It was a bright and sunny mid-afternoon. The skies were clear except for a few fluffy cumulus clouds, crows were singing in the sweetest tones they could muster, and people were opening up picnic baskets in the lawns of Tipu Sultan’s Daria Daulat Palace in Srirangpatna. Amidst this cheerful scene that will never find itself in a movie about India (coz it does not involve semi-naked dirty urchins), a crime was committed, a crime of such heinous proportions that it makes a chill travel up my spine just to think about it, much less speak about it. But, in the interests of justice, I must tell you the specifics of the crime.
A mother encouraged her (about ten-year-old) kid to call me aunty.
I can see you recoil, tremble in fear. Imagine yourself, barely a couple of years out of college, on a holiday with family, at a place you associate with many wonderful memories, and suddenly you are confronted with something like this. What do you do? How do you react? Do you pretend you didn’t hear the word and walk away, or do you give face to the turmoil in your heart and throw a fit? Let me tell you what I did, and maybe you’ll have an inkling of what to do.
We were at the Daria Daulat Palace, marveling at the paintings on the wall of Tipu’s army going to war against the British. This was the penultimate stop on our tour of Srirangpatna, which, if you didn’t pay attention during history class, was the capital of the Mysore kingdom during the time of Tipu Sultan. Our tour began that morning with a visit to the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple (above). Thanks to our driver, who knew someone at the temple, we managed to sneak past the serpentine queues and get a good darshan. Had I known what was to come, I would have asked for more than just happiness and prosperity and the ability to eat chocolate without getting fat.
After a bit of shopping in the local market, we went on to visit the spot Tipu died and the Jama Masjid he built. These stops drew out a wealth of reminiscing from my dad, who had lived and worked in Mysore, along with a crash course on Tipu’s legacy. I must admit, I got a bit teary-eyed here, listening to Tipu’s bravery and the way he died, defending his city, outnumbered almost 2 to 1 by the British. Indian history is filled with such stories of failed revolts and last stands, and you can’t help but be moved by the bravery of all those souls who fought valiantly yet vainly for freedom.
We also visited Gumbaz (above, and not to be confused with Gol Gumbaz, which is in Bijapur), the mausoleum Tipu built for his father, Hyder Ali, where Tipu is also buried. It is a grim place, livened up only by our eavesdropping on the history lesson a tour guide was giving, that was embellished with flowery adjectives and delivered with more voice modulation and theatrics than you’ll find in a street play.
And now comes the dreadful moment. After looking at the paintings of the war, we were shuffling down the queue in Daria Daulat, looking at Tipu’s memorabilia- photographs and clothes and furniture and firearms. After the first few exhibits, I got bored. I mean, an array of pistols and muskets might be attractive to a character from Kill Bill, but to me, all guns are the same. And kingly clothes look better on Hritik Roshan than encased in glass displays.
Just when I thought I was going to collapse out of fatigue on one of the reupholstered sofas (sorry, thrones), I felt something sharp in my back. I yelped and turned around to see a sheepish-looking kid holding a toy close to his chest as his mother scolded him for his playfulness. I was about to tell her that it was okay when she said the dreadful words.
“Aunty ko sorry bolo.”
Nahiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin! I screamed in my head, as thunder rolled and lightning flashed and the seas roiled (all in my head, of course). I threw the lady a dirty look, but it was lost on her. A number of responses flashed in my head, some biting, some downright rude, but at the end I settled for,
“It’s okay, aunty.”
Considering that I’m in my mid-twenties (and looking it, mind you) and the lady was no older than forty, it was her turn to throw me a dirty look. I gave her an airy smile and turned back to admire a photo of Hyder Ali, who I felt was giving me a congratulatory look on my victory.
Later, when I narrated the story to my mom, she said with a sly smile, “Maybe it’s time to get you married, get you one step closer to auntyhood so that you can get acclimatized to the term.”