Loving your Aunties

Posted Tuesday, 11 February 2020

My maternal grandparents achieved the Indian dream of producing a son soon after marriage. Then in a disappointing twist, four daughters followed in quick succession. Four girls who would need to be raised, educated and given dowries, only to leave them to join their husbands’ households. 

My mother and her sisters all married men chosen by their parents and had two children each. They became accomplished cooks. Though intelligent and capable, they followed my grandmother’s example in how they structured their lives, focusing their primary energies on raising their kids, running their homes and spoiling their husbands. The Saraf sisters treated their husbands like kings.

For my mother in the U.S., this involved picking up the dirty laundry my father dropped on the ground, handling all the finances and keeping my dad so comfortable, he never had to worry about the domestic. 

My aunt in England had a happy, cosy home, did a lot of social work and was rumoured to be the best cook of the sisters. When my young children visited her house in Warrington for the first time, they didn’t want to leave. My eldest told me, “Rani Nani’s house is awesome. Her yard is awesome. Even her cable TV is awesome.” The kids stood in the kitchen while she cooked Kashmiri specialties for dinner and sniffed and sniffed the delicious smells. 

For my two aunts residing in India, it was a different variation of the same story. When ‘Sahib’ came home from the office, a flurry of activity commenced that ended with uncles sitting in comfy chairs, briefcases stashed away, loosening their ties with one hand and taking pulls of whiskey and soda with the other. My aunts arranged kabobs and nuts for them to snack on while simultaneously calculating the start time for dinner. 

Maybe it was because they shared the same values that my aunts developed such close bonds with each other’s children. My cousins and I knew that whenever we were with our aunts, they would mother us as if we were their own. In India, we have a special name for a mother’s sister to illustrate that close bond. We call those aunts ‘mausi’, which I’ve been told is short for ‘ma jaise’ or mother-like. 

There are technologies that are passed down through families. I learned to be a wife and mother from my mom, her sisters and their female cousins. I have loving aunts on my father’s side as well, so I was doubly blessed. 

Even though I am the editor and featured columnist of this magazine, now in its fourth year of print, and am earning my second master’s degree at Oxford, the focus of my life does not centre around writing or academia. Those are things that keep me busy but do not define who I am.

I’m a proud Lagos housewife. My purpose is to help my husband and children achieve joy, success and fulfilment. Yesterday I grocery shopped, cooked and served my family a healthy dinner. I took care of them, as I am meant to do. What could be more important?

Speaking of yesterday, when I awoke I had three mausis, as I have had all my life. By the evening, one of my mausis was late. She died suddenly, my cousins tell me. She had been ill for years, but still… I kept replaying the same thoughts last night after I found out. How is this possible? I just saw her in November. How can I not see her again? How is this possible?

I sat on the sofa and wept. My eldest asked what was wrong and when I told her, we held each other and cried. My two other children joined us. My husband came home from work and we five sat there together, solemn, grieving. It was a great comfort to share our pain and support one another. That is one of the best parts of love.

But losing my mausi, that’s the bitter part of love. Now we must find a way forward without a key member, and it will never be the same. Our lives are less rich without my mischievous, kind, agreeable aunt.

Tonight, I will cook Kashmiri food for my family. It won’t taste anywhere close to what Rani Mausi used to make but I honour her by following her example. I will continue working tirelessly on behalf of the children she called her grandkids and the Nigerian man she embraced, from the first, like a son.

Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.

Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com

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