I am tired of being called 'uncle', or 'uncleji'

Seeing many petty bureaucrats with pot-bellies and poorly-hennaed hair further radicalised me against hair dye.

By Aditya Sinha (Going Viral)

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Published: Tue 17 Jan 2017, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 17 Jan 2017, 10:56 PM

It didn't begin yesterday but I am tired of being called "uncle", or worse yet, "uncleji". It even happened with an Instagram of my crime novel The CEO Who Lost His Head (out later this month, from PanMacmillanIndia), when a young woman congratulated me... and called me uncle. Grrr. It is a truism that each of us wants our social media identity to be the best possible version of ourselves: we choose the best (if outdated) photo of ourselves for our online identity. (Some don't use a photograph, but let's not plumb that possibly dark terrain.) And no one wants to be called uncle; it conveys someone who is elderly, and a distant, detached acquaintance. He's certainly not a supersexystud, and possibly a unsuccessful version of Donald Trump. Perhaps I and other uncles fit these criteria. It's a depressing thought since it indicates a winding down of life - even if you think you've just started scaling your creative peak.
My wife feels the way to stop people from calling me uncle is to dye my hair. (I often wonder whether she secretly thinks of me as an "Uncleji"; it would explain a thing or two.) I have resisted doing so for over a decade, even though others have advised the same. I'm against colouring my hair because when I was a boy I watched my father do so found it vain and ridiculous. Thus, to do the same would be an admission of defeat in the life-long ego struggle between boy and father. Also, when I returned to India in the late 1980s I lived in New Delhi where many north Indians used henna in their hair. It looked comical, to put it politely. Seeing many petty bureaucrats with pot-bellies and poorly-hennaed hair further radicalised me against hair dye.
To duck being called uncle I used to post photos of a younger me on Twitter and Instagram; I also avoided putting up contemporary photographs on Facebook. After all, who wants to look like those old fogeys who have invaded and proliferated all over Facebook with nothing remotely interesting to say? Even if some of those old fogeys are friends of yours.
This is why my SM feed is filled with photos of my cat and dogs, as well as flowers blooming in the north Indian winter. If you lead a reclusive life, then such camouflage is okay. When you go into the real world, however, you realize that despite its immediacy of time and space, the cyber-world pales in comparison. The real world is an inescapable hall of mirrors.
For instance, last weekend I was at New Delhi's World Book Fair to sign the first batch of copies of my book that arrived from the printers. I sat in the PanMacmillan stall on Saturday afternoon in the hope that an autographed copy would induce potential readers to splurge on my novel, costing a princely Rs 225 after the special book fair 25 per cent discount. Well the book fair, held in an exhibition ground in Delhi called Pragati Maidan, was crowded and each hall was chock-a-block. Rivers of humans gushed through the stalls. At our stall, several youngsters passed by my table and its three stacks of my book. A group of schoolchildren were intrigued by the idea of a writer signing his own books and they asked: "Uncleji why are you signing", and "Uncleji will you sign my book" and "Uncleji I have no money".
That was okay because the schoolboys were young and innocent. What did bother me was the fact that many women passed me by without so much of a glance. Now before you accuse me of vanity, please know that there was a time when women used to check me out -and they would let me know that they were checking me out.
God's curse, of course, is that if such a thing happens you get so used to it that when it inevitably ceases, you become resentful of the world and bitter at the way nature cruelly continues forward on its entropic path. It's especially painful in a place like Delhi with its collection of smartly-attired, silkily-coiffured, callipygian beauties. It's worse than going to your local market and having the smart local auntyji ignore you.
Once my book signing duty was over I fled the book fair and took the Delhi Metro back home. I was probably the only person over 35 on that jam-packed train and I wondered if I was only kidding myself, holding a mental image of myself as someone who can still do the things that young men do. On the other hand, it could have just been that I'm just a stingy fellow saving on cab fare.
I guess for us Unclejis it's better we stay indoors, stuck to our mobilephones and tablets and computers. It's better we let the young folk endure the misery of standing in a cattle car to go to a soul-crushing job, while we spy upon the world from the anonymity of social media. After all, we all wear masks, especially online. 
- The author is a senior journalist and writer

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