Agony Uncle

I was riffling through Stephen Fry’s Paperweight, a bulky tome comprising some of his most elegantly penned columns, for the umpteenth time. Whatever Mr. Fry does – writing, acting or just plain speaking – he holds me in thrall. And in splits. Not the laugh-out-loud kind of splits, but a knowing chuckle as I marvel at his extraordinary breadth of erudition which he wears ever so lightly on his broad shoulders. To say nothing of his silver-tongued oratorical skills, and that rich, plummy BBC voice that adds to the charm. Strangely, you can hear that voice even when you are devouring his writings. Now where am I going with this opening, appreciative spiel on Stephen Fry, you may well ask. I should quickly add that my column this week has nothing, per se, to do with him. I have paid my respects to the man exclusively, in an earlier column several months ago. It is to do with a chapter in the aforementioned Paperweight, where Fry, for one of the many publications to which he contributed, donned the role of the fabled Agony Aunt. For a variety of reasons not relevant to go into, he changed his persona to Agony Cousin, and proceeded to have himself a ball tackling ridiculous questions from an imagined set of readers with equally ridiculous answers.

Here in India, some of our publications do devote some space now and then for readers to write in, in order to be guided and comforted by some pretend know-all sitting forlornly at his desk in some dank, newspaper office. Agony Aunts, or their equivalents, are usually reduced to such a pathetic pass. More often than not, Agony Aunts tend to be Agony Uncles. One’s heart goes out to them. Generally, the subjects covered are medical or psychological which is, more or less, the same thing. While cogitating over this matter, it occurred to me that it would be an interesting challenge to place myself in the role of a friend, philosopher, and guide if I can reach out to a few people to confide in me with their issues, problems or just plain queries. In so doing, I went out of my way to ensure that I did not invite a single individual from my regular set of contacts, who will display an understandable bias, as will I, thus putting the kybosh on the entire purpose. The whole object of the exercise is for the Agony Aunt (Uncle) to remain totally anonymous. I dredged out email ids of about 100 persons, male and female, young and old and invited them to share their concerns with me, assuring them that they will get my utmost empathy and thoughtful response. This was my mailed letter.

Dear Friend,

There is not a soul in this benighted world of ours who does not need an unseen friend in whom one can confide one’s innermost concerns. You may not want a shoulder to cry on, but certainly someone who can provide a different perspective to your predicament and make you look at things afresh. Well, I am happy to inform you that your long search is over. Agony Uncle is here to listen to your every query and suggest a way forward. Incidentally, it does not have to be health and marital concerns you wish to share, though they are not precluded. You can also talk about your career, love life, exam prospects, sporting ambitions and other everyday matters on which you wish to elicit the views of an objective and disinterested third party. This is where Agony Uncle comes in. Just mail your thoughts to and you will receive my response within 24 hours. There will be no cost involved. I do this out of a sense of pure altruism, and not prurient curiosity, so go ahead and start pouring your heart out.

Yours with great anticipation.

Agony Uncle.

To be perfectly frank, I was not expecting much by way of response. At best I could have struck a discordant chord with a couple of cranks who might have shot back with words that might not have been printable. How wrong I was. Within a week I had received around 47 mails, which was way above what any optimist could have hoped for. For my readers, I have just selected a handful of these letters to share with you, along with my thoughtful responses. For the purposes of protecting their identity, I have changed the names of the respondents as my fancy dictated. For reasons already stated, I shall not be responding to mails from people I already know. Without further ado, here goes.

Dear Agony Uncle,

I keep waking up at precisely two in the morning from a bad dream, where my house is being raided by nasty, little green men from the Enforcement Directorate. This happens every night (or morning) at exactly the same time. While I am relieved it is only a dream, I am unable to sleep thereafter. How can you help? I have tried sleeping pills, but to no effect.

Prabhakar from Karol Bagh, New Delhi.

Dear Prabhakar,

This is what we in the trade call an anxiety dream. Do you belong to any political party opposed to the present government? In which case, I would recommend you defect immediately to the ruling party and you will sleep like a baby. No more nasty, little green men will come knocking. Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bugs bite.

Yours, Agony Uncle.

Dear Agony Uncle,

I am 85 years old, and by rights, you should be calling me Aunty as you are still employed, ergo, younger than me, but I will let that pass. There are a bunch of kids who play cricket just outside my flat in the corridor. The ball keeps banging on my door causing much disturbance and annoyance to a lonely widow like me. My newly polished door is getting a pummelling as well. Also, they keep shouting ‘howzzat,’ whatever that means, apart from screaming and shouting. I requested them politely to go and play outside the building, and they made some rude remarks. I threatened to complain to their parents and they made even ruder remarks and threatening gestures. I am petrified. What should I do, Uncle?

Chandra Aunty from Dadar, Mumbai.

Dear Chandra Aunty,

I am so sorry to hear about your troubles with the kids. Boys will be boys, though some of them could be girls as you did not specify. Girls, too, play cricket. I have two suggestions. Buy a box of laddoos, tell them it’s your birthday and invite them in for a brief celebration. Spike the laddoos with some mildly toxic substance that will make them run to the loo for at least a week. That should slow them down. They may still be back but you will have had your revenge. Failing which, hire a Rottweiler for a few days and chain him outside your flat. That should do the trick. I trust you cook beef at home? For Rover, that is. Good luck.

Yours, erm, Agony Uncle.

Dear Agony Uncle,

They say you can solve any problem. Try this on for size. I am 15 years old, learning Carnatic music from a very strict guru. My voice went through some changes last year. My problem is the upper shadjam on our seven-note scale. Try as I might, I cannot reach it and my guru gets very cross, likening me to a constipated crow. In Tamil, that sounds even worse! He even refused my mother’s coffee, which he always looks forward to. I am afraid he will walk out on me. Can you help?

Revathi from Mylapore, Chennai.

Dear Revathi,

That is a tricky one. Fortunately for you, I have also studied a bit of Carnatic music when I was your age and might be able to provide some guidance. Try and hit that upper note with a false voice. It usually works. Otherwise, when your guru is not there, lower the scale on your sruti box a notch, say from 5 (G) to 4 (F). With any luck, he may not notice and will be impressed with your improvement. And he will relish your mum’s filter coffee. Good luck with the Bhairavi ata taala varnam!

Your well-wisher,

Agony Uncle.

Dear Agony Uncle,

My wife complains that I snore very loudly and that she is unable to sleep as a result. I know I don’t snore but she just won’t listen. This morning she played a recording of my alleged snoring, which she captured on her mobile, sly fox. Frankly, that could have been anyone. How do I convince her I am not a snorer?

Rakesh from Indira Nagar, Bangalore.

Dear Rakesh,

Ha, that old chestnut. No one likes to accept that he or she snores. The only way to defend yourself is to go on the attack. Fire with fire. Pretend to go to sleep and stay awake till your wife is fast asleep. Sure enough, she will start snoring. Everybody snores. Record her oral and nasal fireworks and play it back to her next morning. Better still, forward the audio to her mobile. The complaints will stop instantly.

Yours comfortingly.

Agony Uncle.

Dear Agony Uncle,

Are you for real or are there ten silly people in your newspaper who take on these asinine questions and come up with their own stupid answers? Or do you also make up these ridiculous questions yourself (selves)? I am agonising over this question.

Professor Shastri from Kalahasteeswarar Temple Street, Kumbakonam.

Dear Professor Shastri,

Siva, Siva! That was not very nice of you. From a professor, even from Kumbakonam and living near that temple with the unpronounceable name, that was disappointing. Still, I shall be civil. I am the only silly person who comes up with my own stupid answers. The only ridiculous questions are from professors like you. There.

Yours deeply hurt,

Agony Uncle.

After due consideration, Agony Uncle has decided to permanently close down this page. Can’t take the emotional strain. Readers, if you have a problem, seek another Agony Aunt or Uncle. There are many out there twiddling their thumbs. Cheerio!

Published by sureshsubrahmanyan

A long time advertising professional, now retired, and taken up writing as a hobby. Deeply interested in music of various genres, notably Carnatic and 60's and 70's pop/rock. An avid tennis and cricket fan. Voracious reader of British humour and satire. P.G. Wodehouse a perennial favourite.

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  1. Dear Agony Uncle, why do professors appear so stuffy and make fools of the rest of us in the profession? I hope you will come out of retirement for this question.

    Liked by 1 person

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