Great Expectations

Has life become too easy for our children?

The most heartening news to emerge last week was that of Prema, the daughter of an autorickshaw driver from Mumbai, who topped the notoriously difficult CA exams. In the same year, her brother has also cracked the same paper and the siblings have suddenly changed orbits, and the futures of their entire extended family. Many such wonderful stories of success under the most difficult circumstances come up every now and then from across India, like the one last year on Bihar's Super 30 a free coaching centre for underprivileged but promising students. In a record of sorts, 27 of 30 students made it to IIT JEE in 2012, among them kids of a truck mechanic and daily wage labourer. This only affirms the potential each carries, and the fact that those who are given proper opportunity and are willing to slog can change their lives.

Prema's story reminds me of another piece I read recently, about how some of the top amateur golfers in India are kids of caddies. A way out, is probably what drives these children to study or practise relentlessly for up to 16 hours a day, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Somehow, one sees that kind of motivation and hunger for success much less among city kids from wealthier homes. Some years ago when Yale professor Amy Chua wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, a sort of how-to guide for Western parents to raise children who turn into Maths prodigies and musical geniuses, she came up with a classic line: "Nothing is fun until you're good at it". Chua made it clear that she sneers at many Western concepts of parenting which she describes as modern, attuned, be-your-child's-friend kind of thing but which is turning an entire generation of kids into soft and entitled namby pambies. Chua's ideas may be extreme but they hit a chord with many rich and upper middle-class parents in Delhi, who worry that unwittingly, not only are we lavishing our children with holidays, toys and goodies that we ourselves never had as kids, but worse, we're not actively encouraging them to excel. The first generation of parents who've actually ridden the shining India wave seem determined to shield their kids from the struggle they had (the endless rigmarole of school, to coaching class, to tuition etc).

... contd.

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