People write letters to one another out of love and in confidence. But what if letters are written out of complaints in the age and rage of growing up? This is the foundation of the ‘Dear Mama’ letters.  Based on the timeless format of letter writing, these pieces are a young girl writing letters to her not-so-beloved mother in an effort to make peace with life and herself. These heart-wrenching letters are written out of love, written out of despair, and written in the loneliest of nooks for all that needs repair. By bequeathing these letters to them, I wish my readers an immersive, epistolary journey into girlhood and beyond.

-Heena Khan
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

(Date stamp: On my first remembered birthday)

Dear Mama,

It is your second daughter’s birthday, Mama. I have grown up a little today. From how much to how much, I am not sure. 

“Roya, it is your birthday. Get up and be happy,” Phuphi in her well-cut salwar kameez informs my yawns. I am not sure what that means? How does a birthday make a day special? It is just a day like any other? When I wake up, I do not feel fairies singing and sighing to my whimsies. I get up, I brush, I bathe, I rinse myself and have my breakfast as the whole house is being tidied upside down. Everyone is paying attention to the house, to the food cooking in the kitchen, to the merchandise brought from shops, to the decorations for the drawing room. Nobody pays attention to me. If I am happy, or if I am sad. Like an owl I watch the House tidy itself to perfection, an outsider’s view of a well-run machine. 

I yawn myself in and out of sleep the whole day. My head is shaved, and I behave like a droopy princess. I am not sure what I do the rest of the day, except for a picture that reminds me of it: a snapshot of a moment preserved in our family photo album. 

It is finally the time to cut the cake, Mama. You are wearing your shimmer of a bottle green sari. I am wearing my bottle green frock with a patch of blush pink on it. The whole of the drawing room – girls in frocks and boys in pants, girls with braids and boys with crops – was singing to my good health and you try without success to stuff my mouth with a piece of red carrot cake topped with white icing. You smile your big tooth smile and I stubbornly close my eyes in sleep, my neck craning to the other side of your shoulder. 

“Open your eyes, Roya. Eat the cake. Look there… your father is clicking our picture,” you coax me to open my eyes and to open my mouth, your one arm encircled around me, and the other trying to stuff my mouth. It was as if I was cut down on all sides. 

“I do not want to eat,” I managed a slow, disinterested whisper through my sleep, craning my neck on to your right shoulders. 

The drawing room is laughing. Daddy is seething with anger. I am ruining the picture moment. But I think the picture would be as perfect as it would come out to be. I still remember that day through that picture, picture worth a thousand unspoken words. The thoughts running in my head: “I know you don’t love me deep down. This is just show, show.” This feeling has stayed with your Little Girl, and in that picture. 

Love you a little less, 
Your Little Girl.

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