Two days after the wedding, when Stree visits her parents’ house for the pag phera – her first ceremonial lunch as a newlywed, she notices that the poster of actor Shah Rukh Khan she had pasted on her bedroom wall as a schoolgirl has been taken off. In its place is a painting that her elder brother’s wife had brought with her dowry. It isn’t particularly pretty but big enough to fully cover the patch of wall paint that peeled off along with the poster.

A married daughter, Stree knows, must walk away every day.

Eight weeks after her wedding, when Stree visits her parents’ house to celebrate the festival of rakhi – the symbolic tying of a sacred thread around the wrists of her brothers with an appeal for them to protect her lifelong – she realizes that her almirah has been emptied. The clothes she left behind, thinking she will use them whenever she comes to stay, have been moved to the attic. Or so her mother says. Who knows, maybe they’ve been donated to the poor.

A married daughter has to be a doyenne of the fine art of letting go.

Four months after her wedding, when Stree visits her parents’ house on the occasion of her mother’s birthday, she finds out that her old moped – a gift from her late grandfather after she’d aced her high school exams – now belongs to the domestic help. From between the grill bars on her bedroom window, she catches a glimpse of Makhan Lal riding it into their compound. She smiles. The man has been a trusted hand for years; he deserves this comfort. While leaving though, she pauses awhile near the vehicle. She wipes the dust off its spare wheel with her bare hands and resets its rear-view mirror before walking out of the gate.

A married daughter is trained to not flinch in the face of casual relinquishments.

Seven months after her wedding, when Stree visits her parents’ house to greet them for Diwali, she discovers that the house has been repainted – in rather gaudy surprising colours. Each of the five rooms is its own person now. One is maroon, another is crimson. A third is algae-green, a fourth rust-brown. The fifth – the living room – has splashes of all the aforementioned shades. An experiment in modern décor, her sister-in-law smiles. Stree nods. Sips her tea thoughtfully. Reposes the cup on an enormous teapoy that she doesn’t recollect having seen during her last visit.

A married daughter knows that it is futile to grieve the loss of bygone ways. 

A year after her wedding, when Stree visits her parents’ house to share the happy news of her impending motherhood, she learns that her younger brother is newly engaged. His fiancée is the daughter of some distant relatives who live in the neighbouring town. Why did no one tell me, she asks, feeling wounded. We are telling you now, her mother replies. Stree opens her mouth to remonstrate, then remembers that she doesn’t belong here anymore – technically – and bites her tongue. She leaves without telling them of the seed germinating in her womb.

A married daughter will do well to be proficient in the science of silence.

Twenty months after her wedding, when Stree visits her parents’ house with a cherub swaddled in pink, she is greeted by her younger brother’s wife. Despite having chatted, laughed and posed for pictures with this woman at the wedding, Stree feels oddly uncomfortable standing before her on the porch. My baby needs a change, she tells this new sister-in law, who promptly leads her to the ‘guest room’. This was my room before I became a guest, Stree thinks. She closes the door, sets the infant down, and rummages frenziedly through the diaper bag for a tissue to dab her eyes with, anxious to keep her kohl from running.

A married daughter ought not to create a scene over being replaced.

Three years after her wedding, when Stree visits her parents’ house with sweets to announce the opening of her husband’s new shop, she is informed that her father has lost his savings to the stock market. God forbid my heart breaks down again, he sobs into his daughter’s palms, I must go straight to the cremation grounds, for I can no more afford doctors. Why is Baba saying such things, Stree wonders, when he has two sons? She turns to her brothers. They are staring quietly at the floor. Well, you always have me, Baba, Stree says to her father then. No! Never even a drop of water from a daughter’s house, Baba shakes his head, squeezing her fingers. Stree frowns. She expects her brothers to step in but they continue to stare mutely at the floor.

A married daughter is the succour her father often needs but is not allowed to avail.

Six years after her wedding, when Stree visits her parents’ house with an invitation to the first birthday party of her second-born, she has only her mother to invite. Baba died of cardiac arrest last year. She goes to the kitchen, where her mother is rolling chapatis for lunch. Why do you look so feeble, Maa, she asks. Your face has withered, the veins on your hands are bulging, and your saree blouse is so loose! Don’t be silly, Maa says, tossing a chapatti onto the tawa with a quivering hand. I’m an old woman. The clock stops for no one. Which woman doesn’t look her age? Stree ignores the defence. Here, let me make the chapattis while you get some rest, she offers. It’s done, replies her mother. I had to cook only for me. The others have eaten.

A married daughter watches her mother’s decline quietly, from the side-lines.

Eight years after her wedding, when Stree visits her parents’ house dressed in austere white, she is an orphan. Maa breathed her last this morning – infirm and unwanted. Stree’s brothers have performed the cremation. Next week, the elder one will depart to immerse her remains in the holy Ganga. Stree doesn’t have much of a role here. Women do not normally visit cremation grounds, and the scattering of ashes, in this family, is always designated to sons. Stree is sitting amidst visitors now, wordless, beaten-faced. She feels as if she has been shot. As if her heart, lungs, blood, guts have all spilled out. As if she has been emptied. As if, with the passing of both her birth-givers, her own existence has been, for the most part, erased.

A married daughter will not get to carry her parents when they die.

Ten years after her wedding, Stree no longer visits her parents’ house. Externally, it stands unchanged, still the keeper of memories. But the path to the gate seems to have stretched out; it takes much longer to get there now. The verandah feels significantly smaller. The roof seems to have closed in, particularly in the kitchen, to the point of suffocation. Outside, in the garden, the jasmine and hibiscus shrubs have wilted. The sparrows that used to show up every morning have disappeared, as have most of the furniture and utensils that Maa and Baba had owned. What was once a whole bird is now a feather. What was once a lamp is now an ember. And thus, Stree no longer visits her parents’ house.

A married daughter, even one with a solid memory, eventually forgets the way home.


stree: the Hindi word for ‘woman’ – any woman.


Megha Nayar is a language coach and fiction writer in India. She teaches English and French for a living, and writes short stories to deconstruct her experience of womanhood in modern-day India. Her work has appeared in 40+ lit mags. She was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020. She was a mentee-in-training on the British Council’s Write Beyond Borders programme of 2021. In May 2022, she was a Writer-in-Residence at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts, Colorado. She is currently working on her maiden collection of short stories. On Twitter, she chirps @meghasnatter.