have a reasonably happy married life for the past 10 years. My husband provides all the basic requirements of life, the only glitch being the fact that there is no transparency in our lives. I tell him about my day in detail, but he has built a wall around his personal life, which I am not supposed to knock on. When I try, he loses his cool for days together. I cannot touch his mobile phone and all hell breaks lose if I check his Whatsapp. I cannot even ask where he’d been the whole day. Our conversations are restricted to only general communication. No jokes, no laughter and no sharing…Should I accept this as his permanent nature or opt out as I feel I am allowing myself to be used? – By Anonymous “ .

You get the photo, a clear case of defining boundaries, but, more importantly, the havoc that can be caused by something – a cell phone, in this case – which was specifically designed to improve communications through a constant connect! How can this instrument, purportedly invented to connect people lead to a total disconnect, tension and a breaking out of all hell? And now, by involving an AA, the broken connect is sought to be reconnected. In the good old days, you would have had to wait near the neighbour’s phone to receive a phone call, but nowadays you can switch on (if it is ever switched off) your cell and reach out. In spite of such advancements in peaceful technology uses, tensions can still prevail. Also observe the name of the sender has been protected by “Anonymous”. The question may very well have been framed by the AA.

How would you respond? The answer is simple and clear. However, if you were an AA, you wouldn’t want to give an obvious answer straightaway. That’s not good for business. A straight answer will not give anyone any handle to twist your answer and respond, like the media does. You will have to miss out on all the controversies and the opportunities to stay in the limelight. So what you do is to raise some further questions so that the conversation does not end immediately, and there is a chance or two of follow-up queries and reverts.

So you ask: how are you sure that he is shutting you out? Have you checked and found out whether his boss has fired him in the recent past? Whether his driver has asked for a large loan for his daughter’s marriage? Or his dentist has denied treatment for a semi broken tooth, till it doesn’t fall off on its own? And then insert some suspense: in the next two days, please observe his behaviour closely and constantly. Check whether he is receiving calls from this phone or does he have another cell phone. This one is a clear winner: you have brought in the idea of another cell phone where none may exist, but then the suspicions in an already suspicious mind will be heightened.

And then you go on to answer her query: notwithstanding anything that I may have said, which by the way you must do in the next two days and get back to me, I suggest that you should not lay a lot by the cell phone. Please appreciate that the cell phone is the last resort of a man to contain secrets after marriage. Before the advent of the cell phone, he would have to confide in his paramour; now at least that is not the only solution. You should therefore thank the telephone company in your mind and watch and wait for further developments. In the meantime, you should also use your cell phone in a suspicious manner in his presence so that he becomes curious. Then you can have a quid pro quo situation wherein both of you can share your cell phone secrets. After all, life is all about give and take.

And you close the whole episode by signing off: hope you will soon find out all the “secrets” which may be nothing more than the address of his special shirt store, Whatsapps with his friends on the weather and all matters official. And then go on with your lovely marriage for ever. All the best. Yours truly and always, your agony aunt. Amen.

Long live AA’s and their customers.

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