Sunday, November 11, 2007

Limbo Bar

An older desi gentleman once gave me some great advice on how to insulate your child from the competitive pressures of desidom while allowing them to experience a slice of desi life abroad. When asked about how his kids were faring at school and outside in desi parties, he said they were average kids who he expected to attend college and become gainfully employed.

He volunteered no other information and after a while, his two kids were out of the running in the race to the top. While other parents bragged out their kid doing a Peace Corps stint, or making it to the national level as the most promising young entrepreneur of the year and such like, he sat by the corner safe as the father of two unremarkable and unpromising kids. The kids have done very well for themselves and never had to contend with desi peer pressure.

I have always flinched inwardly as desi parents of my generation parade the accomplishments of their wards at your average Diwali party. This is in no way different from what I grew up with in India. Your mother's friend's father-in-law would accost you while you were trying to stage a quick getaway with your tenth gulab jamun to find out if you had really scored 98% in chemistry as he had heard from the neighbor.

The key results area for the desi kid has changed over time. Parents are now able to be vain about their leggy thirteen year old winning some minor pageant but will make haste to point out that she also won a science award at school recently. Being the uber-geek is no longer good enough because the coveted spot in an Ivy League school demands a robust, well-rounded resume a la Kaavya Vishwanathan. Desi parents have gotten with the program as far as non-scholastic enrichment. The kids are on the hook to bring a lot more to the table than a 4.0 GPA and most if not all are up to the challenge.

I feel nervous around these highly driven kids who remind me of animals trained to fight to the finish. I have taken that older desi gent's advice very seriously as far as J and feel protective of her when she finds herself in such highly competitive company. She is the one without the gaffs in a cockfighting pit. I have to assure her that not acknowledging her publicly does not mean I do not appreciate her and that she is not inferior to everyone else.

There is a time and place for everything and also the right audience. I just don't think random strangers I run into at a desi gathering need to know any more about J than she is a six year old attending first grade. All I want is for her to enjoy whatever she does and try being better at it today than she was yesterday. Perfection is a good enough goal to pursue and that does not involve external competitors. I tell her the story of Arjun's Lakshya Bhed to emphasize the importance of focus and the need to tune out distractions caused by thinking about what others are doing. I have noticed that each desi encounter occasions yet another retelling of this story.

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