Recently two Indian American kids hogged the limelight in social media for winning the annual Spelling Bee contest in the United States. A regular phenomenon now that’s no more a surprise. After all, this is the 9th consecutive year an Indian origin kid has claimed the prestigious title in America, one more feather to our cap, given that we are increasingly acknowledged now as a nation of human potential over anything. Gone are the days when foreigners conjured up images of snake-charmers and elephants whenever and wherever the name ‘India’ cropped up. It is undeniably an exhilarating feeling that the NRIs in the Middle-East may as well concede. The global Indian has arrived. It started with the IT boom in the ’90s and as India started churning out record number of physicians, scientists, engineers and techies to service around the world and we became the world’s largest ever back-office even as China became the universal shopping front for swiss knives to cell phones.
So it is no coincidence that Chennai-born Sundar Pichai is heading Google or Indira Krishnamurthy Nooyi chairs the world Pepsico. Or that Satya Nadella of Microsoft is from Andhra Pradesh.
The Indian footprint is there even in outerspace – from the moon to Mars.
Successful Indians have raised the bar for rest of us mere mortals to follow suit, especially the younger generation. Only resources are shrinking faster than ever before and the rat race is killing already.
As accolades for the young wizards of Spelling bee poured in at both international and desi media, there was finally a kind of oasis like sanity amid the blare of all the pomp – which read like the most sensible thing I laid my hands on in quite sometime. Basking for too long in the glory of Nadellas and Pitchais, the latest updates on Spelling Bee had bored me down with its insipidity and stale content until there was this break that came as a breather (though probably from over an year before):
Follows on the heels of Abhishek Bachchan trolled not long ago in Twitter ‘(Five sixers and One dot ball’) (the dot ball referring to him obviously) in the awards ceremony of the recently concluded World Cup T20 Cricket, for sharing the stage with stalwarts like his father Amitabh and Sachin Tendulkar, the doyen of Indian cricket. Now, why should Abhishek turn out to be as successful or as exactly as his superstar dad? The two men grew up in entirely different set of circumstances, so the environment that shaped them must have had a marked difference. Bachchan junior won my sympathy for the unrealistic expectation the nation pinned on him, trying to cast him in the same mold as his father. Very unfair comparison and cruel to an extent. Let him be him. Just him. Why are we Indians obsessed with the father-son succession story? Fathers may leave impressive footprints that sons may sometimes willingly follow, but why should the younger men have to travel the same journey as their illustrious fathers.
Not that I am a fan of Abhishek or his ilk including the Kapoors. The junior Bachchan is equally to blame for the embarrassing episode, for taking his undue place in a stage that did not befit him.
Still, extrapolating the single Bachchan story, it is easy to generalize the prevailing panorama in the Indian diaspora. Indian parents are pushing their kids beyond a decent boundary ‘to go and get’ and the strain is showing.
The unabated suicides at Kota, Rajastan of IIT aspirants among young Indians is a trigger for this post.
There is not a month that goes by without a fresh suicide story from the otherwise nondescript dusty town in the desert state of India that shot to its fame with its ‘distinguished feat’ of creating record number of IIT entrants. The heart-wrenching suicide notes penned by promising young talents to their over-ambitious parents underscores the insensitivity of us parents. The case of a young girl ending her life on clearing the IIT-JEE part I, qualifying for the advanced, raises troubling questions. There is a huge emotional cost to pay here.
But Kota hardly surprises me. Witness to equally grueling round-the-clock rigours of IIT coaching centers in Ongole, the head quarters of Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh where children from the surrounding villages and towns got enrolled for months and at times years bidding to crack the IIT-JEE, the very arduous exercise of trying to tackle the entrance in a dogged manner would make me think. Coming from a city like Chennai, I least expected a laidback ‘taluk’ like Ongole to boast of IIT calibre children, and by this I mean no disrespect to rural communities. To my utter surprise and shock, not only was Andhra teeming with IIT aspirants, their success rate was also much over and above what you may generally expect to see in urban metros like Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai. The key to the puzzle lay in the grind the teenagers were subject to. The preparation was not scientific as it was laborious; it was more like kind of systematic, a foolproof method by which you just couldn’t go wrong.
A mother myself of a young man who is pursuing his higher studies, I am painfully aware of the stress the younger generation are subject to, at a very early stage in their lives compared to how we ourselves fared in the same age. The shocking statistic of over 15-20 fresh engineering graduates from his class sporting a receding hairline highlights certain socio-physical factors that desperately seek our attention, the primary reason being environmental degradation and resultant poisoning and pollution of our soil, air and water; the other equally important cause is the accumulated stress. The pressure starts right from high school. But hair-loss is hardly something we need to worry about when we have more pressing issues on hand: more than 3-4 boys had elevated blood pressure levels and type-2 diabetes when they had to undertake medicals in their final year, when they’re hardly 21 years old. It is this vital observation that upsets the cart, a clear pointer to the health of our nation. What kind of young India is in the making?
If we dig deeper, pressure for Indian kids starts right by 3 years. Indian school curriculum is heavy right from the start and it is not a surprise that by the age of 5 years in primary school, our kids can not only read and write full sentences in English language along with doing some basic arithmetic like addition and subtraction, they are also ready to learn a second language and move on to writing answers to printed questions in exam halls. The second languages are invariably local tongues such as Tamil etc which are tougher to master with advanced grammars. From standard 6 joins the third language as per the 3-language formula. Some say, this is the reason Indian kids perform well in foreign universities. The grueling exercise prepares them the best to stay ahead of many of their peers from around the world.
Most kids do adapt to the syllabus to various degrees, but there is also a handsome percentage in each class who cannot keep up. It is precisely this mass that is left behind in the rat-race that grows increasingly restless . There are now Montessories and IB schools that are steadily gaining popularity in Chennai and other cities. Although expensive, for those who can afford them the schools open a new vista of knowledge and holistic learning with a motivating curriculum. ‘Special children’ cannot be having it any better.
IIT may be worth it for those kids that have the aptitude. If children have the potential, there is no reason to stop them from applying the same to their advantage. But if kids show a lesser inclination to academics, it is unwise to put them through run-of-the-mill tech courses where 100% employment is still not feasible. The kids feel miserable and even depressed at times.
Where is the time to pursue hobbies like art or music these days for our children? It is only IPL that has saved cricket in India. Otherwise you won’t be seeing so many boys out there in the hot sun playing street cricket. IPL is a money spinner, a game-changer, so when I was talking to a kid he said, he did not want to play for Team India but said he wanted to pursue his dream of a stint in IPL! It is enough if you reach up to first division, you will be in for reckoning for IPL teams. Other than that, interest is waning in sports and other extra-curricular activities in Indian children. After standard 9, all other avenues are closed to them forever.
The news that the Swiss were voting for a fixed income as per government provisions came as a pleasant surprise last week. Even if the citizens voted down the referendum, it is laudable that the state wanted to spare their countrymen the drudgery of structured occupation so that they would be able to devote more of their time, energy and resources in passionate, creative pursuits of what really make for a happy humanity. After all, ancient man only hunted for his basic needs although later on, he went on to make his life as well as that of his community more comfortable. Human civilization did not dictate work-life as a mandatory doctrine for ages and centuries that rolled by. This present 9-5 routine is a very recent evolutionary phase. Homo Sapiens are the only species on earth that have to ‘work’ in order to make a living.
What a refreshing perspective of life. If all us are going to have to become physicians, engineers and astronauts, who will do the masonry, carpentry, hospitality, nursing, teaching, tailoring, accounting, why even scavenging works for us? How can we still hope to run the show???
To every Indian parent who relentlessly pushes his/her kid to perfection, I would like to ask, ‘why didn’t you do it yourself???!!!’