The distinctive desi get-togethers. No matter how causal the dinner invite, nothing is ever causal about the whole affair. The hostess’ best china and crystal ware are brought out for what will be an extravagant banquet accompanied by the same or even better whiskey to what was served at the Singhs last month. Lighter drinks for the ‘ladies’ such as wine or vodka will also be served if one preferred. And no matter how insistent the hostess’ would be while inviting that it’s ‘just a small get-together’, everybody decks up in the latest banarasi silks and diamond drops (mind you, a branded western outfit is just as acceptable these days). And amidst this lavish setting to compliment the fine food and free-flowing perfectly-aged alcohol, only the creamiest of conversations are exchanged. “Business is going verrrrry good.” “My husband bought me this fabulous sapphire set last week.” “We just came back from Sydney yesterday.” Till inevitably the conversations turn towards their children who are missing from the party.
“My Pappu is studying soooo hard for his exams. He’s such a hard-working boy.” “My Pinky is a very good girl. She’s hardly interested in coming to parties. Sooo busy she is with her community projects!”
To an onlooker this will seem as a hard-working and well-settled Indian community. But if you look closely you might catch the look between Mr. and Mrs. Dutta, Pappu’s parents and you might make out the perfectly concealed dark circles under Mrs. Patel’s eyes, Pinky’s mom. Right now Pinky actually isn’t working on any community project but she is somewhere out with her friends probably flaked out. And Pappu is at his boyfriend’s place working on their LGBT poster for tomorrow’s march. Both Mrs. Chand and Mrs. Naidoo know that Pappu is gay and share a snicker (silently thanking the heavens above that their sons are straight. So what they are failed junior high twice) and well Pinky is quite famous for her antics but this all is wishy-washed by the good alcohol, hidden behind the false, pretentious smiles and conversations flow on.
Talking about one’s problems especially regarding their childrens’ is something that is not done in the desi communities. The ‘where is the other 2% of a 98% scored math paper” meme has become a trademark attribute of the Indian parent. It is true that most Indian parents have extremely high expectations from their children and these expectations are not limited to only academic but extend to their lifestyles and relationships. You see the Indians are a highly competitive race and it would have made a justified sense if the competition was between us and the other races. But in most diasporic Indian communities, the competition is amongst themselves! Who has the better house, who drives the better car etc. and in the rivalry to outdo one another, it is the children who become their horses to bet on. Of course, parents want the best for their kids. Most immigrants know that the greener pastures that they dreamed off is only possible with the best of education. However apart from this, a large amount of pressure on their expectations are driven by ‘keep up with the
Joneses Kumars’ syndrome.
An Indian child must not only be excellent in their schoolwork but should also excel in extracurricular activities like playing the harmonium and tabla. They should be able to sing the morning aarti in shud articulate Hindi and speak top-notch English like a gora. However they must stay home in the weekends and study very hard. Impeccable manners is a must and they should always try and be better than Neetu aunty’s son. And once he has graduated with honors from University, he should settle with nice, homely girl.
And should a child deviate from the above template of a good Indian child, an Indian parent will leave no stone unturned to get that child back on track. However this desi wheelbarrow race where parents push their children in an attempt to up one another is resulting in deep embedded problems in our children and is actually withholding our community from wholesome progress.
Last Sunday I was flopped on the couch comatose from the big Sunday lunch while my father was engrossed in a soccer match on TV and my mother catching up on her FB newsfeed. With her classic tsk-tsk, she showed me a photo of a rather mis-matched ‘young’ couple on her ipad. Young as in younger than me. Apparently the young girl was one of mum’s nieces who had ‘went away’ from her parents place. You mean she ran away? Eloped? My mother resignedly admitted that yes, she ‘ran away’. When? My father from the other corner of the room chipped in that it was about 2 years ago because they had visited the parents just after she had ‘went away’. With utmost effort, I sat up (I mean this was the girl that my mother kept telling my 3rd sister to be more like!) and asked my folks what happened? Did you guys console her parents? Did you give them some advise?…My dad with great instinct turned up the volume of the TV. He knew what was coming. (see the role reversal in our household.) I turned into the Sunday pastor and boomed question after question. WHY DIDN’T YOU GUYS SAY ANYTHING TO THE GIRL’S PARENTS?
My parents are the steady kind of people. The kind of people that others would call at 2.am. for help and they’ll be on their way by 2.15am. Without naming names between all of my four sibling and me, I think we’ve pretty much put our folks through it all. Alcohol, breaking curfews, running away, drugs, suspension from school (that would me!), wrong kind of men…you get the idea. But though shaken they were steady through it all. And thankfully we’ve all turned out fine. However being the eldest, I acutely remember the times when my parents were desperate for help but we lived in such a community that it was just unthinkable to reach out to somebody because of the shame factor associated with it. And so my disappointment in my parents that afternoon when they tell me that an extended family’s child has run away and they didn’t console her parents? I mean having gone through what they were going through, wouldn’t you offer some support? They are a much younger couple than my folks and as older, wiser adults of the society, wouldn’t you feel that you have a responsibility towards the younger generation of parents?
My father finally turned the TV off and sighed. In the simplest of words he said, their help wasn’t needed. The young girl’s parents refused to acknowledge that something was wrong and continued a act of pretense that the desi community has perfected. My mother also further added that while they could have addressed the problem themselves, instead of being grateful their hosts would have taken their concern as intrusion into their private lives and somewhat a taunt to them for not being good parents. (another great Indian fear – taunting from the samaj)
Hence my beef with the desi community and the things my parents generation don’t talk about. They refuse to talk to each other about their children’s problems. To do so, would be like showing your opponents where you weak buttons are. “Vvvhat will people say?” While they have managed to raise a generation of doctors, engineers and accountants but have they managed raise happy people? In this gol chakar of log kiya kahenge we’ve alienated each other. To combat problems such as drugs and understand issues such as LGBT relationships of this new generation, our parents need to stop competing and start talking to each other. The truth of the matter is, no child is spared from the vices of the world today and it absolutely has nothing to do with how well you have brought up your children. I remember a time when a cousin had gotten tangled up in a wrong crowd. In an attempt to hide the problem, his mother had severed ties with a lot of family members. We all knew what was happening and instead of coming together and solving it, we all stood by watching the child slowly get swallowed up and then one day we all met at the hospital. And I feel for so many of my gay friends who are estranged from their parents not because their parents don’t understand their relationships but because their parents do not have the strength to accept their relationships in front of ‘all those gathered here today’.
That’s what we are doing to our children by not talking to each other, we are letting them down. Instead of sharing, collaborating and combating our problems together, we are silently suffering in the confines of our own homes. While taking care that our false prides don’t slip, we let each other’s families make the same mistake over and over again creating an unhappy, pretentious society of individuals. And for our diasporic Indian communities to survive, we need to throw our masks away. There always will be those malicious kind of people in any society who will take much pleasure in hearing your parenting failures but then do what they think really matter against your child’s well-being? I don’t think so. So to hell with what people will say and start talking to each other. We’ve already given the world lots of doctors, engineers and cleaners – it’s time to raise some happy contented desi children!
What do you think about desi parents? Do you agree or disagree with this post – I’d like to hear from you. Whether you are a desi parent or an offspring, please share your stories by commenting below!