The good old ‘uncles’ or ammavans (അമ്മാവൻ) as we call in Malayalam, are back. This time with a vengeance, crawling all over the social media. I am not referring to people who might be on the wrong side of thirty and higher here, as it will be clear. I am every bit spooked! It feels like watching that Sherlock trailer where Jim Moriarty with his brooding eyes asks you “did you miss me?”. Well, it is not a folly to award Moriarty an honorary ammavan title for being obnoxious and positively spooky. It is his higher IQ and ambition that stands in the way. Our ammavans are so boringly mundane, with a world view that has never crossed the boundaries of their eternal village. But beware my friends, with one twist of their acerbic tongues they can melt rocks of ages; these people are quite easily our own undetectable weapons of mass destruction! At least they remain so for families and personal relationships.
How I used to miss this adorable bunch of people ever since the early 2000’s or so, when the stay at my home town became intermittent. Let us be clear, I am not talking about relative uncles in general. Some older gentlemen belonging to the broad class of relative uncles could still qualify to be the ammavans in question. Most of my close relative uncles are fortunately a far cry from this category. The ammavans I refer to are not defined by the relationship as such, but characteristics. So, what are these people any way, and what do they do?
For one thing, these people are quite literally joblessness personified. Not all of them need be perceptually unemployed or retired. Some of them do, but as a rule their favourite pass time is poking their fine noses into other people’s affairs. It all starts with an innocuous sounding concern for the younger generation. Imagine the horror of misguided youths not fed with enough diet of our best of the world culture and traditions! And this reminds me the conversation from the first Malayalam novel published in 1889— Indulekha. A quintessential middle aged comic character laments how ‘the youth these days have no respect for elders and do not read any of our great classics‘, ironically which they themselves have not read. The noble intention of giving free (and every bit useless) advises to the youth, even if most of these gentlemen are far from being exemplars, is the first item in their agenda. Most poor souls will be terrified and De-motivated to a level of high self pity after listening to them enough times. As far as the few brave warriors who do succeed to march ahead, the game has only began.
Pleasing an ammavan does no good other than you loosing time and self respect. But try being cross with him, and he will make your life hell to such an extend that you’ll regret being born. They achieve these remarkable feats through the local rumor service that they control, run and exploit. If you happened to be one of those traditional guy or girl who could not act on finding a mate, perhaps because you are boring, busy or simply afraid, and hence is looking forward for an arranged marriage, this is a person whose bad book should have no trace of your name.
If you thought things are bad so far, you know nothing John Snow. And that is probably because you are a guy! You haven’t seen the kind of terror these ammavans are capable of unleashing until you ask any young woman living in close proximity with this species. The very first difference is that the dosage of daughterly advises suddenly gets five fold. He will stalk you, taking stock of the friends and boy friend(s) if any, purely out of 916 parental concern. Many of them works as part time marriage brokers, and hence they are driven by a mix of virtuous care and quality concern. After all, they are performing the arduous duty of supplying certified chaste women of the same caste and religion to men whose quality parameters can be more lenient and open to interpretations, isn’t it?
This lovely species was well represented in the popular culture of Kerala. Actors like Innocent, Kuthiravattam Pappu, Jagathy Sreekumar and Shankaradi, were among the stereotypical ammavans portrayed in Malayalam films through out the 80’s and 90’s. I’m sure that all other regions from India will have their equivalents as this is a pan South Asia phenomena. But then these species, though never extinct, were on a slight decline path for some time. I cannot say for sure the reasons. It is suspected that real job market in small towns had a slight boost for a brief period and hence some ammavans thought of opting work for a change. Perhaps because of the financial crisis and slowing down of economy, they have come back. However, this time they are into a totally unsuspected arena — Facebook advisory councils and whatzapp heroism!
I have often wondered about the psychological make up of a person who visits the social media page of a younger acquaintance, relative or often a stranger, only to lament how wrong the youth these days are, out of nowhere. These are real people and that is what makes them scary. Though their mental ability and comprehension capacities are often found not rising above the mandatory 10+2 level requirements by any Indian board, the pretense of infinite wisdom will certainly give the seers from Ramanand Sagar’s puranic serials a run for their money. Make no mistake, many of them have noteworthy degrees including PhD’s, and that does tell us a lot about education in general. It is not surprising that they have penetrated social media, given that you meet so many such people with varying degree of toxicity every day. And I mean, they include professors at places no less than IIT’s. The moment I meet an indulgent free advise distributor inside campus, I chant “I will not turn into this grumpy middle aged man” ten times inside my head. What has fundamentally changed in the past few years is their visibility and domain of attack.
Nowadays a lot of internet ammavans are into fan clubs; not the mundane film or sport star variety, but larger than all of them and you know who I mean. He is the avatar of Voldemort and really shall not be named. And if you got what I mean do not say that in public; at least not in plain English. Try it and ammavans and their friends will accuse you of being biased, politically motivated (as if they are not), confused, anti-national liberal, communist and jihadist. By the time irony dies a thousand deaths, you would have received a thousand whatsapp messages proscribing such behavior from other ammavans. Perhaps, by the looks of it, the dads (not literally) of these paragons of virtue were into the fan club of Ma Durga’s alleged human avatar in India during 70’s. So basically it is déjà vu, the rekindling of a nostalgia, or living the lives of own parents. May be this is how karma actually work and I’m an atheist! But whether into the fan club or not, the line of complaint and advise have seldom changed from the old world ammavans. That include the five fold penalty, if you happen to be a woman. Girl, you are done for your life!
So, what can we do about ammavans? My honest opinion is nothing can be done! These people have beaten nature to be present in the cyber world, and so we should be expecting internet ammavan viruses in coming years. Stalk bots will register the activities of women, and they will get an occasional dosage of quotes from virtuous woman training manual, and don’t be surprised if some are lifted from Durga Vahini’s own publications. Men generally will be abused if you have any strong opinions on political matters. Expect lectures on humility, by people who proudly flaunts ignorance as a virtue. It is possible that in 5 -10 years he who shall not be named might be replaced by another star, but the kind of activity will remain the same. Whatsapp and its future version will have spontaneous artificial intelligence driven believe it or not news (actually rumor) service. NASA will continue to validate everything that is there, or allegedly there, in Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas, though surprisingly it would still take them to do it and our own desi sanskari Sanskrit pundits cannot. And by the way, our secular credentials are impeccable even there. All these and more, are not and shall not be, limited to any Hindu world views. The equivalents with equal degree of toxicity exists and and shall exist, from the Christian, Muslim and Sikh backgrounds. As they say, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani! In short, we are doomed in the cyber world too.