It was a time when mobile phones were unheard of, at least in my part of Chennai. Communication, therefore, was difficult. My uncle and aunt were happily married for thirty years. Uncle worked for a government department and aunt was a mathematics teacher in a government school. My aunt’s profession demanded punctuality in attendance and therefore, rain or shine, she had to report at school by 8.50 a.m. and uncle had the liberty to report to his office anytime. So, my uncle’s daily outdoor chores would commence with dropping aunt up to some spot, from where she would continue the rest of her journey by train. In the reverse direction, from her school, she would come back to the spot where my uncle would be waiting to pick her up back to home.
For commuting, my uncle used a scooter which was already overused and due for change. But because of his sentiments, he continued using it which was prone to starting trouble, particularly in the mornings. Neighbours cursed as noise produced by kicking the scooter spoiled the serene surrounding. As my aunt would rush through her morning chores, uncle would try to bring the scooter to life.
He would slant the scooter to the other side by 30 degrees and keep kicking. Still, it wouldn’t start. And when it did start, my aunt would heave a sigh of relief. One fine morning, “starting the old scooter” tamasha happened and neighbours were peeping from their windows. Uncle with my aunt as pillion set out to Kodambakkam railway station. She took a train from the station to her school and my uncle proceeded for his work. In the evening, my aunt returned by train and arrived to the usual spot from where uncle would pick her up. It was around 6 o’clock when aunt arrived and uncle picked her up. On their way, they did some shopping at a nearby crowded market. Dusk had already set in.
On reaching home, before parking, uncle told aunt to get off the scooter. But there was no indication of her getting down or any reply. My uncle turned his head and in the dim light, he could neither see aunt nor anyone in the vicinity. He got bewildered. In the meanwhile my cousin i.e. his son and I, upon hearing the whirring sound of the scooter, came out of the house and saw uncle trembling with fear and sweat, shocked by the absence of aunt and perhaps, wondering what all could have happened.
In a shivering tone, he asked us what could have happened to his wife. Had she fallen down from the scooter or had somebody kidnapped her? Soon the news of the “mystery of the missing aunt” spread and the entire neighbourhood poured their suggestions. Relatives and friends went in search of aunt in nearby hospitals/police stations. Almost two hours went by. It was around 9 o’clock in the night, and at a distance, I saw a person carrying bulky cloth bags with “shopped Items”. Coming close to us, it was my aunt. Upon seeing her, my uncle heaved a sigh of relief and asked what happened?
From her narration, we could understand that uncle mistook another lady coming from behind for aunt as she was clad in the same colour saree as that of aunt. When she came close to uncle’s scooter, my fatigued uncle mistook her as my aunt and assumed that she sat behind him and started driving. My aunt said she repeatedly shouted uncle’s name loudly and even then, it was not audible to him. Uncle on his part said on that day he had an altercation with his boss over a project deadline and with this weighing heavily on his mind, before starting the scooter, he forgot to ask aunt his usual question, “Are you seated comfortably? Can we start?”
Now, once bitten twice shy, my uncle always double checks with aunt. This has earned him the nickname DCU “double check uncle”. After that incident, he made sure never to carry work place tension to home or while driving.