Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Hunger Games: An Indian Parent’s Challenge

Are you a parent? An Indian parent? Trying to feed your child?
Read on without further delay my latest publication in Spark magazine about this trial by fire all Indian parents go through.

The Hunger Games: An Indian Parent’s Challenge

The survival of the human race owes a lot to three key things humans managed. Running away from wild beasts, discovery of spices and the patience of parents. Without the last ability, the chances of humans strangling their own chain of succession is pretty high. Children are a beautiful gift from a higher power, sent down to earth to temper moments of bliss with other moments where your temples throb with pulsating rhythms that resonate with their shrieking voices.

Through centuries of evolution, children have always been defiant and parents have always been deferential to their wishes. You’ll see shades of this in every culture around the world. Today, I’ll omit the tragedies of the French parent and the sacrifices of the Japanese ones. I’ll skip over the restlessness of the Egyptian father and the single-minded determination of the Chinese mother. I’ll focus on the tribe to which I belong. The Indian parent. The 21st century specimen whose influence on their kids will dictate how the century of Asia (as it has been touted) will be.

Let me start with a succinct definition of the Indian parent. par.ent
1. a father or a mother of Indian descent often seen chasing their young offspring with a spoon in their hands in a desperate effort to feed them, yet being completely incapable of ensuring the kids put on any weight with all that effort.

I know what you are thinking. Isn’t the definition too narrow? Isn’t there more to parenting then simply ensuring that your child eats food? Good thinking. And yet, this reductive definition tells us all there is to know about the challenges of parenting. Food is essential to survive and you’d think that in itself should be sufficient for the parent to let go off their worries and just put the plate in front of the child. Yet, the Indian parent distinguishes himself or herself from all other cultures in this realm.

In the 21st century, this continues to remain one of the most defining characteristics of an Indian parent of young children. They are often seen trying to feed the child as if he is on the precipice of starvation and as if they are on the verge of doom with only one last good meal left to eat. They try to mimic the Brownian motions of a child as they run around the place, trying to keep pace with the kid. When they finally manage to catch the child, with great optimism, they would tell “Say Aaa”, and unfortunately, the child would only keep his mouth shut tight. This particular behaviour seems amplified when abroad. In the presence of American parents who would basically ask their children to “take it or leave it”, the Indian parent stands out in his or her extreme agility in chasing their child and extreme inability to feed them.

I am going to step into the field of generalizations here. Indian kids are finicky eaters. There, I said it. My conclusion is rooted in all those years of having run around my own kids trying to feed them like a heat-seeking missile chasing its target. And it isn’t just me. It is also based on watching Indian parents around me, be it in the U.S. or India.

Watching an Indian parent feed their child is like watching an emotional roller coaster.

It generally starts with a mild imploring, “Beta, please eat.”

The next stage is a little sterner. “Is your mouth empty?”

Then comes the realisation that the food hasn’t really dislodged itself from behind their teeth.

A tone that borders on being a warning creeps in “I am telling you. Eat your food.”

And when none of this goes anywhere, the parent reaches for the helpless anger that bubbles up and manifests itself into something like this: “You know you can watch and chew at the same time? How hard is it to just eat? Do you know how much you could be doing with this time? You are so old now and yet we have to keep reminding you?”

When none of this has any effect, they give up in a huff, concluding with “I am not responsible for your food tomorrow onwards. If you want to eat, eat.”

But, when the next meal comes, the cycle repeats itself.

It is not that the Indian child likes to run or the Indian parent likes to chase. And yet this circle of strife continues. I often sit back and think about how our parents fed us. Surely, if our children have inherited our genes in all matters positive, this lack of interest in food must also stem from some genetic pre-disposition. Ergo, we too must have troubled our parents the same way our kids trouble us. Our parents must have had infinite patience to survive us.

“Look out the window, my son.”

“The first bite is for the bird, the second bite is for the squirrel, the third bite is for the dog.”

And so on and so forth would each meal go until all living creatures that were visible were accounted for. Can a modern parent, stressed by commute and work and EMIs and the need to keep up with Facebook and Twitter do that? Not a chance, I say.

To the aid of this time-constrained 21st century Indian parent comes technology. Perhaps this is why Indians do so well in the technology sector. They ensure that all tools needed to make the feeding process easier are at their disposal. They say that technology is democratic and that is for a good reason. The modern Indian parent dips into all of them. Angry Birds or YouTube videos, Xbox games or Netflix, American TV or Indian soaps, the world is at their fingertips and they put those fingertips to very good use. The modern day parent knows that moving images constrict the brain so much that the taste buds rarely object at anything they are subjected to at the same time.

Is it always true when kids grow up? Perhaps not. At some point in time, parents and their children find other stresses to deal with, other challenges of co-existing. Food then becomes a foot note, for its purpose as a means of survival becomes obvious to both parties.

The Indian parent, then, takes a moment to look at his or her offspring and pats themselves on the back for having raised well-nourished, well-rounded children. When the moment has been enjoyed, they move onto asking their child about the obvious next thing,

“Have you finished your homework yet?”