Expectations that kill: A case for parenting in India

I grew up in a home where girls were not really expected to soar to heights in their career, and were expected to be demure little things stirring the porridge in the kitchen. While that came with baggage of its own, I believe I narrowly escaped the catastrophe of what intense academic pressure could do to you.

My masters thesis was about the perception of school in children, and even in my current work, I come across children and teenagers facing academic and career issues.

The problem is not the stress they face, because each  situation in life will have stress, but it is the peculiar way that patentable expectations have become so set in stone that question their rationality is never a question.

‘Make my parents proud’ was written by almost each 9th std kid who answered my Masters thesis survey. This meant that he or she wanted to keep scoring impossibly high and end up in an IIT or an IIM or be an MD. Anything else was unimaginable.

The parent is a child’s first reference point of the world. We take our parents very seriously. In this country, all the more so because of the culture of obedience. It becomes very difficult for us to fathom that our parents have unrealistic expectations from us.

The result: We start to feel that the problem is within me. I must be dumb or stupid. Or else, why can’t I score like my elder brother or my neighbor’s kid?
Pretty soon, I start to doubt my self image and become a bundle of nerves. Extreme anxiety can make me kill myself. But I will not dare question my parents.

An important part of childhood is to explore and understand yourself. While we like sending our kids to expensive classes and buying world class toys for them, we do not let them be free and think. The result being that a 15 year old cannot answer a question as simple as ‘what are some things you have been good at since childhood?’

How can he, when all he was told is how bad he was, how he was letting everyone down, and how he must do better still.

India is facing a parenting crisis. Right from setting realistic expectations to handling failure to managing the sexuality of the child, we are not at all up to the task. While many parents, especially parents of children with special needs are in fact learning these things, the masses seem to still be following the age old rigmarole.

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Here’s some facts to wrap your head around if you are a parent: each child is not going to be an engineer or a doctor or an IAS officer. If money or a good career could buy happiness, 36% of India would not be depressed. 30% of young people have mental health issues.

The question before you is this, can you accept a child for his unique strengths and capacities or would you want your child to be a self-hating bundle of anxiety? Or worse, dead?

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The Suffocating Effect of Guests That Makes You Question Your Existence

Guests are an obligation much like a loan, except it is not as voluntary a decision.

When guests come to my house, it is like other-imposed Hotel California-ness. Once they come, it’s like something supernatural prevents them from leaving.

The problem is not so much of shared space, because be it our trains, buses or Marine Drive, sharing space has never been a problem for Mumbaikars.

Then, the problem with guests come down to two aspects: The ownership they show around things that they do not belong to them (they often belong to me), and the judgment with which they view me and my choices.

They often voice vile and judgmental opinions, but the world is an exhausting space and all I want to do is find the nearest blanket to cuddle. But then, while I am trying my best to ignore what is being said, they then go out of their way to question MY judgement and opinions.. I mean, the nerve!

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And I do not really need to elaborate on the sense of ownership part, do I? They simply pick up and use stuff that is not theirs because they took ‘apna hi ghar samjho’ quite literally – whereas we, or at least I, never said it.

While I grow weary defending my belongings and my opinions, there have been moments of doubt – not that I thought I was wrong, no, but I did think whether I should have gone with the easier choice of just agreeing with them on their face, to make life easy for everyone.

But the answer has been a loud and resounding NO. How can I agree when they say Hell will be filled with women because they deserve it? While they condemn us before we can commit sins or good acts? How can I sit by and let them be unjust to each and every marginalized group imaginable? How can I sit while they pretend to be nice and abuse our hospitality? How can I pretend to agree while they perpetuate unjust stereotypes and systems?

While the tenure of guests is definitely overrun in this country, I think my doubts have helped me to not only sharpen my arguments but also to develop a thick skin when needed. Sometimes, even I am surprised at how, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

The solution to fundamentalism, wastage and mediocrity is the same.

Why are we wasting water despite the draught in Maharashtra?

Why do we continue to live in outdated ways that are eating up our environment?

Why do we keep becoming fundamentalists, and keep funding fundamentalism?

The answer is that because we are using our mind, our thinking capacities all wrong. Those aspects of us, like belief and the ability to ignore when needed, as well as to conform to social rules to help avoid crimes and chaos – we are using all of these qualities to turn a blind eye to prevalent problems, and to not change our ways. We grew up this way – don’t question, just cover your own interests, you are too small to matter in any way.

When you socialize the child in this way, and beat out all sorts of divergent thinking patterns in schools and other institutions as he or she grows, are you surprised that so many people take to fundamentalism, because it finally allows them to feel passion again? Or many become mediocre products of society just buying the mass products created by it’s markets? Or has such a hard time imagining anything without a video in front of it, that it can’t imagine the shambles that the world is coming to?

To save the pitfalls of the mind, which were twisted for various reasons to shut out voices of dissent, we have to develop two basic skills, and we totally have to cultivate in our children with urgen fervour – these are two skills more important than teaching language, math or science.

These two skills are: Critical Thinking and Empathy.

Recently, there was a mention of ‘a case against empathy’ because it marrs clear thinking. That’s more than a little stupid because humans are complex and so they can surely think critcally, and be empathetic, both together. We are not so droll as to be able to do only one at a time.

Critical thinking would help us question the logic of strange statements thrown at us, so that belief does not get the better of us and perpetuate a faulty decision. And empathy is required for basic human connection, which would be the motivating factor for any good change, for a person going out of the way to change a convenient habit, because it harms someone.

For example, if I child was taught critical thinking and empathy right from birth and it was just more enhanced in school, he would not buy it if someone told him, that his religion asks him to kill people of another religion. His empathy would help him understand the plight of those who are facing a draught, so he would change his ways to save whatever water he can. These two qualities would ensure that he makes people accountable for environmental damage. Imagination, an offshoot of empathy, would help him visualise an uninhabiltable world, socially and environmentally, and that would help him take all the steps needed to address these situations, without feeling robbed of ‘comforts’.

While some of us do manage to see things a different way, and develop these skills, even our efforts at convincing others will fizzle out if we socially reinforce all the wrong traits. We just need to correct what we are teaching and okaying. The real things need to matter now.

If Americans are trigger-happy, then so would we be.

There is a lot of debate on gun control. Recently, there was this ironic bit of news where a poster girl against the gun control laws, was accidentally shot in the back by her son.

As much as I agree that seeing what’s happening to our weapons is important, that’s simply not all. India does not have such a strong debate on gun control. We cannot afford one most times, be it legally or financially. We still manage to do a lot of killing though, don’t we? Be it as mobs or because of our silence on what’s happening.

Everyone has the ability to be violent, and the means of doing so are but a small story. The bigger issue is what our minds allow and what our environments promote.

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Violence is a very primal solution to aggression and problems. While it was useful in the jungles, there is reason we grew an entire part of the brain called a prefrontal cortex, in order to have higher order thinking, problem solving and negotiating skills.

If our children are raised with the dual weapon (pun intended) of empathy and strategic thinking, I am pretty sure, they would not resort to physical violence for every little thing.

Then there’s our environment. Right from the food we eat or the medication (especially psychiatric) we take and how it may make us hot headed, to the cues in environment that make violence ‘okay’, all matter when it comes to our ultimate social violent behaviour.

Allowing little violations give a subliminal cue, that larger crimes are also okay. Something as simple or small scale as graffiti vandalism or jumping ticket cues can matter. Malcolm Gladwell points out that in the 90s in New York, the police was able to bring down the crime rate by addressing these two small but very visible signs of disobedience. It gave a signal to the antisocial elements in the city that if such small things are being eliminated, bigger ones definitely will be.

Therefore, Gun control is important, but will not work unless we change the way violence is allowed through our upbringing and environment.

Women in Progress

A little conscious,
As we dress differently,
The effect of conditioning.
Then we remind ourselves that it is our right.
We are a work in progress.

Muttering some gossip,
Still some crayons in our hands,
Awkwardly serious,
About social issues.
Coming on,
A little too strong.

Sure, there’s a long way to go.
A test to pass.
I don’t know everything inside out. All the theories and arguments.
But in the cause I believe.
A work in progress.

The costliest thing in India that inflation can’t explain: Having an opinion

Outrage is the new Indian hobby. Initially, social media would outrage over issues that required outraging, like rapes and brutal statements by politicians and what not, but now a days, we seem to outrage without thinking. Or worse, we outrage to drown out minority voices. Minority here stands not for muslims, but any person or group of people who want something different than what the mainstream does, something that is not an illegal or immoral thing to ask for.

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When Aamir Khan said his wife suggested moving out of India, he voiced the feelings of not just Muslims, but all sorts of groups who have felt targeted and the Government has done nothing to tell them they will be looked after. These groups include, but are not limited to: women, queer population, Sikhs, SC and ST population, tribals, people in high-distress areas, people affected by man-made and natural disasters, people under the poverty line, people with mental and physical disability, people affected by crimes, people stuck in human trafficking and child labour, children and young adults stuck in observation homes, and so on.

There were some Muslims who came out and said that they have had nothing but love and respect in India, so how could Aamir Khan say what he did. First of all, it’s good that their experience was nice, but because he expressed a different opinion, that does not mean that he is wrong. He has all right to say what he feels, and it is not irresponsible, because he just expressed a sentiment, that many people have been feeling, and not flung mud at anyone blaming them for it.

The outrage he harnessed proved his point that we are inching towards intolerance and bursting at our seems. But it also proved the convenient duality we had: We are happy to garner NRI investments, but loathe when someone talks of leaving the country. We want to champion minority rights, but we don’t care when Muslim women say that they want changes in the Muslim personal law. Perhaps he poked us where it hurts: our denial blind spot.

This divided attention and lack of peace-making efforts from central authorities (but harrowing communal comments from politicians, instead), speak of a psychological divide that was only at the fringes before but now is seeping in everywhere. There are some who are not divided but they simply do not care, and I can’t decide which is worse.

In light of the recent incidents, having an opinion is perhaps the costliest in India. It is much easier if you want to be a mule, absorb consumer products and mindlessly churn our revenue and tax.

Thank God I’m Not a Doctor

Before I say what I want to, let me just say that I know many good doctors who are both proficient in practice and good-natured people. I know them as colleagues and friends. However, this article is about the increasingly vast majority who are not like that.

You would think that a professional who signs up to be in a profession of health care and may directly contribute to quality and quantity of life of people may want to care about being the crudest level of polite to people who provide for his/her income. Yet, the typical scene at a doctor’s office goes such:

Doctor comes fifteen minutes late

Doctor is visited by Medical Representative (Shiny Pharma guys)

Only half an hour of consult time is left

People rush in, seeing the doctor for 2 to 15 minutes and are lighter in the pocket by one grand in consult fees and then another couple grand in medication and follow-ups.

(Contrast this with the fact that people are hesitant to pay even 500 for one whole hour of intensive psychotherapy. Sometimes you wonder if people don’t bring shit onto themselves on purpose)

Apart from the logistics of it, many doctors are downright rude. No explanation of diagnoses, no explanation of what the medication is for, how long the treatment would run, possible side-effects of medication, and yes, cheaper alternatives. Some doctors also have a delightful habit of sending you for needless diagnostic testing thanks to the cut from the testing industry.

They should really stop calling it a noble profession. Apart from a few doctors, none act noble or do noble.

In a country where the government hospital situation is bad, and the private one so elitist, the large swarming middle-class that we are so proud of is left hanging at tail-end of the auspicious white coat.

Silence please, Doctor?