Childhoods, lives lost

Childhoods, lives lost

This story sounds amusing but is actually a grim reflection on our one big obsession. A father asked on a public forum about the best training institute for the IIT entrance test for his son. The twist was that his child was only in grade 5, but people's surprised reaction far from embarrassed him.

For the gentleman with the traditional Indian mentality, you can never be too young to accomplish your family's ambitions, "for all those suggesting that I let my child follow his dreams and not pressurise him, he is a kid and doesn't know what is good or bad for him. So, parents decide what is better."

Seeing from a tiny prism, for a majority of middle-class Indians even today there is only one thing at the end of the tunnel - a degree certificate. We are so controlling that we don't allow our children to fly and fall and learn from their own mistakes.

In our narrow world view, our children can still be only the clichd doctors or engineers. If your child does study in the art stream by choice, the obvious inference is that he or she wasn't good enough to get economics or science.

My class 10 CBSE board results were far from ideal, but today those marks are irrelevant. No one remembers them, but I can still recollect how a relative sarcastically said I had made the family proud.

Children as young as seven or eight years are spending their evenings in tuition classes, the herd mentality of parents continues to be a revelation. Coaching in 'Kumon', the Japanese system of teaching Mathematics, has been the 'in' thing in the last few years. In their desire to push their children ahead of the curve, all the elders achieve is to confuse the student, because what may be good for the Japanese isn't always good for Indians.

My 4-year-old daughter's teachers didn't particularly like me because I never took their complaints seriously. "She is not colouring within the lines", "she needs to curve the 'S' more" - to all these refrains, I had one answer: she is just 4! Why is our system so fixated on bringing up children within boundaries? It's a fallacy that we allow them to follow their dreams. Those paths are always conditional. In our minds, any profession that is not conventional is a hobby, never a career.

We get so excited every time an Indian-origin child wins the Spelling Bee. Yet another intelligent child has shown the West that they are no match for us! In reality, our kids are the ones who are losing out.

We now have a generation of extremes, either staring without blinking at the iPads or learning how to study by rote. But like the father desperately looking for IIT coaching, it is not the child's fault. We no longer let them smell the earth. And that is where despite our inroads into Silicon Valley, we will always come second.

Having lived abroad for a couple of years, I learnt the concept of 'outdoors'. Parents make sure that their children don't sit at home when they can be outside, just running or cycling. Perhaps it is also about making an effort as a family. Instead, with our hectic lifestyles, maybe it is easier to palm off the child to the nearest coaching centre.

Recently, a foreign delegation in India to access business opportunities came to the conclusion that Indians are good in what they do, but they have a single-dimension focus, nor do they multi-task or go out of the comfort zone. A non-Indian will never know that the only two phrases the child in a 'good family' grows up hearing are 'good values' and 'good education'.

Flawed system

A system that encourages us to register our child at birth in several educational institutions cannot but be flawed. If the father of a 10-year-old boy cuts a sorry figure, then a hostel association in Rajasthan's Kota, which is considered the capital of coaching centres in the country, is our grim reality.

Installation of 'suicide-proof fans' is being considered in the student rooms in a last-ditch effort to prevent them from taking their own lives. Authorities hope that the spring-fitted ceiling fans will not come down if a student tries to hang himself.

Not just that, there is also a sensor to sound a hooter in case of any such attempt! More than 50 disillusioned students have killed themselves in that city in the last five years, and this is the bizarre response. Yet, we will never acknowledge the real problem.

In April this year, 17-year-old Kriti Tripathi jumped to her death from the top of a five-floor building. She became another statistic, the seventh student to kill themselves this year in Kota. "Sorry for being weak and not showing courage, but I am tired now, no strength left", she wrote in her suicide letter.

But our system carries on, unmoved. Parents take loans, they invest all their savings and then wait for returns. In this parallel universe, competition is cut-throat, merciless and it was this weight of expectations that Kriti succumbed to, she was considered an above-average student.

Heavy school bags on delicate shoulders as parents recite that old saying on loop, "padhoge likhoge banoge nawaab, kheloge koodoge toh hoge kharaab". But for lakhs of innocent children burning the midnight oil, there will only be one Kalpit Veerval, the Udaipur boy who topped the IIT-JEE exams with a perfect 100%.

Sometimes, it makes more sense to take your child out of the race. In the long run, it is better to lose some marks, rather than a childhood.

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