Instructions from My Mother

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17b41799027835d280d8971e93ca473c-2Look right and left, and then right again before crossing the road. Make sure you have your jattibeneath your school uniform. Eat your full davraof dal. You need proteins to grow. And have two full glasses of milk and two davras of curds everyday. Too many chocolates cause cavities. Eat sweets only on Divali and birthdays. Do “aaa” and “eee,” brush your teeth carefully every morning and every night. And look right and left, and then right before crossing the road. What if I am holding your hand? Do I still have to look?

You don’t need lots of expensive toys. See, with a hairpin and chalk we can draw the squares and play hopscotch. You cheated. Your foot touched the ground. You were not hopping. I caught you. You should not cheat just because I am not looking. Mummy, the servant maid took some extra sugar. I saw her stealing. If you were as poor as her you may have done the same thing. Give these silver earrings to Meera bai. She looks after you when your father and I go for the movies. She needs to have nice things too. And cross the road carefully when there is too much traffic.

Don’t be cranky and fight with me. Do something. Read a book or do yoga. Keep yourself occupied. Open the windows. Let in fresh air. Have cross-ventilation in the house. Don’t get too close to someone having a severe cold or cough. Wash your hands many times so there are no germs, especially before you eat or touch your eyes. And drink enough milk and have enough curds to get proteins and calcium. But I don’t want to get fat. Then don’t eat sweets except on special occasions.

Don’t just imitate the latest fashion. Wear what suits you. Wear bright colors—purple, red, and blue. Pastels look better only on fair-skinned people. Mummy, can I use Fair and Lovely to bleach my face? No, be proud of your skin. Just because people say, don’t believe. You can be dark and beautiful. It is not true that only fair is good-looking.

Mummy, the IIT exam, I am not prepared. What if I don’t get in? You have to take the exam. You have to try, otherwise you will never know. You are smart. Have faith in yourself. Don’t let others discourage you. And when taking a bus get in and out only when the bus stops completely. Be careful on the road.

See the middle section in the Times of India. Maybe you can write about your hiking trip in the Himalayas. No, it has to be exciting, not just a list of everything. Write about the Mad Doc and the organizer called Crack. When you go to America for your Ph.D. you can eat chicken and fish if you want, you don’t have to be a strict vegetarian. But don’t put on a false American accent. Be proud of your Indian background. And if you drive on the road in America with all those cars on the freeway, be very careful.

It is okay if we don’t see each other for two years. I just want you to be healthy and happy. Good health is most important, more than academic achievement or money. Everyone needs some money for food, a roof over your head, but beyond that too much is not necessary. Everyone in America has so many fancy clothes and fancy cars. You don’t need an expensive car but always have a good toothbrush and comfortable shoes. And don’t eat too many sweets, don’t put on weight. There is a family history of diabetes. Sweets only on Divali and birthdays.

On Oprah I saw Dr. Phil. He told a couple—a husband and wife—to tell each other everything they liked about each other, then gently what they did not like, to engage in dialog. It is too late for your father and me after thirty years together but why don’t you and your husband try. Maybe it will help the marriage. And take care of your health. Get enough rest. Brush your teeth properly morning and night.

The doctor said there are four blocks in my arteries. Whatever happens, you should be brave. I love you. I love you too.

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Brush your teeth two times a day. Use a good toothbrush. Look carefully when crossing the road. If you see a poor person, remember it could have been you.Mummy, when I pray, I still pray for you. Aim high but do not feel jealous of others. Believe in yourself. You are smart and beautiful. Don’t let others tell you that you are not. And don’t eat sweets except on Divali and birthdays. There is a family history of diabetes.

I miss you, I sometimes cry. Feel scared. Imagine you are still there. Be brave. Your grandmother lost her mother when she was only eight. I’ve taught you enough. You can survive. Be brave. No one said life was easy. And look right and left. Be careful on the road.

Roopa Ramamoorthi is a scientist and poet who is working on a collection of interlinked short stories. She dedicates this piece to the memory of her mother who passed away March 14, 2003.

 

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