The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, February 2, 2003

Life Ties

Parents should guide, not push
Taru Bahl

VIKRAM was the seventh child born to parents who had seen better days but by the time he came into the world were in huge debt. His elder siblings spoke of good times when their father lorded over the village and his opinion was much sought after by the Panchayat since he was the only one who had studied till higher secondary. Vikram could not visualise these rosy scenarios, resentfully caught up as he was in the present, which according to him "stank". How he hated the poverty, the inadequacy and the utter helplessness of his parents. To him, they appeared confirmed losers. He knew with certainty that he did not want to have anything to do with their future. He also did not want to depend on their help to find his way in life. The first lesson he learnt in life was not to indulge in self pity but to make a realistic assessment of the situation and then devise a strategy before single mindedly zeroing in on the kill. He decided that his mother's youngest brother who worked in a nearby city as a petty accountant in a government office could help him achieve his goals. He coaxed her into sending him to live with him. After much opposition and resistance he managed to get his way when he reached class 1X. He worked on his mother’s emotions and got her to pawn some of her jewellery to enable him go in for higher education.

Ten years later Vikram Das Gupta became a probationary IAS officer. In these intervening years he had not dreamt of anything but becoming a sarkari afsar. The dream had taken shape when he used to visit his mamu and see the bada sahibs behaving as if they owned the world. During this time he also learnt his second lesson: You can't always get what you want by snatching it, even if it is rightfully yours, sometimes you have to be the most deserving too. This attitude had sharpened his competitive spirit and he had cleared all his exams and interviews in the first shot with high marks. He had come a long way and no one could tell that he had left behind a background which just didn't match his lifestyle or his mannerisms. He married Varsha, a batchmate and they set up home in uptown Delhi. They were blessed with two children Kavya and Shridhar.


Colleagues marvelled at how Vikram found the time to groom and coach his children in so many different things, busy as he was in building his own career. What few of them knew was that he drove his son maniacally to pursue unachievable targets. If, for instance, he was learning tennis Vikram would sit and minutely watch his game, follow it up with scathing critical remarks and have a detailed discussion later on about where he went wrong. The days he got carried away, he would yell at the boy playing at the net with comments like "kill him" or "get him by the neck". Bystanders would be amazed at how the scrawny youngster could play so forcefully, beating his well-boned and sturdy-looking opponent. He went on to play for the state and could have still gone up had Vikram let him continue. So far as the father was concerned, his son had tasted blood. Whatever he henceforth undertook would be tinged with this do-or-die spirit. The sports arena was not where his future lay. He had to set his sights higher and IIT was to be the next goal. Shridhar was pulled out of tennis and put into extensive coaching for IIT. The boy loved the game but since he was ‘his father's son’ he swallowed the verdict like a bitter pill and looked ahead. Despite his best attempts he could not clear the IIT entrance exams. After two unsuccessful attempts he collapsed and retreated into a disinterested silence. He would just stare vacantly at the walls.

Vikram's wife never had the courage to tell him that healthy competition came from healthy preparation and healthy targets not by treating every person or situation one is pitted against as an opponent or adversary in a battle field. While being competitive was fine and equipping oneself to match and outdo one's opponents was also okay, obsessively think only in terms of winning and losing as if it were a question of life and death was not healthy at all.

On the other extreme was Kavya who did not know what competition meant. Vikram had insisted on putting her in the best girl's convent. From class I, the school had stipulated that children who scored over 80 per cent aggregate marks would be exempted from taking the final examinations. They would be promoted to the next class on the basis of their consistency and merit. Kavya did not take exams till she reached Class IX. She was the only student in her batch who had secured over 80 per cent in 10 consecutive academic sessions. And now when the time came for her to gear up to face the pressure of competitive examinations and equip herself for higher studies, she realised that she neither had the killer instinct nor the desire to see herself on top. She was happy doing what came naturally to her. Endowed with a sharp mind, there had never been any bottlenecks in her academic graph so far. But from class X onward things changed. Her performance slid and she found herself directionless. Vikram found it difficult to accept the school's verdict: "She has burnt herself out and now she lacks the motivation and training to sit for a formal exam and to strive hard to better her grades."

By the time other children were preparing to enter the fields of their choice, both Shridhar and Kavya had opted out of the rat race. The former had lost steam and the latter had no idea of what it took to participate in a match. She had the skills and the talent but no motivation to be on top. Vikram was forced to ask himself where he had gone wrong. He had only wanted his children to emerge winners. After all, they had all those advantages which he hadn't. Sky was the limit for them. He had no one to guide him either. Had he taken his role too seriously ? Had he forced them to do things which went against their grain? Maybe he had tyrannically pushed them to achieve more and more, not understanding that they were not robotic machines but tender, sensitive growing children who needed careful handling. He should have provided the opportunity, been there to guide and monitor but allowed them to grow their wings and take flight without setting pre-determined goals for them and insisting they achieve them.

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