A word of advice 7

Earlier this year, the Maharashtra government decided to allow homeopaths to prescribe so-called allopathic medicines. This caused alarm in medical circles, and now the decision itself has run into some trouble. But most people said it was all unnecessary fuss. After all, ours is a country where you can get your ears candled and your wisdom tooth extracted while you wait for a bus. And every family seems to have an uncle who can prescribe antibiotics. Why cheat the homeopaths out of their God-given right to dispense unqualified medical advice?

Personally, I think this is a natural extension of the great Indian tradition of giving free and unsolicited advice. The origins of this tradition are lost in the mists of time, but it is based upon the ancient Vedic principle that every fellow Indian is an expert on your life.

The advice-giver practices his craft in that most hallowed arena, the Indian wedding. He or she occupies the centre stage there, while minor events involving the bride and groom go on in the background.

The stereotype of the advice-giver is that of a middle-aged uncle or aunty, but, believe me, it could be anyone. I once had a six-year-old boy run up to me at a wedding in Madras and remark on the fact that I wasn’t wearing bangles. “Girls should never be with bare arms,” he said sanctimoniously and ungrammatically, before stuffing his face with a laddoo about half his size.

True masters of free advice are rarely so hasty and graceless.

Firstly, they take care in selecting their targets. Most amateurs seize upon the obviously weak. Let’s say you are a bit tired or ill when you are at a family wedding. You will immediately be diagnosed in public by a bevy of well-dressed but decidedly amateur advice-givers. Too much stress, one will say. No, it must be all this western food, will go another. Solutions like ginger-tea, Crocin, Tiger balm and astrology will be offered. If you seem unresponsive at this point, the situation will slowly start to escalate. When someone suggests a magnetotherapist who can reverse your life’s polarity by taping magnets to your fingers, it is time to make a quick escape. But it doesn’t end there. You may, for instance, stagger to get some coffee. The woman at the counter will take one look at you and advise you to tie onions to your feet at night, to soak up the virus. A casual eavesdropper will say that onions are all very well, but what about the stink, and should we ask the cook? The cook will suggest hanging lemons around the house to overcome the stink of the onions. Or freezing the onions. An alert grandmother will hear this and start pooh-poohing freezing. The coffee queue behind you will slowly devolve into a low-level riot concerning modern cooking methods.

Like I said, this is an amateur’s game.

A true master will come to you when you appear to be happy and content. They believe they have an obligation to correct such a bad attitude. Firstly, they will ascertain where you are in the life-cycle of the Indian adult species, and whether you are deviating from the norm. Any deviation is a weakness. If you’re in your 20s and unmarried, your professional and marital market value will be analysed. If you’re married without children, childbirth is an easy topic. If you already have a child, a second one of a different gender will be suggested. And if you already have two, well, then the conversation can branch out in many interesting ways. All this will be couched in clever dialogue, designed to trap you into confessing that you are a failure in life and that you really need help from the master.

I was recently accosted by one such master at a family function. On finding out that I don’t have children, the old man set his bait carefully.
“Oh, in that case, you must be a successful manager,” he said.
I stupidly confessed that I only did a bit of writing. He raised his eyebrows.
“Writer, eh? My daughter-in-law just published her third book. What’s yours about?” By then I had come to my senses.
So I did what any self-respecting Indian would do. “Uncle”, I said, “I just noticed you look a bit ill. Is everything Ok? Do you need tea? Coffee? The number of my magnetotherapist?”

This is the unedited version of my column published in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on 25 May 2014

7 thoughts on “A word of advice

  1. Reply Partha sarathy May 25,2014 7:43 am

    Author could pray to be born after fifty years where india also will also become like usa where nobody will bother about anybody. I read off late that a lady died and nobody bothered to enquire for 8 years. It was discovered when the electricity bill person went to disconnect the services for non payment of charges [ since the auto payment has swiped off the bank account balances ]. Hope we appreciate what we have and understand the difference between concern and intrusion of privacy.

    Finally you could read the book of kamala sadagopan’s kathavu and probably the articles layout is similar to that of the heroine of the book malathi before marriage and her own unravelling of free advice to her huband madhavan after marriage.

  2. Reply Narendra Kumar May 25,2014 3:07 pm

    [[ancient Vedic principle that every fellow Indian is an expert on your life.]]
    Which Vedic Principle?

  3. Reply Sunil May 25,2014 9:38 pm

    your writings are masterpiece!

  4. Reply Pallipuram May 26,2014 8:44 am

    Dear Suchi,
    I admire your retort to the uncle. a person’s personal life is their choice ,and no one has any right to interfere. i would also like to share with you about some of my experience with software engg bridegrooms,so called well settled boys parents insiting, litereally , who are not interested in marriage , but are available umpteen in the matrimonial websites.which are nothing but a big joke of the present times.i met a boy,working in a top reputed firm in banglore, ibm,with the insistence of his sister, who told my daughter , i would take 6 months to decide to buy a tv, 2 years to decide to buy a car, your parents must be anxious to get you married, i don’t want to get married,get divorced and get married again, how immature can a person be, the only reason, the meeting between family took place was his sister insisted he did not want a working girl.(read software engg)so the house would be only bed and breakfast.as you said, as any self respecting girl, once another instance my daughter gave back to the “uncle”-boy’s father, those days there was dowry, these days there is be, mca mba, do you think a non it girl is saleable in the marriage market, ” for which the clever uncle said, i have to learn a lot from your daughter. have you seen all want fair , beautiful , wealthy, wealth making girls, as well as doormats in the form of daughter in law.
    you are hilarious at the same point authentic in your observations.
    best wishes to you ,
    hope your writings inspire the present generation women to be strong , when faced with such unwarranted criticisms by so called well meaning uncles.and acidic tongue auntijis.

  5. Reply Partha Sep 14,2014 9:38 am

    Probably deprecate the society to the level of having only b******* as social members. Most of our authors are hypo-crates to the core where they have a preaching for gullible reader and practice which suits them. Probably like our dravida party which talks against hindi and that is their main livelihood but have their children well versed in hindi. So not surprised with double standard.

  6. Reply Girish KC Nov 13,2014 2:52 pm

    We Indians are so good at giving unsolicited advise. But the same people wouldn’t lift a finger to help someone in need.

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