Insert pitaji, daddy, baba, abbu, bauji, appa – whatever your term of reference. “Yes, father” is a fundamental code of conformity drilled to desi children as their unquestionable submission to the patriarchal head of the household. Right from the Vedic era some 1600 BCE, desi parents have been revered as Gods living on this planet demanding a worship-like devotion from their offsprings.
My adolescent years could be divided into episodes of me and Suruj battling through my “but why nots?” Me constantly, impertinently pushing for reasonings behind why we had to do things according to the ‘rules’ and my mother relentlessly, exhaustingly like millions of desi mothers around the world, did her utmost best by all means possible to protect the patriarchy system and it’s ego by bending, breaking and crushing me into silent submissiveness.
The first time I told him father he was wrong was at a site meeting. I was 25, had recently joined his business and was pretty much still ‘his daughter’ at work. At the meeting that morning, he was wrong. It was a $25K error and someone had to shoulder it. Our foremen were well-prepared to put it on a poor subcontractor. I suppose that was the first of many since then, I’ve stood up against him professionally. That day became the defining point of how our relationship is today (perhaps another post on that one day).
But the desi culture concerning the parent-child relationship is a well-oiled circle of life based on obligation and duty. Where parents bear the responsibility in rearing their children in the best possible way in return for their grown-up children fulfilling their duty by looking after them in their old age – pretty much free from worries, left to play with the grandkids, wander in spiritual pursuits (like going to Mecca or dipping in the Ganges) or just drinking tea with old friends.
A highly efficient culture that’s worked and ensured that nobody in a family gets left behind and everyone is cared for. This arrangement regularly gets mocked in the west like the time David Letterman on his show asked Aishwarya Rai if it was normal for adult Indian children to live with their parents because they didn’t in America, to which she quipped at least they didn’t have to take appointments to have dinner with their own parents!
However there has been a problem looming in desi societies for some time now.
Our relationships with our children are disintegrating. There is a growing discontent between desi parents and children. From mature businessmen to teenagers in high schools, we are loosing touch with our parents even though we maybe living together.
In Fiji, there’s been a number of recent reports in the media of elderly persons being abused by relatives or abandoned old parents no longer wanted by their children in their homes, these individuals particularly being Fijians of Indian descent. How is it possible that being one of the oldest cultures in the world, one where parents used to be regarded as Gods has come to this? Blame it on the age of kaliyug or diminishing of the desi value system or on the effects of globalisation – the bottom line adds up to indicate an astounding amount of unhappiness in our desi communities today.
And perhaps it’s about time, we re-evaluated our desi parent/child relationship – our responsibilities, our duties, and our expectations from each other.
UNDERSTAND – The Way of Ye Olde Days
The Cultural Deal
In exchange for their unconditional love and support, complete obedience and respect to one’s parents has always been the deal. This usually leads to financial dependency on each other – in their old age for parents.
When children being dependent on them, desi parents have a tendency to think of them as their ‘property’ on whom they can wield their will as and when they please.
As crude as this sounds but accounting for 1/7 of the world’s population it’ll be hard to argue against that many desi parents also have children just for the sake of it. Either its numerous tries for a son to continue their lineage or simply to tick off society’s requirement for producing children. Love and affection hasn’t always been a major deciding factor for desi couples trying for children.
The High Expectations
The memes are a plenty for the doctor, engineer or accountant jokes. But perhaps what we don’t realise is that there is a deep underlaying reason why desi people have such high academic expectations from their children.
Recently on ABC’s Q&A, Sashi Tharoor speaking about the damages of British colonialism in India said during it’s 100-year rule, “the entire expenditure on education by the British in India was less than half the high school budget for the state of New York.”
Maybe our high expectations of children excelling in academics is a trigger from our colonial past. Perhaps education and good ‘officer’ type jobs was the ultimate redemption for the Indian man?
As a result of this white-collar expectations out of our children, we’ve managed to produce generations of desi people slogging in unhappy jobs and careers.
The Gratitude Issue
Before I wrote this post, I sent out a questionnaire to gauge what desi adult children currently living with parents were feeling. Almost all of them agreed with the sentiment that “our parents sacrificed their lives for us children.” You know I hate that phrase. I detest people who say that to their children. The decision to bring that child into this world was yours not theirs.
Unlike western parents, desi parents tend to make their entire lives revolve around their children. And for this, they expect an immense amount of gratitude from their children and many a time play the guilt card for not being able to enjoy their own lives because of them.
Then there are desi parents who’ve squarely placed the burden of their own dreams onto their children to fulfil and many poor sods have miserably worked away their youth to ‘thank’ their parents for ‘having’ them.
Remember when Amrish Puri let go of her hand declaring, “Ja Simran ja, jee le apni zindagi!” and Simran ran? Remember that run down the train platform in Punjab? Yeah you do. Because when she ran, boy we all ran with her. Simran wasn’t just running to the love of her life, you see. Simran, was suddenly freed from the burden of gratitude for everything her father ‘had done for her.’ So in that 60 seconds when she was set free, so were all of us. (Well till we all went back home, to our parents’ house and got reminded of the free food we were loading after a day of being full vela).
KNOW – That We Now Live In 2017
You know, I get really pissed off when I’m part of conversations with older members of the desi community harping on about how their culture and values are dying out because younger generations don’t really seem to care.
Now hold up. Y’all in your pursuit to provide ‘the very best of education’ to your children sent them to western schools and the best of colleges and universities over the seas. You’ve technically invested your hard-earned money into schooling your children into a system whose values are rooted in independent thinking and becoming self-sufficient. A system where children leave home at 18 years of age and where parents don’t really have a significant place in their children’s adult life. And you’re sitting there sobbing and wondering where did you go wrong in raising your kids? Boo, you fully funded yourself out of your desi child’s life! (forgive me, dear reader)
The Bhagavad Gita says, “Change is the law of the universe.” And I don’t think it particularly referenced to the facts that we’ll be using nuclear weapons instead of bows and arrows with mystical powers in our warfares in the year 2017..
It could have been written for our relationships. Sadly the many different desi religious sects are still trying to grasp on and inculcate people with old-school religious banter to make them conform to an ideology of a culture that no longer has the space to survive today. The very organisations that have the power to strength our cultural bonds and help desi communities transit to new mindsets, are the ones causing it to break down rapidly with their inability to accept change.
And perhaps it’s time we sewed back the frail fabric of our culture with some new threads. Threads that are spun with love, guidance and happiness, not out of obligation, conformity or abidance.
And we can start with getting a few things right. Like –
First of all,
Dear Parents, Your Children Are Not Your Property.
On a wider universal context, you’re merely a medium that’s got them here on this planet. Your duty is to nurture them, impart your knowledge, set them on the right course and wish them well to continue onwards on the journey of life that they’ll need to walk themselves.
Now I understand you’ve literally put a chuck of your life in your child but your child is not an investment for your old age. Re-learn to prioritise yourself, not your every dollar has to go into rearing your children. Save something for you. Set your boundaries, learn to let go, live and let live.
Your Dreams Are Your Own, Dear Parents.
Every human being has a right to choice. A right to decide who, what, where they want to be in life. And just because you are the birth-giver of that human, doesn’t give you the right to impose your decisions, choices and dreams on them. Re-look at your expectations.
Dear Parents, You Cannot Force Gratitude
Respect is something that is earned. Yet in desi culture, respect for elders is a general prerequisite. Despite the kind of parent you are – our culture dictates that a child must always revere their utmost gratitude and respect to you. This perhaps has for centuries warranted desi parents to take their children for granted, see them as ‘beneath’ them.
In 2017, everyone earns their own keep. Respect your children. The same way you’d want to be by them. Earn their gratitude.
Songs like “yeh toh sach hai ki bhagwan…” from the movie Hum Saath Saath Hain evoke really strong sentiments for your parents, without fail everyyyy time that song plays on the radio I’ve seen someone or the other get teary. But songs like that, that elevate parents comparing them to Gods on earth, put immense pressure not just on children but on parents as well.
In reality you see, parents are not Gods. They are just human beings. And it’s time as a culture, we saw them as just that – people. People who are not perfect. Humans that can err.
It took me a long time to understand my own parents. As there’s a shift to reversal of our roles, I’m beginning to appreciate them more. Neither of them drive so well at night anymore so I’m usually dropping them off to functions etc. Only the other night, I sat jerking my knees waiting for them to call, trying not to think that something had happened (like what, I don’t know!). It was close to midnight when they finally called. As soon as they got in the car, I barked why so late? Suruj sheepishly stared out the window, while my drunk father from the back sang they were busy full enjoying themselves! Dear Reader, I can only remember the times, my mother had collected me drunk from places.
With both of them in and out of hospitals over the past few years, I’m also wistfully aware of how fragile my folks are becoming.
When I started writing this post, I had every intention of pouring my burning rage into this writeup to desi parents about how they messed up and got it wrong with so many of us. I thought I’d perhaps express solidarity to the hundreds of unhappy, desi children around the globe torn, struggling to choose between their ‘duty’ and their own happiness.
But here at the end of it, ironically, I find myself in deep respect for desi parents.
At the beginning of my 30’s, I recall quietly telling Suruj (who did a heavenward wail and asked God what was she being punished for) that if marriage didn’t happen for me in the next few years, I wouldn’t want to have children. The last thing I’d want at 50 years of age is to have a 15-year old Shyamni going off at me. God knows what I’ve put my mother through (and as if that wasn’t enough, I now
bitch blog about her once every other month!) so I can only imagine what karma would have in store for me!
But actually, it’s the sheer responsibility of another human being; whether I’ll be able to do right by them or not, is what scares me the most.
So I can only imagine, the many parents out there today who feel like they’ve lost. That despite their everything, they still got it wrong with their children. Perhaps it’s our fault as a society that we didn’t empower parents as well, we didn’t advise them that children cannot be retirement strategies and that each person on this planet is responsible for their own happiness.
I wish I could sign off with some sort of grand resolve for these crumbling ties in our society between parents and children but for once this blogger doesn’t have a solution.
But from my very own story, I can tell you where to start from again with each other.
Start from a place of love. Love without conditions. Love without expectations. Love not defined by the social laws of our culture, but defined by mutual respect for the other.
All views expressed are my own. Writer reserves all rights. Do not copy or publish without prior consent.