I’m going to stop making excuses for the long absences because I have a feeling you’re used to them now. I’ve been meaning to write for a while but and it took two things to shake me out of my stupor. The more recent of Indians ill-treating their kids in Norway and the film, Talaash.

Every family has it’s own way of handling matters and I don’t think any of us can be arrogant enough to imagine that ours is the only and best way. But not every parent always does everything with their child’s best interests at heart. If I had a rupee for every selfish parent I’ve come across, I’d be a rich, retired woman.

It is very sad and slightly embarrassing to have at least one Indian couple pulled up every year on grounds of ill-treating their kids. Until yesterday the only information we had was that their 7 year old was bed-wetting and they threatened to send him back to India. I can only imagine the child’s mortification at wetting himself in school and I wonder how the parents thought threats would be the solution. Is it not clear that there is something seriously wrong with him? And who are these people go abroad on projects if they’re not even educated enough or aware enough to check with a specialist when they see something so unusual in their child, I remarked to the OA while watching the news.

At which point the OA pointed out that a degree in software engineering or geophysics is just that – a degree. It doesn’t make you any more aware as a person or more involved as a parent. It is a reminder of the premium we place on a degree in this country, without any effort towards general awareness. Sit and mug for your engineering entrances, never mind that you know nothing about the world around you. All the code writing ability on earth will not change the way some people think and there are still those who won’t step out in an eclipse if they’re pregnant or who will think their wife is unclean for 3 days every month. I notice compassion is a quality we rarely seek to develop in ourselves.

Interestingly, none of the Indian media until today mentioned the fact that the boy was apparently being beaten with hot metal items and belts. This made my stomach turn. If it is true, I hope Norwegian legal system locks them up for life.

In the  Stavanger case the couple spoke of cultural differences – some of the objections against them were that they were feeding the kids by hand and co-sleeping with them. People who move abroad and consistently do stuff that is culturally inappropriate are my next peeve. I’m sure there is no law against feeding kids by hand, but when in Rome… Surely you realise that your kids will need to eat with a fork and spoon in school. Surely you know they will be teased by classmates who hear that they still sleep with their parents at age 6 or whatever it is that is culturally appropriate there. Kids depend on their parents to support them and give them their best and sometimes the best is ensuring that they don’t stick out like sore thumbs anymore than they already do, that they feel at home around their friends. Their social circle is not your village elders in India. Of course once it gets out and about in school, this is the route it will take, with social service knocking at your door to see why your teenage daughter is asked to eat away from the family for a couple of days and sleep on the floor. And then it is too late to cry foul. Years ago I had written a post objecting to a British (was it?) plan to give out little booklets to educate immigrants on the culture. I was offended because I can wield my fork as well as the next person, know my cheeses and certainly don’t go about spitting on walls. But I’d not factored in the likes of these who go abroad and give the rest of us a bad reputation in the name of culture.

If culture really overrides all else for you, then you should stay home and steep your kids in it like a teabag. Throwing them into the hot water of contradictions in another country is just not fair. And I’ve heard it so often from friends and cousins abroad during our growing years – the desi tiffin that no one wants to share (unless you live in some hardcore desi district), the teeka you wear to school and cannot rub off until your mother leaves the bus stop by which time everyone has seen it and begun to make fun of you. I’m not prescribing uniformity. I’m asking for compassion for kids. Childhood/ adolescence is hard enough without us making them banners carrying our political slogans. Culture is what we are deep inside – not what we take to school in our tiffin. A sandwich for tiffin is not denial, just as sleeping in their own cots won’t reduce the family bond.

I’m also surprised that the family is putting pressure on the Indian government to help them. How is it that people will jump at the opportunity to go abroad and work, make the most of the fantastic infrastructure, work life balance, blah de blah, but not give a fig about the local laws and customs that make it the fantastic country it is? And now you come running home to mummy for help. I’m glad the Ministry of External Affairs has put its foot down and refused to get involved. I’d be horrified if they did.

I took forever to write this post today because it was in between work and home. I stepped out twice to pick up the kids from the bus stop and one of those times I saw a mother walking her son back from school. Neatly oiled hair, ragged saree and ragged shawl, cracked heals in worn slippers. Her son on the other hand was in a neat albeit faded school uniform and dusty shoes with a girl’s woollen cap on his head.  Now I know where the closest school for the disadvantaged is and I realised how far they’d come walking from.

Nothing we don’t see on a daily basis in India, but coming close on the heels of the Norway cases it broke my heart. How often we say the poor shouldn’t have kids if they cannot afford to give them the basics – an education, a good home. Well, who decides what the basics are here? I’d imagine love is the basic. Here was a mother denying herself so that her child was warm, and getting an education. And she has to walk twice the distance everyday to pick up and drop him so that he doesn’t have to maneuver through traffic each way. They were chatting cheerfully as they passed me and didn’t even notice the woman whose eyes welled up as they walked by. And on the other hand you have these rich families based abroad, ill-treating the kids society doesn’t grudge them. Yes, they give them better food, warm clothes, homes and education, but what about time and love?

Speaking of safety and kids, there is Talaash. At this point I’m going to warn you to stay away if you haven’t seen the movie, because spoilers lie ahead. Two emotions dominate my parenting. Love and terror. Love so strong, it hurts. Terror that I will lose this precious love, so fierce that it constricts. It explains why I have worked from home for the last 8 years. It’s not the best way to live, but it is the only way I know. The first time you hold your child, you worry that you might drop him. At the first sign of a cold, you worry about his health. For the first few days you’re terrified of drowning him in the bathtub. When he begins to take school transport, you worry about accidents. There is no end to the fears, just as the love is limitless.

And to me, that is all Talaash was about. I went with an open mind and didn’t look for loopholes in the thriller. To me it was just two parents who went through every parent’s worst nightmare – losing a child. And then it depicted the way their grief manifested itself. People are complaining that it is wasn’t what you expected of Aamir. Heck, why are you expecting anything from Aamir? He’s just another human, just another entertainer, just an artist who probably wanted to explore a genre he hadn’t. Personally I’m glad he picked this route and not the creaking gates and screeching ghouls. I’m glad he took the paranormal and with this gentle exploration said, hey, who knows… I’m amused when people pick loopholes in a paranormal film – who sent you the memo on what ghosts are supposed to do/say/look like?

It all comes back in a loop of course, to the Indian couples in Norway. THIS is what happens when you lose a child. How could you have taken this privilege, this blessing, so lightly? May God forgive them. I know I can’t.

131 thoughts on “Hurt

  1. I love taking breaks and reading your posts. I agree with you. Hitting with a belt because of bed wetting? And then running to your government for help? Stupid!

    I find it strange that the Indians who are here are more Indians than the Indians back in India(what a tongue twister) I know I do things very differently with my kids(one of the most stupidest one I have received flak for is the kids take baths on alternate days, indians here were horrified, my mom included 🙂
    Its a fine line balancing that, your traditions and rituals and trying not to make the child stand out.

    • Oh yes. If I had a rupee for every desi who goes abroad and crows about their kid learning bharatnatyam! its amusing 😀

      As for balancing traditions and such, tradition and culture were created to give you a sense of oneness. My kids for instance are more Delhiites than anything else. I’m okay with them feeling a sense of oneness with Delhi and not forcing any other culture on them. who am I balancing it for? who do I need to keep happy? how does anything matter more than comfort and a sense of belonging? why should where they get it from, matter?

  2. I thought about the Talaash conversation on your FB page earlier today and I think I get (at least partly), where the disconnect was (in what we were saying) – you see the movie’s primary story as one of a couple losing their chid and their grief. I will (embarassedly) admit that that was not what I viewed as the crux of the story – from the first scene where I saw the car plunge into the sea, it was a murder mystery for me and it continued to be so, until the end. That perhaps explains the disconnect. I think some emotions we will only understand when we are mothers. (and to think here I thought romantic love was the ‘love so strong, it hurts’ variety. How does one survive motherhood?)

    • PSst,careful. I don’t want someone to come around and accuse me of making her feel less of a woman for not being a mother or some such crap.;) I get a feeling of Deja Moo!

      On a more serious note, yes, I also started thinking of it as a murder mystery. But the layers unravel and you slowly see it is so much more. Like the love story between Taimur and the older hooker.

      I was just telling someone on email that in our town we have a flyover that permanently has a break in the wall. Everytime it is repaired, someone drives off it. Just. Right around there. Why? SO much is inexplicable. And the only thing that makes sense to me in all this is losing one’s mind over the loss of a child.

      • I came out of Talaash feeling let down and terribly disappointed. And it had nothing to do with feeling Aamir shouldnt have picked a thriller or anything to do with the paranormal. It wasnt even about how inaccurately portrayed things were. For me if was just a big let down in a story. Like R, I too viewed it as an out and out murder mystery. I was expecting a tight story with twists and turns and suspense. Not a long drawn out 2.5 hour movie, which frankly at the end felt like it could have been told in half the time.
        Your perspective hadnt even occurred to me in the remotest way. Im sure many other mothers (aside from the dozen idiot women who brought in hyper, wide awake kids to the 11 pm show that I went to) could relate to it at a different level. But I came away very disappointed. It felt like one of those cases where all the motions to serve up a fine meal are being made, and all that lands up on the table is some humble khichdi or something of the sort. So much build up, and nothing to deliver.
        And I think this amongst other things proves to me, that most aspects of motherhood cannot be talked about/explained/debated/intellectualised. You will only know it when you are a mother yourself.

        • I wanted to slap those parents. Who brings a kid to an 11pm movie that is not for kids?

          That said, I didn’t think of it as so much build up with nothing to deliver. i thought the denouement was gentle. There are so many unsolved cases in police stations. This one ended similarly, sorting itself out. But I understand if people are disappointed. Just that I wasn’t.

          • my question exactly..and I asked the parents (two sets, with 3 kids between them) sitting in front of me too.. they laughed, and the father handed his son his mobile phone so the kid could blitz his brains playing angry birds instead..

            wonderful no?

            • You’re lucky they didn’t turn around and tell you that you won’t get it because you’re not a parent. I have told off innumerable people who then look at me accusingly and say “when you have kids…” to which i take great pleasure in responding, I do, two, fast asleep in bed.

              I drag my poor kids to late night parties etc because I have no choice and let them sleep in the guest bedroom. But for movies I always find a babysitter, a friend with kids who will host them, or go while they are away at a birthday party or something.

            • See thats the difference.. Late night parties are different, youre still around, they have a place to go play/sleep and more importantly you can watch over them. These folks dragged their kids to talaash — definitely not the kind of movie id want to take my kids to, trapped them in their laps, making them all restless and noisy, and in the bargain harassed people around them. Very irresponsible, i thought.

            • Exactly my thinking. I can even put on some cartoon in one room and let them have a rare treat. But this viewing of age-inappropriate movies, disturbing junta, just not on.

        • Okay maybe hAAthi and I went to same show. Gazillion kids – one even clad in pajamas – no kidding!
          And totally want to say what she did re the movie. The grief part was showcased very cheesily in the end.
          Okay I’ll try again – several genres got mixed up. Thodi khichdi pak gayi – and THAT is what you don’t except from Aamir.

          • Love the article and agree with your opinion of the movie completely. On the tangential conversation here, I just want to say that sometimes parents especially nuclear families or ones far away frm their hometowns really have no choice. Its difficult to find someone reliable enough for babysit or any alternative arrangements at all. The only alternative is to just stop going for movies or night shows and I don’t prescribe to that line of thought at all. Its just that sometimes we are quick to judge. But I definitely believe that your constraints or situations cannot be an excuse to spoil someone else’s movie or dining experience. We have been taking my son who is now 3 for night shows ever since he was 3 months old. When he was a baby, he used to just sleep through the movie but now sometimes tends to watch for sometime. We always tire him out so that he sleeps early, no stimulants and most importantly always get an isle seat with a mental determination that we will scoot if this becomes difficult. And we have. But I am just saying that for a lot like me, there is simply no other choice.

            • Sigh. Well we live in a strange city with no help and no family. We have a good system worked out. We host a friends’ kids when they want to go, they keep ours for the evening if we want to go. Or we wait till they’re invited to a birthday party/play date and then use that time wisely;). Or we wait till family visits (my cousin studies in Delhi and very often and very sweetly agrees to stay the night – and *Giggle* whenever he stays to take care, the Bean pukes and the poor boy has to clean up!) and babysits.

              I agree there is often no option. But if we’re dying to see something, we wait for it to come on DVD. It’s not fun, but hey, we chose to be parents. It’s a very happy choice. Everyday I thank God that we were blessed with what our hearts desired when so many people hunger for a child. So this is the price we pay for it and we don’t mind it at all. Okay we do mind at that time, but we try and focus on the big picture 😉

              But yes, I understand parents who take kids for night shows – only if its a baby who will go to sleep. Else it’s not fair for a 3-4 year old to watch the amount of violence and gore a regular adult film involves and internalise it. We don’t realise the long term damage we’re doing to them. As for the crying babies, I have no patience for those. If I’ve just begged someone to take care of my kids, accepted such a huge favour, planned something so much and then managed to get out for a break, I see no reason why my experience should be spoiled. After all its not a necessity like travel.

              I think the way you do it is perfect. Bring him sleepy so that he isn’t traumatised and neither is the audience or you! 🙂

  3. As an Indian living in American and as the mother of a three year old, its been very tough maintaining the balance of India and America. My son goes to daycare. When I send idlis with him for lunch, his teacher asks him to eat with a fork. I want to run to her and tell her that it is okay to eat with your hands, but heavy heartedly I let it go because the reason I send him to daycare is he can learn the culture of American kids and not feel left out when starting kindergarten. But then I would have to put up with my parents remarking on him eating with a fork or not speaking Tamil or having a bath at night. It just becomes a very tiring life trying to live upto everybody’s expectations and trying to do what is best for your kid!

    • You know, I come from a mixed background and this isn’t such a big issue with me because my parents fought this battle thirty years ago. So I already have my blueprint ready. People who comment on our kids (even if they are grandparents, bless them) will not be living my child’s life. My child must be prepared to go into the world he lives in, not into a past our elders inhabited, or in your case, even India. I honestly don’t care for anybody’s expectations. My kids eat with a fork and knife here in India because I believe that it’s important for them to learn how to use it. I’ve seen too many adults fumble with cutlery at parties to put my kids through that. My kids bathe at night because I cannot bathe the two of them at the crack of dawn, neither can I countenance them going to bed dirty after a day of play. It suits me, it suits them and it suits their father – and I’m not interested in what anyone else says.
      All the best to you 🙂

      • I am also the same way – if you comment on my kid then you are at a distance from me. Sadly my parents do not seem to realize that slowly they are phasing out! The fact that we are in the US helps because then I do not have to hear comments every day but just once a week. God knows what is going to happen when I let my son marry whoever he wants irrspective of caste, race or even sex!

  4. Wasn’t aware of this second case in Norway. Totally agree with OA about a degree being just that, a degree. I know so many Indians now having lived here for over 10 years. Most are highly educated, respected professionals in their fields but are un-worldly, old fashioned and alarmingly regressive (in some instances) in their views.
    Glad External Affairs gave the couple a cold shoulder. In cases of this nature, there’s always more than what meets the eye.
    Haven’t seen Talaash yet, but this post makes me wanna see it. So thanks.

  5. I live in the US and largely agree with what you have written…I think it’s all about finding a balance between the culture here and exposing them somewhat to the culture I grew up in. I picked easy names for my children so that everyone here can pronounce them properly without difficulty (and yes, I made several of my non-Indian friends pronounce the ones I short listed before picking one). But you also mentioned co-sleeping. My babies are little (one is 2 yrs, one is 2 months) and we co-sleep as of now. The daughter was ready to sleep in her room but with the new addition she is going through a whole range of emotional ups n downs, so I’m going to keep her with us a little longer. The plan is to move her out by the time she turns 3. Which is when she would start preschool and I hope she won’t feel out of place. I did not have the heart to put them in a crib in their own room since birth (which is what is the norm here), so yes, we are doing things a little differently, but its what I feel comfortable with as well…I don’t think culture is playing any role in this one.

    I have not watched the movie so cannot comment on it. But a great thought provoking post!

    • I didn’t mean for co-sleeping to come under the fire. The fact that there is a term for it in English means that it exists. I was just talking of the two issues that popped up in the last Norway case. I know adult girls who sleep between their parents even now and inspite of living in India I can’t wrap my head around it. Don’t the parents want privacy? *shudder*

      • You say about adult girls sleeping between parents… let me tell you and incident in my life. I was 28 yrs old, newly married, had gone to my ILs house for a weekend without the hubby. MIL insisted that me, she , FIL and DH’s cousin all sleep in one room since the AC was in that room. Even when I kept offering to sleep outside in the hall (something that I hate), she kept insisting that we are all one family and we should sleep in the same room. FIL realized that I was not comfortable and told me to go sleep alone in the room. After I was settled in, DH’s cousin came inside to sleep saying that she was giving me company !!!
        *Shudders **

        There are ppl who think that since they are from the same family, privacy is not needed !!!!

  6. As a Stavanger local, can I say that spoon-feeding the child and co-sleeping had absolute JACKALL to do with that case? We have acquaintances/people in common (and I can’t divulge details because they were shared in confidence), but those two were manipulative, compulsively lying sociopaths who were off their goddamn rocker. They were in complete denial about an autistic child and I can’t go into details of the maltreatment, but please trust me when I say it is horrific. There should be a restraining order against those morons and I pray they never get their kids back unless they get lobotomies. I don’t get judgemental quickly about parenting styles, but these two were off the charts, even for me. Those who knew the little boy were amazed by how much he blossomed in fostercare and at the airport, he clung to his foster father, weeping. I’m guessing they weren’t all evil then. That those “evil foster parents” who were in it for the money, actually managed to give that child something good.

    So yeah. You’re spot on. There are many parents out there ALL OVER THE WORLD – *gasp* EVEN IN INDIA who are massively unfit, but woe, should it get pointed out. And belts and scalding? Keep them behind bars, the animals.

    Am also so tired of the whole Indian defence (not everyone, but seen in select FB posts) of “I was spanked/thrashed as a child and I turned out just fine.” Sure. Good for you. But for every one like that, I’ll bet there is another who is broken, humiliated, struggling with anxiety and resentment and lacking self-esteem. Let’s not pretend those cases don’t exist either. Let’s not do those people a disservice by devaluing their stories. And as you’ve mentioned before, a huge difference between a light warning spanking and getting your nails crushed in the joint of a heavy wooden door because you disobeyed orders, or being scalded, beaten with heavy hard-bound books etc. (all cases I know of.)

    However you try and play that hand, THAT is abuse. Not culture.

    • Actually I’m going to say the same, MGM. Not as a defence, but more as a statement of fact. Loads of my friends were beaten with belts and hangers and scales and turned out fine. But there was a reason for it. It belonged to a certain period of very strict upbringing and it was something most kids expected and accepted. I think its laudable that they’re willing to break out of that mindset and behave differently with their own kids. Except for me – my parents have never raised a hand on me. I couldn’t do it to my kids because they’re being brought up in a very different way, with a lot of gentleness, equality and a lot more leeway. They wouldn’t be able to survive harshness if they encountered it now.

      But when we were growing up, harshness was the way people showed their concern. Fathers would whip you for poor marks, mothers would slap you if you were talking to a boy on the phone. Girls would faint on the playground because we’d be punished for coming late to school and have to run 5 rounds of the field. Boys would be hit on the head with heavy wooden blackboard dusters. We’d be screamed at for the slightest misdemeanour and called characterless if we happened to have outgrown our uniform skirts or caught speaking to a boy too often in the school corridor. Kids were FAILED in school, something that schools are no longer allowed to do. Were we in the least bit damaged? No! In fact it just made us more resilient and made the moments in between sweeter. I wish I’d grown up in India at a time when schools were as easy going as the one my kids go to; no exams, no corporal punishment, no failures. But I didn’t, and I’m fine. And if my kids were to suddenly move to small town India (which is also changing by the way) where tests are taken every week, kids hammered for a slight offence, my kids would break down too.

      Again, this is not to say abuse is acceptable. The entire point of this post is to say I’m against it. But the past was the past and most of us grew up like sturdy weeds in harsh conditions.

      • I completely agree. Many have lived to tell the tale and gone on to live good, productive lives. But very many haven’t. They are forever scarred and struggling and it manifests in all sorts of awful ways that may not be immediately apparent, because the facade is intact and they are outwardly “successful”. My point was simply that we hear those stories all too rarely. Maybe it interferes with the whole Loving Indian Family concept that people feel obliged to preserve. My parents drew the line at the odd pinch and HISSING loudly at us:-) – and every day I am glad I such humane parents and generally such a humane family.

        And yes, the past was the past. But it’s high time we focussed on more humane ways of raising children.

        • Absolutely. There is no other way to raise kids.
          We got hissed at too. And my dad would roll up a newspaper and whack us on the bum, like puppies! I don’t think it interferes with the loving Indian family concept. In most ways Indian families *are* loving – the only diff is the way they show it. Often through what thinks of as duty. From putting the down payment for your house to leaving everything to come running and raising your kids – the very same parents who hammered you will do that too.

      • I wish there was “Like” button for this. I so so agree with you MM. Loved reading your post, you know I have been following your blog for the past 5 years. In the early days (when there used to be a new post everyday), I would plonk myself in my cube, get a cuppa hot coffee and read your posts. In fact, I am doing just that now. Haven’t see Talaash, will be catching that on Saturday.

  7. Also need to add that if co-sleeping with kids were a crime, then I, my husband and several Norwegian friends would be in prison by now. Not that I needed a reason, but I DESPISE NDTV for the misinformation campaign they have been a party to.

  8. Ahh.. I check your blog once a day sometimes twice(hoping to get lucky).. So pls do post!
    So many thoughts… But the most I agree with is the one where education is just a degree if you let it be… I don’t care if my son doesn’t gradute(ok post graduate) but if he learns a little bit about the world and to treat it with love & respect, thou shall be proud! Education should empower, liberate and make you think… Which is lost on many who are counting the cash pile to the bank.
    Oh MM, you would be terrified if you saw how desi we get when we’re away from India. Add to that we mock India, look at people who chose to stay there as underprivileged and yet cling on to the weird stuff that does not make us Indians at all. You are so right about culture not being about food or ash smeared foreheads…
    So many threads of thought… This is why I love your posts… And your should write more often.

  9. I agree with you on the first case you mentioned – and I believe Indians of their background would no doubt be aware, if nothing else, but the general story of violence against children not being tolerated in Western countries. The second case, it appears, is more complicated than feeding kids with their hands and sleeping with them ( However, if your position is that feeding kids with their hands and sleeping with them when they are older is fit grounds for social services intervention, or reason for parents not to do it due to social censure, I don’t agree. I agree that parents who move abroad need to adapt and try not to embarrass their kids but where the line should be drawn is questionable and the state should not be intervening except in the most extreme cases (which apparently what happened in both these cases anyway). The two behaviours mentioned (feeding with hands, sleeping with a six-year-old) were in the home with relatively young children. I guess it will always be subjective where you draw the line, some might argue that parents in India who have a no-TV rule or no junk food rule for their kids are being cruel too.

    • Yes, I’ve linked up to the second case in my post.

      And no, my point was not that this is cause for social services intervention. Yes, sadly in both these cases it was and unfortunately all this did come up. But they were merely examples leading to another point. Very often in one’s desire to ‘preserve’ culture people work extra hard to cook Indian food at home, send it in the tiffin, speak the language at home, refuse to celebrate any of the local festivals or get to know the local people. This is okay for bachelors etc, but for people who have kids, they don’t seem to realise that their kids are being asked to walk a fine line and juggle what might be too heavy a burden. Kids will do whatever you tell them to, but you don’t realise they price they pay for it when neighbours kids come home and see you eating with your hands or doing something they don’t understand. Adults can accept cultural differences (or can they?) but kids just wait till you get out of home to tease you.

      We have a pair of kids from a South Indian state in our community here who are great friends with the brat and bean. The little girl refuses to tell anyone her surname because she says the other kids tease her. Her parents also only speak to the two of them in Hindi now because they say the kids are never going to go back and live at home due to their father’s transferable job and so its best to give your kids the skills they need to get by on a daily basis rather than force them to be vessels of your culture. I am particularly impressed because the mother comes from a village and her father is a farmer. Can you imagine how tough it was for her to break free of the rural ways and take charge of her kids’ lives?

      PS: I doubt anyone thinks of no-tv or no-junk as cruel – at worst, too anal.

  10. Oh I didnt know about the hitting with the belt part..thats horrid and I cant believe any parent can do that!
    It gave me goosebumps just reading that 😦

  11. A few months ago, I was having a conversation with someone on FB. Can’t remember the story but it was about a parent abusing the child and this person was questioning why have children if you can’t care for them. And I asked, how many of us in India are parents because WE want to be – we are parents because the neighbour’s third cousin’s father is going to tell me to get myself checked up, or because all my friends have children, or *gasp* my vansh vrusksh is going to end. How many of us are really prepared to be parents, do we even know what it entails? Yes, you learn a lot along the way, but even before you take the jump, are we willing to commit ourselves? It is even more sickening when parents compare their own kids with others and either use them as a victory medal or push them to be one.

    Ok, this is a slightly tangential rant but may be related to why Indian parents behave the way they do.

    Of Talaash – I loved it. I was also very impressed by the way ghosts are portrayed. Such a nice way to turn a cliche on its head 🙂

    • See this is what shocks me. Why are we parents? because someone else commented on our reproductive system?

      My parents have friends who chose not to have kids, and that was 30 years ago. So who are these wusses who can’t make their own choices. I find the reasoning terribly lazy – “I had a kid because I was too stupid not to get bulldozed into it.” argh.

      • Oh I know only one too many such cases MM. People who had a baby because 1) we’ve been married 3 years 2) granny is getting old and really wants to see her great grand child 3) my younger brother has already had one, so I must 4) who will take my family name forward 5) if i have one when im younger, the baby will be healthier
        And yes, this might be a slightly tangential rant but I thought this was more apparent in the generation before ours, and maybe they even had some reason in part, but it blows my mind when people in our generation start to think like this.
        Wusses is right. Dont have the guts to take charge of their lives and make the decisions that are best for them, i dont get where they get the confidence to bring more lives into the world..

        • I have no time for people who have kids because others want them to. I understand if they time it a certain way.
          Say, they time it for a parent’s retirement so they have help, or they time it to happen after one of them completes a degree programme. And of course it is natural to want to time kids while you’re younger – your reproductive system doesn’t need medical assistance, you are young and fit and have all the energy a young child needs. Personally I would have had kids at 20 if I could have. I enjoy every minute of them and even with a knee injury I find I have more energy than a lot of our friends who are now in the diaper stage and can’t do without their night’s sleep. We could be up all night changing diapers and would still be raring to go in the morning.
          If you are sure you want kids (and not because your grandaunt wants to see them before she pops off) then timing it according to your lifestyle is natural. I for one wanted my last kid to get his/her first paycheck before the OA got his last. We’re salaried folk and can’t afford to be putting kids through college on our savings. I also figured it made more sense to have a kid while fertility is high and buy a house when earnings are high instead of buying a house at 25 when we could only afford a 2bhk and then stuffing self and kids and guests into it. Or waiting till 35 to have a kid, only to discover I was unable to or something.
          So…. I think timing is fine. Just like you’d time any other big decision in your life.

        • It absolutely exists today and among people in our generation – very educated, very well earning. Haven’t you had women confess to you they don’t want daughters? I have. They really don’t want a child. They just want a living trophy.

            • That has been my grand mother’s justification for pushing her daughters-in-law to give her grand sons (She has only one daughter). When I ask her what she’d do if everyone thought so and her grandsons didn’t get brides, she doesn’t consider that to be a possibility. She also doesn’t consider it her responsibility to give the girls in the family a decent life (unlike the boys). My mom was extremely strong and clear that she’d have two children and we both were born girls. I am in such awe of her courage – to take a stand against the matriarch in a joint family 30 years ago….

              Using the same argument today – I am not convinced. If you are educated and earning but can’t give your daughter a good life, I am really not sure you can do that for your son either.

            • I have no time for people who don’t give their daughters a good life. But I do understand the despair of a woman who has only been repressed, knows no other way of life and doesn’t want to be responsible for putting another female into the same situation. I barely get it, but I do.

  12. In the beginning while reading I was a bit outraged. How can you suggest that we should just blindly follow what the people around us are doing? But then I got your point. And it’s so very very true. People want it all – the infrastructure and cleanliness and law and order of living abroad, but they wont let go of their ‘culture’. At one time our culture said that anyone who crosses the seven seas is excommunicated. So by that logic clinging to their culture is of no use. Another pet peeve of mine is how they crib about lack of house help and act all superior – oh you have 2 maids – I do EVERYTHING by myself.

    • Yes I remember that. You lost your caste if you crossed the seven seas. If you’ve risked that, then what have you got left to be anal about? And no, I don’t believe in following others’ culture blindly. i have a very strong sense of what I believe in and what I won’t give in to. But I always try and look at it from my child’s pov. and then even if it kills me I am fair to them.

      Culture and tradition were a way of giving a sense of oneness and community. What is the point of giving my kid sitting in california, a sense of oneness with some village in india? what about the fact that he mingles daily with another community that anyway sees he is a different colour and speaks with a bit of an accent? how about helping him fit in there?

  13. Jeez!! I didn’t know about the hitting with belts part!! 😯 How on earth can anyone do that to a child?? It’s terrible!!

    Love so strong, it hurts. Terror that I will lose this precious love. It explains why I have worked from home for the last 8 years. It’s not the best way to live, but it is the only way I know. From the moment you hold your child you worry about dropping him. At the first sign of a cold you worry about his health. For the first few days you’re terrified of dropping him in the bathtub and drowning him. And then when he takes school transport you worry about accidents. There is no end to the fears, just as the love is limitless.
    Not a parent yet, maybe someday soon I will be. I am debating whether or not to do an MBA…and some people told me to postpone it after having a child. But I personally know that it will be difficult for me to concentrate on my own studies once a child comes along… I’ll be more bothered about the child then.
    Your paragraph reinstates that fact. Your priority becomes the child. Loved that para… re-read it twice with a smile on my face.

  14. I totally agree with your rant about these people running to the Indian Government for all sorts of help! How is the Indian Govt. concerned with their lack of discipline? The Govt. can barely take care of Indians living in India!!!!!

  15. I resonate with every word of your post. You spoke from my heart when you beautifully put how love and terror are the threads of parenting. That is exactly how I feel about my kids every second. Thank you for such an insightful post MM.


  16. I had tears in my eyes watching Rani and Aamir trying to deal with their grief in different ways. and that regret ….of wishing that he had done things differently ….was so spot on.

    As always MM, you put it so perfectly…”Two emotions dominate my parenting. Love and terror. Love so strong, it hurts. Terror that I will lose this precious love, so fierce that it constricts.”

    Being a parent just made a fraidy cat out of me…one who has to look nonchalant while her heart is skipping way too many beats

  17. MM,
    This is a kneejerk reaction, I havent finished reading the post. But the following lines w

    “Surely you know they will be teased by classmates who hear that they still sleep with their parents at age 6 or whatever it is that is culturally appropriate there. Kids depend on their parents to support them and give them their best and sometimes the best is ensuring that they don’t stick out like sore thumbs anymore than they already do, that they feel at home around their friends. Their social circle is not your village elders in India. Of course once it gets out and about in school, this is the route it will take, with social service knocking at your door to see why your teenage daughter is asked to eat away from the family for a couple of days and sleep on the floor. And then it is too late to cry foul. Years ago I had written a post objecting to a British (was it?) plan to give out little booklets to educate immigrants on the culture. ”

    As some one who has lived in the US, a country that has so much tolerance and friendliness towards other cultures, I totally disagree with this.

    1. For one, there is a middle line. It is ridiculous ask some one not to pass on their culture or follow their culture. American immigrants routinely struggle with finding the middle line with American Schools celebrating Diwali where Indian population is high. And indians celebrating thanksgiving.
    This is beautiful. It is a struggle, constant one. But it is good.

    2. Cultures evolve, tomorrow a book might come out with some African parenting practice which might become the next big thing. There is a mutual give and take. Not a military uniform you wear.

    I know chinese new year and moon cake, I knew about Vietnamese matrilineal system – all this because people didnt leave their culture at their door.

    3. People move for various reasons and countries accept let them in again for different reasons. They might find the job better. The companies and the countries that allow them might not be looking at being a US cultural fit. ( work culture fit yes, but knows ‘how to use fork fit’ – no! ) They are smart.

    You dont sign up a oath saying I will follow culture there, the common human decency is to let others be.

    When I have kids, I dont know how much of culture I will be able to pass on. But I do know that, I will make them understand it is ok to be yourself where you are and others can be whatever they want be as well.

    PS: this is lesson for me too. I smirked at that one employee who came in Salwar. I Personally have never worn Salwar to work but I need to remember this.
    Me and my friends have also been irked by fellow interviewee whose communication skills were hardly bearable. But you know what I am in engineering and his language skills aside, he got selected.

    • I agree. Yours is a knee jerk reaction.

      For one, I am not a lawmaker, so this is merely an observation from an impartial audience. I have nothing to lose or gain from what people do with their kids or parents. Of course there is a middle path and that is precisely what I am advocating. But that middle path is one people will have to select for themselves. The truth is, most people put more effort into preserving their home country culture than assimilating – that is rather unfair on kids who did not ask to be saddled with this mix of cultures. The country one chooses to move to, is a product of a certain culture – you choose to live there because it is clean, no one pees on the walls, people don’t block off roads for baraats or put up loudspeakers and do jagrans through the night. I think its very wrong to only take the best of a place, make your money off it and not make an effort to assimilate, learn the local language, eat the local food and make friends with the locals. No wonder Indians get bad rap for being clannish and forming ghettos.

      And I know the US likes to believe it is the beginning and the end of the world, but sadly, it isn’t. For instance, this post is about Norway – do you really believe that all schools there are celebrating Diwali?! I can bet you most people would be hard pressed to point India out on a map to you – EVEN in America. So.

      Cultures evolve – precisely. That is exactly what I said – we make our own cultures. Infact we even have our own understanding of culture – even siblings will have a difference of opinion on what their culture means to them. It is not necessary to follow every rule that was taught to you in India 30 years ago. Heck, most Indians are not following those anymore! Pick and choose the customs that you want to pass on to your children, with compassion, not rigidity. They are not there to be vessels of your culture or anyone else’s. They are there to be their own people and the duty of any parent is to help their children make it through life with the least amount of conflict and confusion. There’s a reason the term ABCD was coined. I’ve had cousins visit us and not know what to make of anything around them. At this point there are sure to be a dozen commenters who will swear their kids fit right in. To those I say, there are dozens who don’t too. Really depends on each child, each parent and each situation.

      You don’t sign an oath to follow culture, but you do have to follow laws. Which is what this post was about – breaking laws in another country unwittingly. You can get away with thrashing your kid with a belt in India but Thank God for Norwegian laws. I am glad that couple has been sentenced to jail. It’s ironic that you say its okay to be yourself. Do you really think a child who sees all his classmates eat with a fork and spoon while he is only being taught to eat by hand, is being himself? Children are very susceptible to peer pressure and easily shamed. So if it is your intention to let your children be what they want to be, you’d let them follow the culture they are being brought up in and not force another one on them, just because you are from there. To them, India is just a bunch of relatives and a summer holiday. Home is the country they are growing up in.

      PS: Funny coincidence – was reading this page and the first article that pops up tells elders not to criticise their children for following the traditions of the country they are living in.

      • My two cents as a mother bringing up two kids here in the US, a 9 year old and a 4 year old. Not agreeing or disagreeing to your view but I strongly feel that to assimilate in a new country, to learn its local language and to eat the local food there does not mean you forget your own roots and where you come from. To have confidence in yourself and who you are is much more important than just blindly trying to fit in the crowd.

        Like say, both my kids speak excellent Bangla and that in no way comes in the way of their speaking very good English at school. When my daughters started pre-school I made it clear to the teachers that we speak an Indian language at home and they were not only supportive , they actually encouraged the idea. Now the 9 year old learns French in school, everything else in English and yet at home we continue speaking Bangla. No harm done.
        Same with the co-sleeping and eating with hand or fork. If a food is such that it can be had by using fingers why not ? They also eat rice chapati etc. at home with their fingers. Outside of course cutlery is used and that is how even we did it as kids back in India. In fact a friend’s Caucasian neighbor was so impressed with use of fingers for eating food that her 3 year old eats rice with fingers when visiting their Indian friends.
        I think it is necessary for kids to learn not to give in to peer pressure every time. That helps build their confidence when they are at an impressionable age. Of course it is also necessary to talk and discuss if the child thinks he/she is doing something that is different and is not comfortable with the idea.
        Simple example was when my 6 year old wasn’t too comfortable taking Paratha for lunch though she liked eating it. After a talk, I realized she did not know how to describe her food to others. Once that was cleared up and she knew how to describe it as an Indian flat bread made with wheat flour she was more open to the idea. And when her classmate took a bit of her aloo paratha and liked it and the guidance counselor said she loved Paratha and raita, my daughter was only too happy. If things would have gone otherwise, maybe we would take a break from the paratha and try again after a few months when the classmates are more mature to understand the nuances of different cuisine.

        All said and done none of this justifies the cases you mentioned. There was much more to those cases than simple issues like co-sleeping or eating with ones hands and I completely agree with your point regarding such ruthless parenting

        • Hey Bong Mom! Just marinated the fish for batter fish fry – took the recipe from your blog.
          I agree. Learning one does not mean forgetting the other. I don’t know why people don’t get it. But that does not mean you do not teach your child what they need to navigate their way around school and another country. It *is* a parent’s responsibility to make sure that they equip them.
          To the peer pressure point – I wouldn’t say to give in to peer pressure to wear make up or smoke. But what is culture if not to give you a sense of belonging? So are we not in a certain way putting pressure on them to belong to a certain ethnic group that they now only belong to by blood and have a tenuous connection with? The kids might be Indian/Chinese/Korean – but they live in another country, breathe that air, soak in that atmosphere and culture, function within that society and must learn to feel like they belong there too, without constant reminders of – WE are not from here, WE do not do things their way. That US and THEM thing that I see loads of Indian parents doing, disturbs me.
          And see this is precisely my point. You were a good parent who picked up on your child’s discomfort. I see loads of parents who don’t.

          • I am not sure about my parenting, it is a learning curve :-). After a certain age(as early as 7) the kids themselves have a kind of consciousness about their belonging. My 9 year old clearly says she is an Indian-American while “Mommy” is Indian. She doesn’t say American I realized, and I have nothing to do with it, as I see this being a country of mixed culture and that is how people are described. I want her to be proud of her country and I would rather she learns the Anthem of her birth country than mine but that complete sense of belonging might not come automatically in the first generation. And that is why it is important for them to learn about the country and the culture that has shaped them and why it is that things at home are not the exact replica as in some of their class mate’s.
            But I have seen immigrant’s, especially who intend to live here for only a short period, bash up every aspect of this country and criticize the school system and keep on harping on how everything was so much better back home. I have heard of families who send back their teenage girls to India since that is the right culture for them.That is something I have no respect for and find atrocious behavior.

            But a balance is what we strive for and a balance is not easy to achieve. That said my Mother probably went through the same thing as I grew up in different parts of India with different culture. d

            • I think that is great 🙂 She *is* a product of her Indian parents and her American country so why not. All parenting is a learning curve I guess. But some people want to learn.
              The rest just want to bash up as you said. I feel really mad at such people everywhere. Who only want to take and not give back anything.

      • Having lived outside for almost 5 years albeit as DINKs, we have seen enough and more at these local Indian gathering. In my humble opinion, its because of 2 reasons, a) Some really want to pass on something they sincerely believe is a fabric of the indian culture. b) They are worried for themselves. Out of purely selfish notions, they are scared about the fact that their growing kids if left to the culture of the host country, will soon become alienated from their parent’s culture aka the parents themselves. This lady once said to me – “She should know that we cook proper meals and not eat frozen and nuked food. If I let her think that a sandwich or a salad are acceptable meals, how long before she will make fun of me when I cook a proper indian meal, she already makes fun of how I dress up for the festivals?”. As sad as that sounded, it also seemed a wee bit reasonable. At the end of the day, I think parents alike (most of them at least), do their best at what they think is in the interest and convenience of the family. Sometimes that happens to be in the interest of the kids themselves and sometimes not.

        • See this is what bothers me. The fact that we say ‘proper’ as opposed to nuked. That lifestyle doesnt have space to be cooking 3 course meals. Even the Indian working woman doesn’t have time to do that anymore and if it weren’t for maids most of us would have terrible lives with 12 hour workdays.

          I understand that people want to cling to their culture. hard as it is, I do understand 🙂 But I feel if it is that important then move back. So many people have made that choice. Yes, kids will soon get alienated if the parents are too far removed from the host country’s culture – and its so difficult to bridge that gap.

          But you said it – there are times when its not in the interest of the kids and those are the times you need to stop and ask – how important is this?

          We recently met this old couple who are visiting India. Their kids are our age, our friends. And the old man couldn’t stop criticising the fact that they have a Mother’s DAy, Sister’s Day and Grandfather’s day to celebrate. Arre – why such virulence? How is it harming you? Apparently the only things worth celebrating are Raksha Bandhan and Karva chauth – never mind the gender bias inherent in them. I felt so bad. The old couple’s kids have moved there to settle down. The couple themselves spend most of the year there because its clean and safe – but still can’t stop criticising their culture!

      • I have thought a lot about some of the issues that you discuss here since I have had occasion to interact with Indian communities living in different countries always knowing that I would be back within the next few months or year. I had lived in Norway off and on for 3-4 years and when I read the newspaper reports, I was quite sure (and told others) that there was something more to it than meets the eye) In my experience, Norway is a truly rights aware country and what struck me when their foreign minister visited India was his response to pressure by the Indian government..that the rule of law takes its own course in his country and he cannot interfere (I don’t think that statement made the mildest impression in all the NDTV hysteria, but it stood out for me). If I have a critical view of them, it is that they tend to take themselves very seriously 🙂 Reg awareness of other countries and cultures, I was telling a young man in Norway that what is popularly referred to as Indian cuisine is actually mostly Punjabi cuisine and his response was ‘Oh, the Punjab..that was divided between India and Pakistan?’ (quite different from my American experiences where I have been asked questions by University graduates, like how I speak English so well) When I asked him how he knew these details, he said they had studied it in school. The interesting part is that school curricula in several European countries have a broad based, humanities oriented base unlike the ice pick technology view that the Indian education system offers (therefore the Indian Engineers who know/care to know nothing about life as in the above case)..One last comment about clannish the museum at Ellis Island in NY city, I saw photographs of culturally disparate celebrations like Russian tea parties, Ukrainian weddings and so on in the New York of early twentieth century. Guess the vast majority of Indians in the US being more recent immigrants will probably take a couple more generations to assimilate..probably by the time the children of the American born generation become adults. Life is not easy for immigrants in their new countries, even if they are materially prosperous, there is a sense of confused identity (my American cousin with whom I traveled in Japan, variously told people she was from the US, from India and from California, while my quick, strong and only response was India), it is difficult to sense the unsaid nuances of culture in a new country that is so culturally different and there is a sense of nostalgia, almost protectionism for what has been left behind..difficult to over ride emotions, I would guess..

  18. Oh on the other hand, I wish India had as good a system as Norway in terms of child care.

    Physical abuse by Parents in the name of discipline should just stop( also if one looks closely, it is just parents taking out their frustration on asome one who cant fight back).

  19. Hi, I’m a regular reader of your blog, first time commenting here.
    This is so well written, wish more parents understood this and realised this.
    May I share this, with your permission?

  20. I haven’t read the talaash part of your post cos I haven’t watched the movie yet. 🙂

    But on parenting… it’s difficult for parents too na, to know about the cultural differences in other countries. It’s easier for kids, as they are interacting more openly with other kids and see what is happening differently around them. But for parents, it’s just not the same. They grew up sleeping with their folks till the age of 5 or whatever. How are they to know it’s different in Norway or wherever.

    I grew up in Dxb, and mom used to give me idlis for tiffin all the friggin time. I didn’t like them one bit, but I was in an Indian school and there were a lot of north indians who would happily exchange their vada pavs for my idlis, so it was cool.
    But if I’d gone to an international school, where there were kids from different countries and I was the minority, it’d be awkward if people made fun of me solely based on what I was eating or if I had a teeka on my head. Of course, I’m sure I’d tell mom people were making fun of me and she’d just make me sandwiches more often than idlis.

    Every country has their own quirks. It’s not up to another country to judge them, and if there are laws to be followed, that needs to be underlined to the immigrants instead of putting them in jail. I don’t mean the abusive ones of course, but then that is not an Indian thing anyway. Abusive parents, or people rather, are everywhere. But eating with a spoon or fork is not a sign of being educated. It is simple a cultural thing.
    I know my salad fork from the dinner one, but didn’t grow up knowing that. We learn everyday, and not just from parents.
    When in Rome, you can do as the Romans, but you don’t need to turn into one!

    • I don’t know if I agree. It *is* a parent’s job to know the cultural differences. I don’t understand people who move abroad and live in ghettos. I know so many lovely people who have learnt to assimilate. I’d find it really strange if expats in India looked at the saree askance or didnt know that at festivals we might eat on banana leaves. They are in our country and it is their job to learn about us. I can understand it was tougher in our parents’ time when fewer people moved abroad. But there’s really no excuse today to say you don’t know what the average kid takes to tiffin in your country. And if you don’t know inspite of tv, the internet and simple interactions with neighbours, its probably best to move back home.

      I wouldn’t say its not up to another country to judge, but its definitely up to visitors to fit in culturally in places where it matters. It’s unfair for kids to pay the price. I do happen to know a friend’s kids who hate wearing a teeka to school and the mother keeps telling them to be proud of it. I don’t know if a 4 year old can carry that burden of your pride unless it is necessary.

      Eating with a sign of fork and spoon might not have been a sign of education earlier, but it is one now. Although that was not the point of my post, so I don’t know why you mentioned it. I merely said if you don’t teach your kids, they will feel awkward in school where the other kids are doing it.

      When in Rome no one asked you to be Roman, but yes, please do TRY to do as the Romans. Most people I know, don’t.

      • The Japanese eat with chopsticks. Not all of us know how to. If we went to Japan, we’d learn, no biggie. That doesn’t mean I’d stop eating with a spoon, or with my hands on banana leaves when needed.

        Not knowing how to eat with a spoon is NOT a sign of lack of education. And again… it’s not something you don’t even have to “learn” really. You can pick it up easily, especially kids. It is just a cultural thing.

        It is a parents job to know about cultural differences and make things easier for their kids. But there are a LOT o things you won’t know! Eg, in Dxb, the sign for “wait” is the same as flipping someone off in German. This is a small thing, but there are way too many like this. I see this more and more every day ( cos I work in an extremely multi-cultural envt).
        I travel quite a bit, and am more a world-citizen than anything else, as far as I’m concerned. But that doesn’t mean i will start wearing a burqa in the UAE or eat monkey heads in Japan if I move there. I agree with Sachita. She speaks from an American perspective, sure. But so what? So what if Norway doesn’t celebrate Diwali or know about it? Should an Indian living there not celebrate it cos they would be considered weird if they did?

        But I think we’re talking at cross-purposes cos I respect other cultures and try live like the locals as much as possible whenever i travel (even tried raw liver in Lebanon :P). I get what you’re saying about parents being too anal about living exactly like in their home countries, I am against that and hate those people who travel with food for their vacations and stuff. But parents are people too. They are just as confused and lost in a new place as the kids and tend to gravitate to the familiar.

        I don’t think taking a child into foster care is the answer cos a parent hand-fed their kid. The host country also has the responsibility of understanding the cultural differences and making allowances for stuff like that. Teach the parents then, if it’s that important.

        • Sigh. You’re taking a small point out of the post and stretching it like a rubber band, forcing it to take an extreme position that I have not taken. I notice a lot of readers do it, and for me as a blogger its a very tiresome experience to either defend an extreme position I didn’t have in the first place or then reiterate what is rather plainly already mentioned in the post. 😦

          No I did NOT say we all need to learn to eat with chopsticks living in any part of the world – but if I live in a country where it is expected in public, I’d make sure I did it and my kids too. If your kid goes to school in the West where daycare expects him to eat with cutlery, you ARE doing him a disservice by not reiterating it at home and helping him practice, just like you would maths or english homework. At this point it would be more important that they learnt to do what is expected in school. You’d imagine kids would pick it up easily, but do you know how tough it is for kids to hone motor skills? Even holding a pencil and shaping letters is tough, let alone learning which hand is for the which piece of silverware.

          WHERE have I said one should not celebrate Diwali? If you’re responding to my response to someone else, I said that the US might be slowly learning about Indian culture, but it is not the same in other countries. And honestly speaking, it is not the other country’s legal system’s job to adjust to our culture, but ours to work with theirs. You can’t pee on a Singapore street and then object to a penalty, saying it is Indian culture and they must accept it.

          My point is that if kids feel awkward about something, they shouldn’t be pushed into doing it for your personal religious, ethnic pride. It is no better than forcing your kid to learn music, basketball or study engineering just because YOU feel strongly about it. I don’t see why religious and ethnic matters are so strongly pushed on kids when we’re otherwise learning to ease up on them.

          Okay – finally you see that we ARE talking about the same thing 🙂 I *don’t* understand why people are confused or insecure about new places. No one forced them to live there. Many of them are super-thrilled to be there and frantically applying for extensions to stay on there and even get citizenship. One would imagine after 2-3 centuries of learning to immigrate for work, people would stop the old gravitating excuse. Besides, once you are a parent, different rules apply – you have to be strong and brave for your kids, just as you are in every other matter.Look at how well young students integrate and assimilate when they go abroad to study. Something strange happens just a few years later when young married couples go. It’s almost this pseudo gravity that they take on once they have kids – like they’re obliged to pass on their culture. I don’t think so. They’re there to live well, work hard, be good citizens to the place that puts bread on their plate and bring their kids up to be the best they can. Bas. Passing on a culture that you no longer live in the midst of, should IMHO be the least important part of parenting and well being.

          I don’t think take a child into foster care is the answer either, but hey, there was much more those parents were eventually caught for. The host country cannot be responsible for teaching you laws. If you want to stay somewhere, it is your responsibility to teach laws. We don’t get a booklet of laws when we’re born in India. We learn them here too – so why not make the effort to enquire when you go to live someplace?

          • sure u can’t pee on streets. That’s not exactly culture is it!
            But if people are used to feeding their kids by hand and continue to do that at home, I don’t think it’s a reason to get arrested.

            Anyway… this isn’t getting anywhere, so let’s just agree to disagree. 🙂

            • It *is* Indian culture to pee anywhere you want, burp after a meal and spit paan generously at street corners. You might not think it very ‘cultured’ but who says culture is your music and art? Even the dictionary tells you that it is the distinctive ways of living of a particular society. In India, its completely acceptable to pee on the road. And it’s not just the poor and the villagers. You’ll see a car drive up and a man hop out, pee, and get back. So you’d be well within the definition if you said that culturally, open peeing is acceptable in India even if a certain portion of society has now begun to object to it. And THAT is the evolution of culture. Lack of availability of public conveniences has forced it to be part of our culture. Choosing to wipe your butt with paper or wash with paper is part of your cultural upbringing – because traditionally cold countries couldn’t afford to put freezing water on their butts, and in a mostly warm country like India you can! Eating by hands is looked down upon because the hygiene is questionable, just as peeing on the road is questionable. It’s amusing that you defend one while looking down on the other. 🙂 Much as we’d like to limit our ‘culture’ to yoga, Bharatnatyam and Carnatic music, that isn’t the meaning.

              And anyway, you’re picking a line out of my post. A line that I picked out of the newspaper article and we’re putting too fine a point to it. We’re not really being fair. You as well as I know that no one would get arrested for just that. Would a kid be ostracised for eating his spaghetti by hand in class, abroad? Quite likely!

              So yes, lets agree to disagree.

      • When breaking a law, ignorance is never a bliss or an excuse.
        If they had been lucky, they would have been deported… but I am glad that they were not, and the rule of the land was applied.

        Regarding upbinging of kids and culture ( what kind of culture would it be anyway which had to be force fed/applied to the kids)… woh kissa fir kabhi.
        Right now, we are having best of the both worlds. I think it is important to realize the culture/norms/traditions blah blah are just there felt and enjoyed… and in some cases respected… and as long as me and my kids welcome everything with an open mind, we/everybody would be fine.

        Like my daughter says… ‘I love being an Indian American… I have lehngass, cholis, salwar suits. I also have formal suits,jackets,coats,skirts etc. Not only I get to celebrate Xmas.. but I celebrate at home Diwali.. AND, I get money from my brother and cousins… not to mention all kind of foods and sweets. Mommy,Daddy.. I think I am very lucky.’

  21. Hi!
    I get the point you’re trying to convey. However, as a parent myself, my strategy has always been to do whatever I’m comfortable doing (and many times, yes, my way is the Indian way). The only pressure being in a different country puts on me is to watch out for signs of discomfort my son may be experiencing. I think it’s perfectly fine to co-sleep till 6, if you so desire.. however be totally tuned into your child’s comfort levels and his peer interactions. Some kids may be okay carrying curd rice to school and shrug off comments saying “Hey, I like it”. All kids may not react the same way. One of the ways I think we should handle this is by staying aware of what the average American family seems to be doing, and being prepared if/when it comes up for discussion with your kids and of course – staying flexible. Bottom line, if these culture/habits differences cause your child grief, it’s probably not worth it.
    And the Norwegian couple seems to have been off their rocker – safe to say that being tuned into their kid’s mind was not exactly a priority.

  22. Few things I don’t agree with. I have lived in various countries for the past 8 years and they all have different cultures. In Singapore now, canning, as you’d know, is common. I am horrified at even the suggestion of it. I read in a parenting magazine the other day.. this mother preferred to keep her children away from the kitchen. The door is always locked and they’re not allowed to enter because it’s too dangerous. And is sometimes there is a slip on their part, they’re reminded of what’s expected of them by a bit of the whip. And mind you, this wasn’t a news story. This was a reader response to a question by the magazine “tell us how you involve your children in the kitchen”. This reader response was printed alongside one which said “I involve my children in the kitchen by baking cupcakes with them” etc.
    Talk about cultural differences!
    In general I agree with you on the “when in Rome..” part, but this argument has been made by various governments to issue a standardisation, not only when it comes to rearing children, but also in terms of religion, dress and food habits.
    It is this standardisation that has been the excuse for France to ban the hijab, and for Switzerland to get rid of minarets. It’s a dangerous line to tow, this standardisation.
    I feel there needs to be a balance, certainly, but it’s just so often we see that anything “different” is seen as weird. Wearing a saree in Norway, for instance, would be seen the same way, do you think? People stand back and stare, let me assure.
    I recently witnessed a Singaporean taxi driver deny an Indian couple a ride because their “food smelled” (they were carrying food packets).
    Where does one draw the line, then? At co-sleeping, eating with hands, wearing a turban, doing the namaz in a workplace…?
    I supposed because of how the world has become post 9/11, people have become more conscious before commenting on someone’s dress or food or religion, but parenting seems still open for judgment.
    I agree with your middle path suggestion, but don’t you think it should be both ways? In a world that is now increasingly “expat-centric” I wonder who should blink first.

    • Very good questions all. I’m afraid I don’t have answers to most.
      The only reason parenting is open to questioning, is because as adults we can ‘bully’ our kids. Yes, that is eventually what it boils down to, doesn’t it? They’re the only ones who can be forced into things they don’t understand, even while at some level objecting to it.
      For instance, as an adult if you choose to wear a saree because you are ready to face the stares, that is your choice. But a child who doesn’t want to wear a turban or hijab to school but is brainwashed over and over again by his parents about religious pride – what do you say to that? Does a 6 year old have any understanding of why he is wearing it, the significance and the cultural battle he is fighting? He might do it to make his parents happy, but is it really his choice?

      To my mind, the only things you need to force on kids should be those that are required for health, safety, order and law. Is your child objecting to something that is in no way connected to those? Then my personal opinion is that he or she should be let off the hook if possible.

      I personally don’t believe in wearing my religion on my sleeve so I don’t understand the turban or hijab. I’d much rather be known for the person I am than first for the religion I come from. It doesn’t define me. But others feel that way, that is their choice.
      Can I nitpick, please? It’s a dangerous line to ‘toe’! thanks 🙂 And my answer to this is both yes and no. Standardisation is not fair, but this reminds me of the British objecting to Sati in India. It was part of our culture, the families involved objected and women were brought up being told it was right and what their God wanted of them. Indians fought the Britishers who interfered. We didn’t see it for the gender bias it was.
      It’s strange that an Abaya is required even for tourists in Saudi but no one objects to that…. Anyway, this is not about France and the hijab (on which I have plenty to say but will save it for another day).

      Like I said, it should be both ways, there is a middle path and those who do their best to assimilate will be happier – after all what is the point of moving to a foreign country if not to get to know a new culture? I’m always shocked by the greed and selfishness of only going abroad to live a cleaner life, make more money but keep yourself locked away from all that makes it the place it is.

  23. My biggest peeve of living in the west is folks (read nosy relatives and neighbors) back home expect my kid to speak in our mother-tongue. I never encouraged it and we speak in English at home.

  24. Not only is the post awesome, the comments are interesting too…rather your responses. I sometimes get a feeling from some of the dissenters that they generally like to argue just because they can perhaps twist a certain facet from the lines you wrote.

    Raising kids is not prescribed in any manual. I have 2 daughters and each is being brought up a different way by the same set of parents. Older one would never ever take any Indian food to school and I conceded. However if a friend of hers drops in unannounced and is hungry, I have made it clear that pizza or sandwiches will not be ordered and she gets that. Her counter condition is we only offer simple daal-rice and not the stronger smelling stuff and again I think its fair to agree. She wants to wear makeup to school and it took a lot for me to work out a deal where she can once in a while and not go overboard. How can I tell her not too when all girls in her white dominated school are wearing it? And finally at the end I am more exhausted by having to deal with the odd other desi parent who thinks I am setting a wrong example.
    Younger kid, just today, insisted on taking palak paneer with rice to school. I was very apprehensive and tried talking her out of it, worried that the green stuff will invite sneers but she is confident of dealing with it so I let her. But if she grows up and decides one day that its embarrassing, so be it. What has school lunch got to do with my parenting values anyway. I would interfere if the required nutrition was affected or (even though we aren’t one of them) if certain religious beliefs are hurt. I know of hardcore Jains who send veggie sandwiches and burritos and it seems so perfect.

    The U.S. is a far easier place to assimilate and yet maintain your connection with your roots. Not sure about Norway or any other country because I have only lived in 2 nations and raising kids in just one.

    • More power to you. And I agree. The US does seem far easier to live in now (UK too) – and I guess it is because they’ve seen a lot of immigration and are accustomed to it now.

  25. Thanks for writing this MM. This touched a chord. Especially the tiffin part. Sandwiches, Pasta, Parantha, Rice, Dosa.. everything finds its way into my daughter’s lunch box. Of late I realised she is not comfortable having sambar rice to school. Me, being the idiot that I am, told her, that she should not mind what others say ( Found out that no one commented on her food, nor avoided her – she is one of the popular ones in class). Thanks for giving me a whack in my back & helping me see things from her perspective.

    • No, you’re right. We should teach our kids to stand up for what they believe in. It is important not to give in to peer pressure. But here I feel it is important to pick and choose our battles. How much does this particular issue matter to me? I think very often our knee jerk reaction is to insist on our kids doing something the way we’ve always done it. But culture is dynamic and created by us, for us. It should be a stepping stone, not a stone around the neck.
      I don’t compromise on matters of principles, morals, ethics… but food, dress, etc, I believe are not battles I would want to put my child through, because of my beliefs. Like not hitting your child, this is also a change in parenting style, I feel. Whereas our parents believed we existed to carry on a family name and culture, I believe our kids exist to be the best they can – not just be vessels of our pride.

  26. dear madmomma,

    inspite of the disclaimer u have put up in ur post that every parenting style is unique, i am sorry to say this post of urs smells a bit of a holier-than-thou attitude.

    if one of ur parenting concerns is that ur children shd know to use cutlery, u shd try living abroad. i am sure ur priorities will change and u will realise there r bigger challenges ur child needs to face and it’s ur duty as a parent to prepare them as much as u can.

    also, i noticed somewhere up above u have commented reg “crowing abt bharatnatyam classes”, didn’t u hear crowing abt bal-vihar classes or veda classes or some such too. although i have lived in many countries, let me tell u abt USA since this is where we are at present. the american education system teaches u to consider urself as an American from day one. u must be aware, it’s a pot-pourri of immigrant cultures and the best thing is that it allows u to remain true to ur origin, respect ur own culture. we raise children teaching them as much as possible abt our customs and traditions. we don’t even know how much they r assimilating and what will they choose to pass on to the next generation. and that’s the most important thing – although we can only make our children aware, we can never force them to practise. it’s solely upto them what to choose and leave. so don’t trivialise when u hear abt these ‘cultural classes’ abroad. it’s only one of our ways of making our children more aware.

    also abt staying back in india and seaping in our culture(as u put it), we don’t need to teach our children ‘Indian-ness’ when staying here, they take it for granted. but u do need to stress upon ur orign and roots once u move abroad. they need that knowledge so that they r able to explain ‘y we r different’, like wearing a bindi or a turban for that matter.

    also, if u teach them to conform, for example, not to eat with their hands, u r one step away from their feeling ashamed of themselves and of their own parents and even folks back home in India. Which is not at all what we want.

    i usually enjoy reading ur posts and nodding my head in agreement wth many thngs u say. but u must remember, it’s not only u, but every other mother also puts in a lot of thought abt the way they want to raise their child. what u want and what the next person wants or does for her child may be and will be different, but don’t be judgemental by calling parents ‘selfish’. am not saying all, but definitely most of them, aren’t.

    well, the only thing we seem to agree agree upon is hitting children is gong to get us nowhere. so, Amen to that.


    • Dear dear Sangeetha,
      The fact that you take this post so defensively should give you something to think about. I’m just another person sharing my views. Clearly it resonated with some and not with others. Fortunately not everyone got upset or offensive enough to call it holier than thou – but then I suppose it didn’t cut too close to the bone for them!

      I’m not ‘trivialising’ any classes – they are all arts and I see no reason why they should be the preserve of any one country. Merely saying that it’s a little ridiculous to watch Indians who go abroad come back even more orthodox in their choices than we are. Who will frown upon a child who goes to ballet or Shaimak Davar’s dance classes and yes, crow (I will use that word again) about theirs learning Bharatnatyam or Odissi or any of the other classes you mentioned. They forget that India is changing at the pace it needs to. There is no need for those of us who chose to live on here, to hang on to the past by our fingernails. There is no need for our kids to be taught or to prove their ‘Indianness’. So the objection, in case you missed the nuance, was not to the classes themselves, but the crowing, the attitude. See the difference?

      And ROFL! No, teaching my child to eat with silverware isn’t a priority today or ever. It’s just a part of their daily life. But the more I see it, the more I realise one of my priorities should be teaching them to deal with people who can’t handle the mirror turned on them!

      No I didn’t say ‘seaping’, I said steeping – like a tea bag. I personally don’t see the need for a child to be stressed out or for one to stress upon bindis and turbans. Regardless of whether you live in India or abroad, children are children everywhere and it is not their burden to bear and explain their parents’ culture. I’d only put that burden on a child who is old enough to understand and choose it. You don’t need to agree with me – it doesn’t matter in the least. How much can a 4 year old tell you about the origin of a turban or the significance of a bindi? Having been born and brought up in India and in spite of Christianity being a 2000 year old religion in India, I find myself still explaining my religion and culture to ignorant people.

      It’s sad that you’d think assimilation is a step away from shame. I can see why foreigners feel Indians are clannish. Personally I’d be a little affronted if someone chose to live in my country and said that assimilation was almost shameful. Pity. I guess these are the insecurities we really need to examine and deal with. I assure you, learning their ways will not make you forget yours.

      And finally, I too am shocked that you feel kids should not be beaten. Because your comment with its focus on Indian-ness seems in sharp contrast. After all kids in India get beaten at school and home, baby girls in India get murdered, female foeticide and dowry is common – there’s so much of our culture that is unpleasant. If you’re not teaching your kids about this, then you *are* picking and choosing which bits of Indian-ness you want to inculcate, eh? What a relief. So why consider my suggestions to the same effect, to be so outrageous?

      Cheers – and chill!

      • dear dear dear madmomma,

        first of all i must appreciate u for ur time and energy for responding in such detail to all the comments u have been receiving, including mine.

        u have used an important word – assimilation. there is nothing shameful abt that. rather it is very much essential. but the degree to which u assimilate is each person’s personal choice. what i object to is changing urself and ur children totally that they feel ashamed abt the habits/customs u have picked up from ur own country and people. what i am tryng to say is that it is equally important for a child to wield a spoon and yet not feel ashamed of eating with bare hands when the situation demands. coz for the child, it’s just a small step away from feeling ashamed abt wearing indian clothes, eating desi food, etc.

        and, u shd let us ‘crow’ sometimes. we lived in a ‘gulf country’ few years back and it is amazing when the locals r so rigid with their own religion and customs, yet there are dance classes and even beautiful temples and churches being allowed to blossom there. yup, i do feel that was an occasion to ‘crow’ that though we r far away from India we r able to provide our children with the opportuntes that we take for granted back home. wouldn’t u agree? (it was not dubai, and my daughter did not learn dance then and i have never done any crowing, but i would understand if someone else crowed to me abt this).

        which is y i say again, that u need to be there to understand. culture is something u learn by seeing and doing. no matter how much u read abt it, i still feel, u will actually know abt it only when u live in a foreign country, what to adopt and what not.

        yes, u r right. i take the good parts and leave out the bad/sad/unexplained/simply absurd of our religion and customs. after all i don’t want to burden my children, just give them the chance of knowing what constitutes our habits, customs, festivals, etc.

        happened to mention the ‘holi…thou’ just bocz it seemed very much unlike u not to present a wholesome view of a topic. plus, this issue is close to my heart as well. fortunately, unlike u, i haven’t come across “Indians who go abroad come back even more orthodox in their choices than we are. Who will frown upon a child who goes to ballet or Shaimak Davar’s dance classes”

        feel free to ignore my comment. i wouldn’t want to take up any more time of urs. and of course, u r entitled to your own views, just as i felt like expressing mine.


        • Okay – last couple of comments and then I’m shutting this. I’m honestly tired of repeating myself.
          Why do you keep bringing up shame? Why does the idea cross one’s mind? And second, if a child feels shame, why do we deny a child’s right to his own individuality? A sense of belonging is important to a child and I don’t understand the need to force this desi-ness on a child not yet old enough to bear the burden of our regional pride. I believe these are things a child should grow up and then choose to be a flag-bearer for. Hopefully parents will learn to stop putting that ethnic pressure on kids just as they’ve stopped hitting them. It’s rather arrogant to force our ways on children who clearly are uncomfortable with them – just the same as hitting is bullying a younger person who can’t stand up for himself. Of course if in all this the child is fine, parents are fine, locals and school teachers are fine, then there’s nothing left to say is there. But yes, if you want to live in their society it is only fair that you learn to live as they live, without causing them any discomfort. Just the way you’d learn to get out in an Abaya in Saudi because its culturally required. Just because its not forced on one, doesn’t mean one doesn’t make the effort.

          And I’m happy to let people crow – if they’re okay with me laughing them for being so juvenile about it! Holier than thou was rude and unacceptable if your intention was to have a fair discussion – kindly don’t do it again. And actually if you read the comments you will see others have agreed. We *do* come across plenty who come from abroad and feel particularly thrilled that their kids’ favourite dish is aloo paratha while some desi kid love pasta. That their kids are learning some Indian dance form while the kids here are going for hip hop. Like you said, our kids live in India -they’re learning to pee on the roads and eat by hand without even trying 😉 So they’re anyway steeped in Indian ‘culture’. I feel bad for adults whose idea of culture is so limited.

          Yes, I agree, culture can only be learnt when you live there. And it will only be learnt if we stop living in ghettos and start mingling with locals instead of seeking out only desis, hanging out only in their homes and spend all our time cooking Indian food and never making an effort to learn what the locals are cooking. Else why take this opportunity to move abroad? It’s a waste of a cultural experience on people who cling together like frightened bunnies and don’t use the opportunity to learn something about yet another beautiful culture.

          • Yep. All that you’ve said about shoving Indian culture down kids’ throats, while not considering western culture to BE culture? I agree. I would rant about it (and have before) but I’m just so sick and tired of the attitude of so many Indians abroad. I’m glad you’ve taken the time to say it all, so that all I have to do is say “shabash” 🙂

            • Thanks, love. Precisely my point. Our culture is glorious and 2000 years old. Their’s is 300 years. Arre- but in 300 years they’ve learned not to piss on the streets and we haven’t. What does that say?

  27. At the risk of again being told that one point is being stretched like a rubber band, but then again it seems like an insensitive thing to write:

    I grew up in India eating with my hands. I do not come from a privileged background that had the time, know how, or the energy to pay attention to these matters. I worked my way up in life with the support of my mother who did not teach me to use cutlery or cheese. I came to the US four years ago and am on the verge of graduating with a PhD. I hope that all of this in total will still give my culture a good name in the west in spite of my unfamiliarity with cutlery and cheeses. Yes, in spite of four years here, I still don’t know anything about the different types of cheese. I do quite well without it, thank you very much, and am in no hurry to yearn for the acquisition of that knowledge either. I am sure that when I need to, I will pick it up.

    During my early days in the US, I was frightened of eating out in public. The food was unfamiliar (good luck teaching a lower middle class family in India about Tex-Mex cuisine) nor was I at my comfortable best with a fork and a knife. After a lot of uncomfortable moments, I one day decided to step up and speak honestly about who I was. I had nothing to be ashamed of. The daily food I ate at home was chapati-bhajji, dosas, idlis, fish, chicken with bones, and rice with curry. None of them as far as I know are food that lend themselves naturally to a fork and a knife. I did not need to feel ashamed about myself or my cultural eating habits.

    I chose to engage about this with the all white Americans around me and educate them on this aspect of my culture and its food. As much as I loved Norway and it’s people I had to do the same with one arrogant Norwegian professor who loudly commented on what he felt was my very graceless wielding of the cutlery when I spent a couple of months there on a research fellowship. I eat with my hands. It is the most comfortable way I know to eat and the way I best enjoy my food. It allows me to pick a bone clean instead of having so much of the flesh still clinging to it. What a waste of delicious food! The way I see it, both the Texans and that Norwegian were ill-mannered to publicly call attention to my eating. I wouldn’t even have dreamed of making fun of them if they were in India attempting to eat idlis with a fork. It would have been put down to their culture and most people I know back home would have been content to let it pass. Would you ask a foreigner to eat with their hands because that is the right way to eat a dosa and they should do as Indians when in India? Would it be seen as unaccommodating on their part to not do this? Just because something is Western does not make it correct. It may make it aspirational, but not necessarily correct. Next what? Teach children to speak with an accent so that they fit in when they grow up and go to the west? Parenting is so much more than outward appearances of grooming and you make those points so well. But it got lost in the judgmental way you comment about the other things.

    The supremacist ‘white’ attitude that i encountered here, allows people to feel entitled to single out and comment on these matters. That stings and I think they are in sore need of being taught about the world outside the US of A along with some manners. I use the example of cutlery to extrapolate it to the larger issue of doing as Romans when in Rome. Globalization cuts two ways, you know. I was not eating with my hands in any of these situations. I was eating with cutlery and doing my best to fit in, but yet cultural insensitivity along with a sense of entitlement allowed them to get away with their comments until I stood up for myself. They learned not to mess with me after that. Good for you and your children that you are teaching them to use cutlery. Good for you again if you feel that this action will help in not bringing a bad name to Indian culture along with peeing and spitting on the street. May I say that using cutlery and peeing and spitting on streets are not equal.

    As much as I enjoy and love reading your blogs (maybe I should comment more on those posts that I find myself nodding and smiling along), ever so often I find some posts being insensitive to the way others experience life. Life is not equal for all of us. Some of us learn while we go and do things that will help us survive. It may be the right thing for a given context, it does not mean that it is the right thing forever. Will I teach my children to eat all their meals with cutlery? Highly unlikely because Indian food is still my primary dietary source. I will however educate them about how certain contexts demand a certain sense of propriety. With the lifestyle that my education and position now affords me, they will probably pick all this up naturally with a little help from my side. I will hope that with their upbringing, they will be able to judge what is appropriate and follow that in different situations and also know when to draw a line about the things that one should give in and the things that one should not.


    • Sigh. I think you missed the point. As did a few others. Thankfully most people didn’t miss the wood for the trees and for that I shall be duly grateful. Should I waste my time repeating myself? Let me try.

      1.Nobody is suggesting you teach your Indian kids to eat with cutlery or the different cheeses while living in India. I was fortunate enough to have that exposure and it helps, but it isn’t necessary. Should kids living in a country where silverware is used be taught to use it? Yes – and this is where the parent’s sensitivity steps in. Just because the white supremacist doesn’t have manners doesn’t mean you deny yourself an opportunity to learn and to mix in their society comfortably. Why else are you there if not to be a part of their society? As to the bits about teaching kids to speak with an accent etc – I’m at a complete loss as to where you came up with that from if you actually did read my post. My point is to teach your kid the culture he is growing up in. Not prepare him for the West where he might go, or for that matter, prepare him for India where he will probably never return. Both are counter-productive in my opinion. Calling me judgmental is a waste of time. The point of writing a blog is to share an opinion, take a stand. Not record what I ate for breakfast which is uncontroversial. Unless I ate idlis with a fork! 😉

      2. I *do* believe it is selfish for parents who live in a certain country to ignore the needs of their child vis a vis that country and only focus on foisting their ethnicity upon them. You don’t need to agree with me. But hey, if the parents are balanced in their choices, then we have no real disagreement, do we? I’m guessing its only those with a seed of guilt who feel the need to justify it to me or get aggressive. After all I am just a stranger and if they choose to follow a certain path with their child, it’s no skin off my nose!

      3. You may say it’s not equal but what is culture if not the way society functions? We live in a tropical country which explains the cotton lungis, open sandals and eating with fingers. Sadly there is no explaining away our lack of civic sense – but if eating paan were not a part of our culture, spitting on the streets wouldn’t be part of our culure would it? Same goes for peeing on the roads – it might be unacceptable today but it’s been acceptable for centuries and is more a part of our culture than most other things. Eating with cutlery in Western countries so that the food doesn’t freeze on your fingers and congeal or even using perfume because of lack of hot baths was a consequence of weather conditions. All food is perfectly edible with fingers or cutlery. Even the Chinese can eat rice with chopsticks so I don’t see why we make that distinction. And the West eats their chicken with a fork and knife, perfectly well. So lets not go that route please. That said, it is entirely up to an individual. My post was not to lay down the law so much as to point out another POV. Some people have been happy to read it, can’t say the same for everyone!

      4. It is precisely this line we like to think is so easily detectable, that is not. If it were so, the Norwegian cases wouldn’t be all over the papers. And no, we don’t all experience life equally. Which is why it is so wrong to put our kids at a more unequal status than ever. That said, as times change the gap between the East and the West is closing. It’s easier for crossovers. Every restaurant including Haldirams serves pasta and all our kids’ schools give them noodles/pasta once or twice a week. I don’t know about kids abroad but I don’t know too many Indian kids who don’t know how to eat with silverware. So its pretty amusing to hear of kids being taught to eat with their fingers!

  28. Thanks for your response.

    I really would have agreed with everything you wrote were it not for the sense of elitism that parts of your post convey.

    On another point, not everybody comes to the west with a view to settle them. Some like me are merely poking around . If they are parents too with a plan to heading back home some time soon they might not be making the effort to fully assimilate out of a sense of concern about what will happen when they head back. I am referring to the parents who are disagreeing with your post in the comments and not the Norwegian cases. I have been whacked enough to know that it is not something I would want to do with my kids. I was also a bedwetter for a long time and cannot say it was handled sensitively. In most cases it is just something that has been handed down from the previous generation. It takes one generation to recognize the futility of it and break it.

    I am not a parent and have no experience with grappling with the contradictions that parents have to deal with in rearing their children. However, I can project myself in their shoes and see what a challenge parenting could be when your own sense of identity can be going through a lot of transformations and confusions. Again, this is not with reference to the Norwegian cases, but some of the others who like me seem to be missing the point.

    Yes, certainly what others do with their children would not be your concern, but in a way it is a concern enough to make you write a post right? After all, your own experiences preclude that of raising a child in an alien culture, but that does not stop you (as it shouldn’t) from voicing your opinions on it seeing how it is a public debate right now. And rightly so because we need to be having these discussions.

    I do visit strangers’ blogs to get an alternative POV. I assume you also allow comments on yours for the same 🙂


    • I’m afraid any elitism you’ve read into the post is entirely of your own reading. Eating with cutlery or knowing cheese is not really a big deal if you live in any Indian metro. For those who live abroad and believe otherwise, there’s a little education in store. Eating with cutlery isn’t elite just like eating with your fingers isn’t particularly pleb. They’re cultural differences and the moment *you* begin to treat them as elite or shameful, you’re making a mistake. Someone else commented that assimilating is one step away from shame. Clearly what is required is a change in attitude. Assimilation is not an admission of inferiority. It’s an equal appreciation of the culture that is offering you so much and a desire to move with the society you have chosen to make your home, be it short term or long term.

      Yes, parenting can be confusing and challenging but you know, people have been immigrating for generations now – my granduncles and aunts moved years and years ago. So this is not something new Indian families are facing. Surely parenting calls for some thought? And if you’re not thinking it through, there is no excuse for your thoughtlessness. Is that harsh? Maybe. When its an innocent child’s life at stake, the parent’s feelings are not priority.

      Actually in many ways my kids are being raised in an alien culture. they’re mixed ethnicities, two religions, being brought in Delhi where neither of us is from. That’s a lot for us to balance too. And I’d be a fool if my excuse was – oh well, I didn’t know what to do, I’m confused. If you’re confused about what you’re doing, don’t have kids and add to the mess. Sustained lack of thought put into your parenting is worse than beating up a kid and saying you didn’t realise what you were doing in the heat of the moment. I’m sure I’ll make mistakes too, but I’d rather admit to being wrong and apologise to my kid than brazen it out with a – so what? I was confused and everyone makes mistakes.

      I do allow comments for an open discussion – clearly! 😀
      But there are two caveats and I’ve always made that clear
      1. Deliberate rudeness and not so subtle sarcasm. My posts are not written to readers as letters. So there is no need to take them personally. Similarly, I don’t like the responses getting personal.
      2. Repetitions. I’m happy to address a point once. but if someone else says it a new way.. it gets tiring to respond. I’m old and easily exhausted 😉

      • I debated whether to leave this comment:

        Oh MadMomma,

        Each of our experiences in this world and how we come to be the way we are, are so different. I wish you would not extrapolate your ways of doing things and upbringing to everyone. Therein lies the rub. I grew up in a metro as much as that neat boy from the ‘disadvantaged’ class that you saw walking back from the bus stop. I may be wrong, but he is not growing up the way *you* think *most* people in a metro grow up – such as knowing about cheese and cutlery. Neither did I. Who knows, he may yet grow up to be the next Vikram Pandit none the worse for this lack of knowledge. Who knows, like me, he may just not like cheese so never thought it worth the while investing time in learning this.

        In a country with a colonial past such as India, silverware (read spoons and a fork) may have become no biggie, but the knowledge of knowing how to wield the different sets of silverware and being comfortable with a knife and a fork carries with it class connotations that is undeniable. You obviously recognize this which is why you are attempting to make your child’s life ‘easier’ by making cutlery a habit.

        I am not attempting to persuade you here, merely stating what I see reflected in your post and your comments. By all means speak for yourself – that is the point of having your blog, but I don’t get your comment that others also experience life similarly only because they live in a metro.

        When people from countries like India go abroad, they do so from varied backgrounds. The upper middle class metro native as much as the hardworking girl from the village and many like me who form the inbetweens. If each of us begins claiming that their life speaks for the rest, we are in trouble. I could stand up and say that even with mixed ethnicities and religions, it is still a completely different ballgame if you continue being in India as compared to raising children abroad. I myself am a product of the mixed upbringing you talk about so rest assured I speak with the benefit of that.

        But, I again recognize that things are done differently in different households and people attach varying degrees of difficulty in what they experience. Who the hell am I to determine who is having a more difficult time – parents raising children of mixed backgrounds in India or the ones abroad. Each experience is as much valid and as much worthy of our respect as the other – just like everybody who goes abroad does not do so with knowledge of cutlery nor does the lack of this knowledge give India a bad name.

        Nothing more to say. Will not be lengthening this further. Thanks.


        • Well, I do write a blog on parenting and obviously I can only speak of my experience. Many people want to hear a parent’s opinion. If they want a psyhologist or doctor they can go find one. Do I take a harsh stand? yes, I’m unforgiving of people who choose to have kids but put themselves first or claim ignorance. sometimes parents just don’t even consider that there is another side to the story. I was happy to see some commenters admit they’d never thought of it that way. It’s alright if others don’t agree. One assumes you come to a person’s blog to learn about their life and they way of thinking. Since I mostly write about parenting, it is a risk you run that I will extend my ways and methods or my experience. You always have the choice of shutting the page and moving on you know…. Just a thought.

          And while I’d be happy to see that little boy grow to Vikram Pandit, it’s a little ridiculous to draw that from the argument because I clearly did not mean that economic class of person – on the other hand, who knows, maybe he is learning to eat with a spoon in school too! I was making an entirely different point. Most metros today offer you a variety of global cuisines so most kids growing up in India do know one food from the other. For NRIs to deny that this country they keep yearning for has also changed, is to fool themselves. So while some of us may have had the privilege of growing up knowing our cheeses, this opportunity is available to anyone who walks into a supermarket and is literate enough to read labels. the problem is that most desis who move out, have not seen the country as it is today. their memories are mostly sepia tinted.

          Why would you assume that my child is learning to wield cutlery for class reasons? See, this is what I mean by my post being general but readers making it personal. My kids learn to eat with cutlery because certain food is meant to be eaten with it. Not an idli (!) but definitely a bake or noodles. Period. I’d trouble you not to colour that with your own baggage.

          If i were to merely take a spot poll, from my comments, the common pattern that would emerge is that most nris seem to feel that Indian culture is one of rigid pride only in what you eat and wear and forcing one’s will on their child. apparently this glorious culture isn’t glorious enough to actually be living in! After all those who travel, do so by choice – they’re not carried away on slave ships. Why then travel at all?

          And yes, Indians do go from varied backgrounds – isn’t that exactly why you should learn the local customs? Some go with the benefit of exposure from home, some without. It’s precisely those who don’t have the exposure who should be making the effort, using this great opportunity to see another culture up close by learning their ways. else why travel? why take what you want from a country and reject others that make it what it is? like i said, i can see why host countries feel strongly about immigrants who come in and form ghettos. It’s this desi rabid protection, this fear that you’re being attacked by a great big virus and must protect your ‘superior culture’ against all odds, even at the risk of making your child an alien to the system that YOU have thrown him into that I object to. I don’t want to debate who has a tougher time raising children because its irrelevant. The only relevant thing is that just like we’ve learnt that it is not good to hit our kids into submission, perhaps over time people will learn that it is important not to force home culture down a child’s throat. That the child does not exist to carry your own culture forward but to build his own life.

          Anyway… I’m tired of repeating myself. So. Adios. I mean, namaste.

          • Well, thanks for responding. I actually travel a fair bit in a bid to understand cultures and their way of doing things – both Indian and foreign 🙂 I prefer to remain anonymous on anon blogs, but your last response makes me want to delurk. I would also like to wish you and your lovely family a very Merry X’mas. As much as I disagree with so much in this post and your responses, your lovely children’s exploits will draw me back to read more. Have a lovely festive season.

            • See, I love this. I love that you can disagree, but still stop to send me good wishes and goodwill. It’s the idiots who think their sarcasm is so subtle (if its too subtle to be noted, what’s the point?) or those who just want to be rude and in your face that I like to decimate. The entire point of a post is to talk about it. But why be rude? I don’t know your particular situation so my intention is clearly not to pick on you. But I’m honest and my life is an open book here – taking that information to throw back in my face just ensures that I no longer have the desire to share with you. This is my issue with many. Have a great Christmas too.. and may the year bring lots of travel and learning.

  29. I read the whole post and all the comments and this only thought in my head is what is the “culture” that everyone speaks of? What is “Indian culture”? Is there such a thing? I used to be made fun of in Mumbai for curd rice, didn’t need to travel to the US or Norway for that.
    I always thought culture was an evolving thing, are the habits we learnt the same as what our parents or their parents before it?
    Even if you live in the same place you grew up in and your kids go to the same school, they will not grow up with the “culture” you did.

    To me the bottom-line seems to be “awareness”, know what is important for you to pass on to your kids, know what is around you, in the community, city or country you live in talk to your kids about what they experience. Maybe if you let them learn bharatnatyam and hip-hop they’ll create a new dancing genre. Ignorance and an unwillingness to open up to new experiences IMO seems to be the bone of contention.

    I’ve lived in 2 countries and a few cities in India, I don’t have kids but an a favorite aunt to a bunch of young tykes and I believe “culture” is what they are experiencing everyday, on their own and via what we bring to them.

    MM, I have to disagree with you on Talaash but will hold that thought for now 😀

    • Gosh, sorry I seem to have come off sounding all preachy and its ridiculous me giving advice without even having kids. But like MM said I have friends all over the world and I interact with all their children and have noticed from time to time that the dual-life thing whether in India/US or any part of the world does burden them.
      End of Gyaan.

    • *shakes head in agreement so vigorously that it almost falls off*

      See, I don’t believe that people who don’t have kids don’t have an opinion. By that logic we’d never have an opinion on anything other than ourselves and judges would never be able to rule on a case unless they’d first been raped and robbed. Which is why I have an issue with people who say “oh you have to live away from India to have our concerns”. Pooh.

      • Exactly what i wanted to say. As i read through all the comments, i was wondering if it is possible to teach culture, it’s an evolving thing!! I’m a new parent, and i know that my kid is going to grow up to be like me in as many ways as he will be different from me “culturally”; just like i grew up with my parents. Only thought i have is that i should be tuned into his needs and well-being, and that will obviously be influenced by the place that i am living in!
        And it is amazing to see how many times you’ve had to repeat yourself in the comments section!

  30. You know, these comments are so interesting, Im loving the varied POV and want to read them, but this black background is making me blind! The white fine-lined font on a black background is virtually illegible.
    Please please go back to the old one? I really wants to read!

  31. Hello mad momma,
    I am a parent living abroad too… I decided to speak my native language at home when my son was 2 years old. but, it was not an easy decision, I spoke with his day care teachers, consultants, fellow parents(not just indian parents) and came to know kids at a tender age of 2-4 learn the languages very easily. Now my son is 4 he goes to nursery and he is already bilingual. I know another parent here where mum speaks one language, dad speaks another and they reside in UK. The kids is just 3 years old and the kid can already understand and respond in 3 languages. Isn’t that cool? In both these cases we could have let the kids speak English, the most easiest route but we always knew learning the language is the first step towards teaching tradition to kid. Next the question is why is it important and necessary for parent living abroad to teach/follow indian culture? While in India I don’t have to teach him tradition, I don’t think my mom ever taught me anything like that in specific. But here yes it is necessary. I don’t want him to be a confused Desi. But neither do I want him to be ashamed of his indian roots.

    Mad momma, I have personally seen a family of 2 boys, 10 and 5, who just speak English and can eat only using cutlery and embrace every bit of the British culture. But does it mean the kid is not discriminated??? No!!!! The small kid has been discriminated irrespectively due to his skin colour. I was bit shocked when I first heard, I am not even sure if I want my kid to pass through that. I would rather bring up my kid in a place where he is accepted and has an identity. That is a separate discussion in itself. The point here is following what westerners practice does not assure indiscrimination for the kids.

    it is better to make the kid appreciate the indian cuisine and the variety available to son likes biryani as much as his pastas. Regarding eating chicken with hands u must come and see KFC here!!!also, in past 4 years of my stay, I haven’t seen any one eating fish over bone. My point is, What is wrong is savouring food in hand, brits don’t eat their sandwiches using fork, then why can’t my son eat his paratha using his hand? Not that I am going to force him to, but still I will let him know that certain food are easier to eat with clean hands than using a fork or knife. Next I will leave it to his comfort. I am sure the 4 year olds are much smart to understand. Never its too early to teach them.
    I totally agree with your comments on indian governments stand on Norway couples issue.

    Please post more, I love ur blogs especially the controversial ones 🙂

    • Sigh. Look, I don’t want to debate every personal choice. There are loads who will have anecdotal evidence. But that is just anecdotal and not statistical. I will have an equal number of anecdotes to the contrary. I’m glad you are doing what you want to do and are happy doing it. My argument is not against parents who want to teach their culture. My argument is against those who force it. If you are not forcing in the face of your child’s discomfort, you are not my target reader for this post.
      As for the shame, I’m always surprised when people make this leap of logic. Not teaching something doesn’t mean shame. The OA and I are not teaching the kids either of our religions, simply because we don’t care. Not because either of us is ashamed of our religions. Heck, my banner should show I am not. I’m not saying that ours is the only way. I’m merely saying that choosing to give your child less to be conflicted about is an act of mercy in my opinion. again, you can disagree. What I will NEVER agree to, is that it is an act of shame. And I really hope parents like you stop seeing it as one.

      WHY is it better to make a child appreciate Indian cuisine – why not both biryani and pasta? No one is saying anything is wrong with eating with your hands. And I just said that in the nth comment. That certain foods are best eaten with hands. So? Similarly its best to teach them to eat certain with their forks, like a fried egg!

  32. I’m not a parent and I’m scared of being one at some point in my life, so I have no idea what it’s like…besides as one of your commentators pointed out, the Norway case doesn’t look like a cultural misunderstanding issue, so I wouldn’t want to comment on that.
    But I have lived abroad and with people from cultures that are as varied as they get. I have hosted French, Africans, Chinese and Egyptians in the American Midwest. I don’t subscribe to the “when in Rome” theory…be what you want to be but don’t break the local law of course!! Homogeneity in culture, tradition or way of living is a thing of the past and for good. In today’s fast globalizing world, it is important for everyone to be tolerant of each other’s cultures. For Indians to be tolerant of American(or any other country’s) ways. And for Americans to be tolerant of immigrant ways. In most cases, lack of awareness of a different culture makes life difficult.

    • I agree. This is more than a cultural misunderstanding. This was abuse. And no, I don’t believe in standardisation. But I do believe in awareness of host culture. It’s an important part of being an immigrant. I notice people are all ready to watch english movies, try out new cuisine etc, only whie in India. The moment they go abroad they huddle together and live in terror of losing their culture. Is that such a terrible thing? What is culture if not a bunch of habits developed to suit your environment? We eat by hand here because it is suitable to our climate. We take off our shoes at doors because its dusty. Those things are not applicable there, so adjust, learn, educate, broaden your mind, make the most of this glorious opportunity to observe another culture up close, instead of acting like mice in a lab. My tuppence.

  33. I could not hold my tears reading your post as much while watching Talash. Nothing can be more terrorizing than the thought of losing your child.
    On that note, do you think that the Norwegian couple could be granted a little bit of ‘mercy’? Kind of empathizing their situation despite their parental indescretion.

    • See Sanjoy, I don’t think the poor parents even thought of it as an indiscretion. I know I sound harsh in the post but I guess one wants to take a clear stand. In this case the parents have been found beating the kid with belts and hot metal objects. In the last case the parents are said to compulsive liars. So in both cases there is no excuse. Were it just regular desi parents bumbling along making mistakes I’d have been all sympathy. I’ve written dozens of posts lambasting the goras for expecting us to standardise entirely.
      But everyone has a cause. For some people its environment, for others its animals. For me its kids, I suppose one could say. I always put my money on the child because all said and done, someone needs to speak up for them. Thassall.
      Sorry if I sounded merciless 😦

  34. Read through ur blog and comments with interest.

    we shd learn the local culture and adapt when we r in a foreign country. what u say is correct. in theory. but in practice? it is more easily said than done.

    my husband’s company gives us cross-cultural training whenever we move across countries/continents – a one day programme to be attended by the whole family. having attended quite a few of those, this has been my takeaway. culture is like an ice-berg. there is more to it than what u see. language, dressing, eating habits – these r the easy parts that we can learn by seeing. and, children r very good at this, they learn fast. but, religion, family-values – these r subtle things that even adults need help with. The idea of being romans will not work coz even if u look at them and learn to act like them, u have just managed to scratch the surface. what abt the nuances, some of which might even be offensive. for eg, if u don’t look at an American in the eye while speaking they will think u r untrusthworthy. If u go to Japan and look into their eyes, they’ll say u have no respect. None of the Europeans or Americans understand the way Indians bob their heads – whether we mean yes or no. Did u know in certain Arab countries if u act like the natives, eg dress like them, u will be arrested for impersonating them or making fun of them. so ur simple diktat of do like romans sounds logical to u, but sounds rather naive to an expat.

    when an indian moves abroad, 99% it is for better money and quality of lifestyle. the main aim is not to learn a new culture. and, u can’t blame these people – it is their life and they have made a choice abt what they want to do. from what i understand, u r saying that these people shdn’t force their own customs on their children. u r absolutely correct. but usually, the opposite happens. children adapt faster to new environment and parents have to scramble to catch up. also, these days children r quite smart, if u ask for eg an American Indian child to follow a custom he/she won’t do so blindly, they will ask a hundred questions. parents have to share whatever little knowledge they possess. children r so independent, forget forcing, it’s not easy to even convince them to follow a certain custom or way of life, unless u have solid reasoning behind it.

    when an american jokes with me that although he is relatively young he is scared his teenager will make him a grandpa soon, i can’t help it but go back home and teach my children not to make the same mistake. we must make a sensible choice of what part of culture we must adapt or not.

    one more thing i’ve learned over the years as an expat is that Indians are easily labelled as being clannish. the truth is every country is clannish. most people don’t welcome expats into their home easily. to them, we r foreigners. expats have no choice but to stick together. irrespective of nationality, this is human nature.

    Whether expat parents teach children local culture or not, they will pick it up anyway and the biggest thing these parents r doing for their children, knowingly or unknowingly, is making them adaptible.

  35. I’m coming here after forever! and what a nice post!

    The child abuse case is oh my god shocking! and yes..whatever was the was a child abuse case. period. I have voiced this Question many a time ..if one has to write exams/ attend interviews and the whole nine yards to get a license for so many things…then why not parenting? It’s about raising human beings for Christ’s sake! How can anyone who be allowed to do that without validating if they are capable and fit for it?!

    Regarding eating with the hand and culture and yada yada… Aren’t we suppose to be headed towards Globalization? One world with mere physical boundaries? People of our age today, easily live in 3 or more countries during their lifetime. So I can only imagine the number of places our children will visit and/or live in. Shouldn’t we then prepare them to learn and respect all cultures? What is so un-respectable about the fact that a mother wants her child to sleep with her until he is 4 or 5? What is so shameful about eating with one’s hands? I’ve seen Americans eat pizza with their hands…do we laugh at that? Or would we approve if our child teased his classmate ‘coz he ate a wrap/ pizza with his hands? I think one should know how to use a knife n fork, or chopsticks or their fingers and schools/parents should teach children to respect each child/person for who they are and not allow teasing which manifests itself into bullying several times. A parent shouldn’t be expected to stop feeding their child dosa or paratha or teach their child how to eat it with a knife n fork ‘coz his/her classmates don’t u’stand or respect different cultures. And again, irrespective of where they reside, they can choose to send their child to kung-fu or Bharatnatyam or guitar or violin classes. How or why is a karate/yoga class good for the child but a table/ harmonium class “funny” ? It is obvious that the child should learn English, but if French is a foreign language class, so is Hindi. How does the child even know of options, unless the parents expose him/her to them?
    n the good news is, in my experience… I find more n more americans wanting to teach their child about other cultures. I have more than one colleague at work who has requested me to bring indian food for their child. Infact one of my friends at work just asked me for indian finger food..’coz her daughter turned 1 in October and is beginning to want to pick food and eat it on her own..( if you know indian food that has protein in it which babies can pick n eat…please tell me). This year we celebrated Diwali at work ( just like we celebrate St patricks day, Cinco de mayo, Halloween and Christmas) ..and I was in a salwar all day long at work. Several americans wore sarees and sherwanis… So just because we live outside of India, we don’t have to give up all the indian-isms. They appreciate it when we expose them to our culture so they can pick n choose what they like and don’t like about it.

  36. I thought Talaash was a very well-made film. Great screenplay by the two women. And great performances. I thought more than the heebie jeebies it kind of reflects women’s sensibilities – how grief and loneliness overpowers life and how people try find deliverance. I really liked the aspect of sensitively depicting those who are routinely denied dignity in life and death. And of course the nightmarish situation that any parent could face. I especially liked the scene where Aamir replays the accident again and again in his head – how it could have been different, how he could have saved his child.
    Seriously, some people think that making a film about the paranormal is sort of trashy? Well, The Exorcist was highly appreciated by filmmakers and critics across the board. And Ruskin Bond writes some of the most riveting paranormal stories.

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