My Aunty, My friend, and Soul Guide, In Music, Melody, and Life

Updated: Feb 20

Guest writer Amrita Valan

Doonti Mashi ( aunty) was the elder one of mother's two kid sisters. She was just thirteen years old when I was born, and by the time I was thirteen years old, the two of us were fast friends.

She was tall and willowy with wheaten gold skin, and her luminous black eyes under

arched brows made her face shine like a moon. Her looks were enchanting, her singing

voice was charming. She played the sitar and harmonium and had also studied cost


I was in awe of this beautiful virtuoso. More so because she was grave and reserved,

unlike my youngest Mashi, (aunty), who smiled and spoke liltingly to us youngsters.

The death blow to our budding “Aunty-Niece” camaraderie was dealt by mommy, who deputed her kid sister to teach me Math whenever she visited. My mother was a student of linguistics, only too happy to pass on my mathematics training to her baby sister.

Doonti Mashi was stern, cold as an icicle if I made obvious mistakes, and she made me

do grueling corrections, mercilessly.

I admired her pretty face and, awed by her regal air, submitted unhappily.

Sometimes she hummed Tagore’s songs by the window, as I worked.

"Wish you would sing the songs I like Doonti Mashi", I sighed. “I love Tagore's music but I love John Lennon more!”

Doonti Mashi arched her brows and said, ok!

I immediately put on Lennon's Imagine There's No Heaven on my tiny Sanyo Two-in-One.

She smiled dreamily as the song played and told me he was really good, much to my satisfaction.

The next song, however, cemented her love for Western music of a certain kind. It was the very simple yet profoundly powerful Love is Real, Real is Love.

Doonti Mashi learnt the song, and later the same day, she sang it for me, in her melodious voice.

My heart filled with such ecstasy. She was my idol, my role model, and she liked my taste in music! I felt proud, validated. To this day, I admire her open-minded approach to global art and music. Something I have witnessed in my mother, grandmother, and all her sisters.

Aunty and niece proceeded to the dining table, maths forgotten, as she and I enthusiastically played song after song on the old Philips tape deck and soon we had run through a gamut of golden oldies.

On future visits, we would croon and hum songs from the hit collection of the eighties, the “Best of Twenty Years Ago”, series.

The house rang with gleeful renditions of Run Samson Run, Sad Movies, Kiss me Honey Honey and Oh Carol.

I was surprised my demure aunty could even belt out Kiss me another Kiss with such impish verve. And the next moment soulfully renders Love is a river/ A river of no return…no return, no return…

Over the months, I got interested in dabbling with her beloved Tagore, too. It was not

quidding pro quo but an active interest in her, not just as a two-dimensional authority

figure, but a living warm flesh and blood friend in the avatar of aunty! To her and my

mother, I owe a lifelong debt of being conversant with the music of the king of poets,

Rabindranath Tagore, the soul guide of so many Bengalis from India.

And we even made a quaint parody of Aha ki Anando Aakashe Batashe (Oh! What Joy in These Breezy Skies), changing the words to mean “Oh! How many lakhs of mosquitoes and roaches roam these breezy skies!”

Aunty and I rolled off our chairs, cackling with laughter and mommy too smiled, blushing a bit at our childish disrespect to her other great icon, film-maker Satyajit Ray.

Aunty was no longer my idol but a sweet, warm flesh and blood vulnerable human being, my wise and fun loving friend and guide.

She fell in love too and was disappointed. I wasn't old enough to offer her much empathy.

I remember how she would listen to her favorite Lennon songs over and over again...Love

is Real, Real is Love… How much heartbreak was hidden there, I will never know.

Today I feel like her soul left its kiss on mine. To love, to grow, to be courageous.

She passed away too early when I was only in 12th grade.

She never knew the fruition of love or the fruitful happiness of her own family. Yet, she infected me with a fierce, poignant joy for life, a brave abandonment of the world for love, and steely composure in the face of heartbreaking disappointment.

I miss you. I know you would understand what I am about to say. That I unerringly know

you miss getting to know me as I have become, and that you know me already through

every experience of mine, every trial, and tribulation that I have overcome. That we were

meant to be connected by an indestructible bond of two like-minded souls were age,

death and the passage of time itself cease to exist.

Doonti Mashi, in my world, you exist still. Now and forever.

© Amrita Valan 2021




Brings me memoirs

Of brilliance,

Birthdays of prescience,

Gems of wisdom,

Heart grown kingdoms.

October was flame of the forest,

Flamingo and flamenco,

Tap dancing Diva

Down deep roads to

Bleakest bluest November.

Steel shrapnel curb ice,

Gun metal grey vice,

A curious crisp texture

Magic coiled in fresh air.

A lewd hint of fox fire

Smoked smiles and smog

Of veiled things dire.


Double barreled

Guns n roses appareled

Focusing on the

Real people, not

Reel life pretty poses.

Soak up baptism of

November's soft rain

Sweet after Samhain.

November serious

November earnest

Subtle Eros reckonings

Ending callow love fests.

November's just desserts

Deliciously delivered

Well met if taken not as

Sinful pleasures or


Mort by chocolat

Sin's soft wages.

November derails

Juvenile Bacchanals,

Precocious carnivals

Cornucopias, Cophetua, Cinderella festivals.

It asks us to lean into,

Soft hard blue grottos,

Perform penance in

Rustic woodland pews

Of Gethsemane,

Bucolic Nirvana.

Perfectly outstare,

Petrify onyx

Basilisk eyes of

Winter ice.


Makes us hardy

Robust and ripe

For dour December's

Twelve merry nights.

Greet New Year

Sans past regrets.

Left behind

Like bookmarks in

Prayer Books,

In altars of Our

Old mistakes.

Foolishness and excess


Footloose yet gathered

To each other, enfolded.

Our bindings tight.

Silence, silky smooth,

Airy and light,

Spiralling ascensions

Soft lofts of sunset,


Spiritual respite.

© Amrita Valan 2021


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