Have YouBeen Uncle'd? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 16, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 16, 2010


Have You
Been Uncle'd?

Not that many years ago, when I turned forty while living in California, I celebrated by learning how to fly a plane and how to scuba dive. The key fact about flying a plane is that the number of take-offs must equal the number of landings. This lesson helped me fly a Cessna 172 and survive. But scuba diving proved more daunting as I nearly drowned an instructor before earning my certification with another one named John.
John's twenty-something (and pretty, I might add) girlfriend helped him teach the lessons. I caught her looking at me and smiling a few times. Being a happily married father of two, I smiled back but (of course) maintained a safe distance. On the last day, as we walked back from the ocean after the final dive, she came up to me. “You know, I kind of like you…” Uh-oh, I thought, where was this headed? I could only smile and nod, but she kept on talking, “…because you remind me of my favourite Uncle.” Ouch, I had just been Uncle'd.
After my return to Bangladesh, Uncling reared its ugly head again, often with a vengeance. Not only youngsters, but sometimes adult strangers called me Uncle to attract my attention when I went out taking pictures.
For example, in February I was photographing at the Boi Mela, hovering on the Bangla Academy road. Suddenly, from thirty feet away across the street, came a clear, distinct shout, “UN-N-KEL! UN-N-KEL!” His next (loud) words were “AREN”T YOU GOING TO TAKE MY PICTURE?” so there was no mistaking his target. Let's see now. You are yelling at the top of your voice, calling me Uncle as three hundred people watch, and you expect me to come over and take your picture? I really don't think so.
How can one retaliate being Uncle'd? I find the best retort is to Mamu the perpetrator, as in “MAMU! How are you? What do you do these days?” The same person who had called me Uncle a second ago is suddenly uncomfortable facing their mother's possible long-lost brother. Quickly changing the topic to math sometimes works well. “Mamu, what class are you studying in? Tell me, how much is 12 times 7?” If the kid is older, throw in a twist: “If it takes 12 men 5 days to dig a plot of land, how many days will it take 8 men?” Often, these questions elicit an “Oh, I forgot I have some work to do now,” followed by a rapid exit from the scene.
Despite my valiant efforts, the Uncle phase seems to me a lost cause. Perhaps the best I can hope for is to delay the Nana phase as long as possible. That comes with its own challenges, but the associated rewards grandchildren, real or purported must be a joy.
In the meantime if you want me to take your picture on the street, calling me Bhaiya will work like magic.

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