Dear 18-year-old Niti,
You think your world is falling apart, but it’s not. Slow down, live every moment and stop being hyper critical of yourself.
Stop analysing why that cute boy suddenly stopped talking to you; get rid of the gloomy feeling while looking at your dark skin and chubby cheeks in the mirror. In a few years, you’ll emancipate yourself from those fairness products and grandmom’s helpfully packed multani mitti, and eventually, you’ll tell the parlour-didi to keep away the bleach.
You’ll realise that your old crush has freelanced his way into oblivion; that real relationships are not based on the colour of your skin, or the weighing machine, and finally you’ll meet your Mr McDreamy, who will tell you that you dazzle him even in your pyjamas!
More importantly, accept that you are stronger than you think. Remember that time you cried your way to the excursion because you were separated from your friends by a whole train compartment full of senior didis from school? Very soon, you will live in a hostel across the country, far away from home, and yet, the sheltered existence of school making way for 5 years of college, will not be the biggest challenge that you face.
Do not lose faith, because life will throw you into a whirlpool of financial and emotional crises, taking away Papa and Dadu in the span of a few months. When you become the sole breadwinner of the family at 22, and pacify the bankers who want to discuss half a year’s worth of unpaid EMIs on your education loan, the world will feel like it’s caving in. But you will eventually get through these trying times, and while living miles away from home, you will be the karta of the family, responsible for mom and bhai, ensuring bill payments, investing the extra savings, and making bhai aware of his options for colleges.
Of course, you will still fight with Maa, as always! And then, one day when Maa calls you to discuss maintenance of the house, you will realise that you are the adult. You are for yourself and your family that first layer of defence, absorbing the risks, just like Papa! The insecurities you feel today may not go away completely, but you will learn to be brave, because Papa and Dadu gave you the best gift anyone can ever give: an uncompromising and fulfilling education.
The responsibilities may rest uneasily, making you wish you were like any other free-spirited girl, living an experimental bohemian life, and finally forcing your friends to call an intervention. Let them call you out, because they will be your extended family, and your cushion each time you miss a step.
So believe in yourself and rest assured that in less than 10 years’ time, when the contractor renovating your house tries to man-shame you by calling you a ‘naive young girl’, you will look him in the eye and tell him that you are responsible for the next few months of his pay cheque.