Even his mother was impressed. “Kalki, Vishnu’s 10th incarnation, is likely to arrive in Kali Yuga,” said the bespectacled boy. At a time when six-year-olds pester parents for the latest Playstation, here was a child who loved mythology the way urban kids dig violent Japanese toons. Uday Ahuja, a class I student of Delhi’s Step by Step school, starts his day reading in the bed, reads in the school library and heads home to read some more. He has no patience for the idiot box.
Yale Law professor Amy Chua would have approved. Her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, an account of raising her children the Chinese way in the United States, has become a talking point across the world. Her way of parenting — scathing of the American ‘kitten’ approach — is one without TV, computer games or Facebook, where the only solution to “substandard performance” is to “excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
What is central to the debate is Chua’s allusion that America has fallen behind in the world, while China has raced ahead, because of the difference in the styles of parenting. Even as the world watches the rise and rise of the dragon on the economic scene, a separate global assessment test had the U.S finishing a poor 17th in reading and 23rd in science.
For long observers have held that the Indian success story — in the engineers, doctors and techies we’ve produced — can be attributed in part to our emphasis on discipline and work ethic.
With the Indian economy growing at close to 9 per cent and sociological changes post-liberalisation, has the Indian parent changed? Who are the children we are raising and will they be fit to sustain the success story? Former Procter & Gamble CEO Gurcharan Das, author of The Elephant Paradigm: India Battles for Change, says: “Indians and Chinese work harder than Americans.” Still, what one can’t take away from the United States, adds Das, is its creative leadership. “The Internet and iPad were not invented in China. In India we should take the best of both worlds. We should have the strong fundamentals of China, coupled with the creativity of the Americans.”
The HT-C-Fore survey results point towards this mixed approach towards parenting. While the survey clearly shows us to be pushy, bull parents, with 74 per cent respondents saying academic excellence was most important for success and 65 per cent getting children enrolled in activities outside school, things are not as extreme. For instance, a substantial number (32 per cent) had not yet decided on what career they wanted their child to pursue. More encouragingly, Indian parents seem to be more affectionate than what Chua says Chinese parents are like. While our survey shows that 60 per cent of parents do scold/hit their child, it also shows that they display emotions — 66 per cent say they make physical demonstration of affection by hugging or patting a child. Delhi-based psychoanalyst Madhu Sarin is relieved. “Generally, Asians give too little positive reinforcement. A child can bounce back from an abusive relationship. What he can’t recover from is the guardian’s indifference. This is the worst bit about Tiger moms like Chua.”
Jacks of all trades
Overall, a trend towards discipline and structure is a parental attitude displayed by a majority of respondents. It comes as no surprise then that micro-managed children, who spend every moment outside school learning dance, music, art or Abacus, continue to be under pressure. According to our survey, more than 68 per cent of children complain of stress because of too many activities after school.
Stories coming in from across the nation corroborate this. From the disciplinarian Chennai engineer who feeds his twins equal doses of milk, Science lessons and karate every morning, to the Mumbai techie whose mission in life is to get his son into IIT, Indian parents are pushing their children. All this is being done in the interest of the young ones they argue.
Are we the Bull parents?
Counsellors warn that it would be wrong to club Indian parents as one cohesive mass. “I would divide them into the relentlessly micro-managing kind and the easier, broad-stroke parent who exposes kids to experiences that may lead the child to enjoying some part of academics, music, or sport,” says family counsellor Gauri Dange, author of ABC of Parenting. In both categories, one can find extremes: the lazy, neglectful parents who hide behind the label of ‘letting their child be’ and the abusive ones who reason that they are demanding because it is good for the child.
As is expected, most parents don’t perceive themselves as harsh. Mamata Pradhan, 36, a nutrition advocacy expert with an international NGO, doesn’t mind the tiger parent tag. “If it means being competitive, I am a tiger mom. My eight-year-old learns classical dance, goes for swimming classes and I am planning to enroll her for drawing lessons. If she copes well with studies, I won’t mind that either.”
For many parents, exposing their child to diverse activities signifies mobility, says Sunalini Mathews, editor of Child magazine. “We didn’t have the opportunities that today’s kids have. For R 2,000, for instance, a Gurgaon institute promises to teach your child how to appreciate art.”
New age learning
As exposure for both parents and children grows, traditional methods of parenting are being challenged, if not totally discarded. With new-age schools increasing in metros, parents are realising that the childhood years needn’t be an endless series of hobby classes and exams.
Parents don’t fear that students at new-age schools find it tough to integrate with ‘the mainstream’. “Once you’ve understood that becoming a better human being is the most important, these doubts melt away,” says Ajay Dave, an eye surgeon, whose daughter, 13, studies at the Delhi-based Mirambika, one of the first ‘free progress’ schools in Delhi.
With Phorum D Pandya and Radhika Ravindra Raj in Mumbai, Tasmayee Laha Roy in Kolkata and KV Lakshmana in Chennai
Most kids feel deprived if they don’t get to see Shin Chan on time or don’t possess the latest Play Station. Not Arka. “When Arka was three, his mother and I,” says his father, Parthasarathi Das, a government employee, “decided we would keep him away from the addiction of TV and computer. We introduced him to the world of books and bought him a comic strip called the Magic Pot...”
“He is also good at studies and addicted to cycling”, says Jhumjhum Das, Arka’s mother, a housewife. Arka’s other credits — co-hosting a half an hour show on 104 Fever FM and bagging the first prize in a TV programme.
When little Arka was out on a vacation this winter, he carried a heavy bag filled with books which he read in the aircraft, in the car, in the hotel and during the entire trip, adds his parents proudly.
“I can give up TV or games anytime,” says Arka. “Unlike my friends don’t get disheartened if my parents don’t let me watch TV or play games. I am very happy in my world of books.” Truly, this is a case where the parents and child deserve each other.
Monique Gandhi who regularly represents Maharashtra at national meets, has attended just a handful birthday parties in her life. “She complains sometimes,” says her mother, Chhaya Gandhi, 42, a stay-at-home mother who quit her job to focus on her daughters. “You have to make sacrifices if you want to achieve something.” That something, for Gandhi, is getting Monique to the Olympics.
To that end, for the past six years, Monique’s alarm clock has gone off at 4:45 am four days a week. After a special protein-rich breakfast, her mother drives her to a swimming club for a two-hour training. Next, she goes to school. To minimise disruptions to this routine, Gandhi urges her daughter to finish her homework in school, during the breaks. On the days, she does not swim, she exercises with a trainer at home in her home gym.
Next week, she is Ranchi-bound for another national meet, where she will celebrate her 13th birthday. “I don’t skip training even on my birthdays,” she says. “I just cut a cake at the pool. I guess it’s all right. Swimming is important for all of us.”
They are a no-television household during the week. On weekends, too, Uday Ahuja and his sister, Diya, would rather turn to reading their favourite authors than spend the day watching cartoons.
Their favourite reads: Works of Barbara Park, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Francesca Simon for Diya and Indian mythological stories for Uday.
For the first five years after Diya was born, the Ahujas did not buy a television. “After that, one of her teachers said that she was standing out during peer interaction, when other children started the day talking about what they saw last night. Even after that, for many days she wanted us to switch it off, because it had served as a nice mirror all these years.” The Ahujas feel the influence of TV curbs their outdoor time. “For us, winding down means a book.”
For the twins, discipline at home is more rigorous than in school. Adherence to time table, television rationing and play time only after studies are done is a daily routine. Can they play? Yes, but only on the days they do not have Hindi, Sanskrit and Carnatic classical music classes.
Their father, Professor Satyanarayana Gummadi, is an associate professor at IIT Madras. The twins’ study room inside the IIT quarters has two neat desks on which they are to report promptly at 4.30 pm daily on their return from school. “There are times when I get angry, and even my brother, when we are not allowed to go out when friends come and ask us to play,” admitted Shyam. “But then there is no escape, so I comply,” he said.
Prof Gummadi and his wife Ramalakshmi, a radio jockey with local FM channel, have no problem in describing themselves as strict parents. “Time management is a must,” they say.
At five, Priyadarshika, has perfected 15 mudras and walks the 18-hole course without breaking into a sweat. Weekdays are a flurry of golf lessons, Bharatnatyam classes and Taekwondo practice. Weekends, of course, are for homework.
“She was the youngest participant in the Albatross junior golf tournament in October last year. She was also chosen to represent the school in Taekwondo,” says her father Abhimanyu Singh, a golf coach.
“Priya loves these activities, particularly walking the course with older children,” insists her mother Preeti Rajawat, an art consultant.
Doesn’t she get tired? “When I do, I don’t feel like dancing,” says Preeti. What does she want to be when she grows up? “A dolphin trainer,” she says. Which, of course, has no connection to golf, Bharatnatyam, or any of the things she has been doing.
Lanky and quiet, Aditya leans against a cabinet packed with trophies and medals. “This one,” says his father N Nandakumar, 52, pointing to a gleaming cup, “he won four days ago for standing first at the Maths Olympiad organised by IIT-Bombay. The other one is for being best athlete in school and this one was for standing first in a chess competition.”
Aditya blushes. Ever since he was eight, his parents made sure he took his schoolwork very seriously. And meditation, yoga and chanting as well, for which he would wake up daily at 6 am — to improve his concentration.
In Class 4, they began making him take competitive exams, with one eye on the IIT entrance exam eight years away. “We would observe what successful students did to improve their skills,” says his engineer father “We’d make sure Aditya did the same. It was a family decision that he should aim for IIT,” says Nandakumar.
Aditya loves football, but these days, he rarely plays. “I study for eight hours every day,” he says.
According to his animator father, Anando Banerjee, and textile designer mother Chaitali, Dhruv, unlike other children, isn’t tied to multiple schedules. He is focussed on one. Whether it is drawing maps or playing 6 hours a day, he likes to focus on one activity and do it well. “He needn’t become Tendulkar. As long as he enjoys cricket, we’ll let him be,” says his father. Nation of nerds
"Education thrives in China and the rest of Asia because it is a top priority—and we've plenty to learn from that."
-Columnist Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times
This memoir raises intriguing, sometimes uncomfortable questions about love, pride, ambition, achievement and self-worth that will resonate among success-obsessed parents. - Elizabeth Chang in Washington Post
“Do you look back on your childhood and feel that it was happy? Do you remember laughing with your parents? Do you wish that you could have taken ballet or been in the high school musical?” -A blogger to Chua on WSJ.com
“When I show this book to immigrants and their kids, they were like, exactly, this is how it is. It’s funny, they relate, it’s not controversial for them. Now among my western friends it provokes extremely intense reactions in all directions. Some, including my closest friends, are shocked and aghast.” -Chua, in an interview to The Guardian, UK