Having lived in India for over 11 years, I know all about the competitive nature of its people. Whether driving along the roads, clamouring for a pay-rise, rushing for a train, or pushing to the front of a queue, Indians are by nature driven and often aggressive when it comes to getting what they want. Hardly surprising, given the lack of support extended by the country’s political systems, the vast size of the population, and the obvious signs of poverty which exist as a constant, gruelling reminder that life at the bottom of the pile is very tough indeed.
I’d been here for over seven years when I had my first child and I thought I knew all about the continual pressure in India to be first, fast. I had no idea that there was a whole other level of competition when it came to parenting. There’s a whole, secret world which revolves around pushing your child to become No. 1, and it is not for the fainthearted.
As parents, we all believe that our children are the brightest and the smartest, the best looking and the most endearing. Many parents subconsciously see their children as an extension of themselves, the potential for a second chance at succeeding in life when they themselves have not done as well as they had hoped. Some parents literally see their children as their future – and begin planning their kids’ marriages early on, to ensure a good union and a happy retirement for themselves. In India this view is particularly prevalent, given the lack of state support systems. In the UK, children generally leave home when they reach 18, to fend for themselves. Most would never think of sending money home to support their families – they have taken steps towards adulthood, and they need to be independent, just as their parents were before them. In India things are very different – parents rely on their children for emotional and financial support for the future, and so the pressure for offspring to succeed is huge – there is a lot riding on it.
While I understand the context for parental pressure in India, it still makes it difficult to fully empathise with competitive parents. Every time I go and pick my kids up from their pre- school (they are four and two years old) I am bombarded with questions from other mothers about which “big school” I’ll be sending them to (even the two year old) and when I tell them I am not really sure, they look at me as though I am completely mad. My son’s school friends seem to be enrolled in a vast variety of “tuition”; he gets given homework every day, and he’s already studying French, although I am well aware that this is more so the school can brag about their international curriculum.
Then there is the constant comparing of milestones. My eldest son walked and talked pretty late, while the younger one has done all that much faster. I constantly hear Mums comparing ages and stages, and grilling teachers at the pre-school on why their little darlings aren’t developing faster. The fact is that some children develop at different speeds than others, regardless how many toddler groups, baby aerobic classes and “learning” paraphernalia you throw at for them. However, the insecurity and competitiveness of Mums provides fertile territory for those who peddle tuition and learning aids.
I believe that putting pressure on kids is essentially robbing them of their childhoods. Piling responsibility onto them is another way of evading responsibility for our own lives. As adults, we should protect our kids from the rat race, not throw them into it and force them to compete. There will be plenty of time for all that once they grow up – for now, let them enjoy their playtime, and their journeys into their own imagination.
Originally from the UK, Heather fell in love with India when she came here for a backpacking trip in 2000. She made Mumbai her home three years later, and has been living and working here ever since, She has worked in various media companies, including ad agencies, a broadcaster and movie production company and is now Chief Talent Officer for The 120 Media Collective . She married Vivek in 2008, and is now the mother of two boys – Jake aged 4 and Noah aged 2.
Heather is still trying to master the Hindi language, although she knows all of the swear words. She loves to bake English cakes and pies, and balances an active social life with a love for hot yoga. She hates cold weather and unpunctuality drives her up the wall.
Her first novel, “Becoming Mrs. Kumar,” inspired by her experiences of living and working in India, was published in April 2013 by Random House India. Set in Mumbai, it tells of a British Expat woman’s search for love and happiness in an intense, chaotic city which is never short on excitement.