Don’t call your husband by his name; address him respectfully as Sunte Ho or Ae Ji; wipe under your arms and breasts; stick a jasmine bud in your hair every night; massage his legs in bed when he’s too tired for anything else; don’t go to sleep before him; don’t wake up after him; make a fire first thing in the morning to heat water for his bath; scrub his white underwear and soak it in a solution of indigo for brightness; fold it into neat squares and stack it in little towers in his cupboard; pour him a glass of cool water from the surahi when he returns from work; make him a cup of chai; actually make chai whenever he’s sitting idle; don’t make him a watery chai—use three parts milk and one part water, crushed cardamoms for aroma, a little nutmeg for its stimulating effect; roll out soft, thin rotis for him that break with two fingers; make sure their edges are cooked and they puff up like balls on the flame; serve them hot, smeared with butter and a smile; urge him to take one more like you mean it; add a dollop of ghee to his daal; don’t surprise him by telling him you’re going to your Ma’s place when you’re homesick; ask his permission first. But can’t I visit you when I want? Toss your impulsiveness back into this house with the handful of rice grains you’ll throw overhead on your vidaai, the departure ceremony after your wedding.
Don’t forget the kitchen belongs to your mother-in-law; it’s her son you married, her roof you rest under; don’t cook without asking for instruction—how much garlic in the spinach, how brown the onions, how tender the goat; don’t serve without asking for instruction—whether to ladle the vegetable beside the rotis, whether to heap the daal over rice, whether to place the pickle to the left or to the right of the rice in the thali; add garam masala and chilli powder to your plate if the food is too bland for your taste; if it’s too spicy, adapt; serve the biggest paneer chunks and the chicken thighs to her; eat after she’s eaten; don’t water her tulsi plant when you’re bleeding; fast and pray when she does; recite Gayatri Mantra every day; embellish her kitchen shrine with roses and marigolds; visit the Shiva temple with her on Tuesdays; guard her Kolhapuri slippers while she bows to the deities; scare away the monkey that trails her for the bananas and apples in her offerings plate. But I’m afraid of monkeys. Toss your fears back into this house with the handful of rice grains you’ll throw overhead on your vidaai, the departure ceremony after your wedding.
Don’t dry your laundry on the terrace; tie a clothesline in the courtyard, instead; if there’s not enough space and you have to use the terrace, secure all garments with clips so they don’t fly away to the neighbor’s side; make sure your underclothes are hidden under a sari; return immediately after hanging the clothes—don’t linger upstairs, don’t let your gaze land on anyone; don’t towel or brush your waist-long hair on the terrace; don’t lounge there on a dhurrie to sun your skin in winter; don’t lean against the parapet to catch the breeze in summer; fetch the dry clothes in the evening after the men of the neighborhood are done flying kites; don’t admire the mustached neighbor’s pigeons, their iridescent necks bent on the barley he scatters on the common parapet wall; don’t ask to hold the birds—his fingers will graze yours when he hands you a pigeon. But, I love pigeons. Toss your loves back into this house with the handful of rice grains you’ll throw overhead on your vidaai, the departure ceremony after your wedding. If you don’t, you’ll end up raising a girl alone like I did.
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian-American writer. She was born in a middle-class family in India, and is indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means.
She’s a Pushcart-Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee; her work has been published widely online and in print.