I doubt there is any creature as scared as a middle class parent in India. The reason?! This species has a lot to lose, a whole lot at stake.
Now let’s see. They do not own any great physical assets. One home or two, a singular car and ten year old consumer durables. But their children! Their children are their heaviest investments, the focus of their daily lives, and their reason for being. They pour their energies, their money, and their concern into bringing up their kids. They dream for them, plan for them, save for them. Their sense of pride, their feeling of accomplishment, their will to keep going comes from their offspring.
It used to be customary for my Dad to push all the high protein food at us, he would take the most unappetising portion of the chicken roast and that too after the kids had thrown in the towel. Mom would put our comfort first, always and without fail. We did the same for our children. Their needs were met on a priority. Their time was more significant; we adjusted our lives around their calendars. Nothing else mattered so long as they were cared for and progressing.
So there you had them: regular, humdrum, law abiding, god fearing Uncles and Aunties, making a mission of getting their progeny the best possible education, equipping them with all the requisite gear and keeping them in the pink of health and wealth, to the extent it could all be stretched, never mind the personal price they would need to pay. Life moved forward on an even keel, until the kids grew up. Now began the nightmare. The spectre of them being out on streets alone, driving home from college or work, travelling in public transport, at the mercy of not just goons and thugs but also the law enforcement authorities.
It became scary to have those heavy duty investments of theirs out on the ruthless roads, adrift in an environment of corruption and physical violence. What do you tell them apart from sending you “reached safely” messages all the time? Do you tell them to live like cockroaches, scuttling home in the dark for fear of eve teasing or a mugging? Do you warn them of the pitfalls of being in any limelight? Do you advise them to shut down all their faculties like Bapu’s monkeys?
It is a dilemma? After all that went into making them, you want them to live unafraid and fully. But their engagement with the environment is paralyzing you with fear. Foremost is fear for their well-being. There could be fear of losing face, fear of losing a prospective job, fear of losing in kind or cash. So you tell the young to stay focused on themselves, the injustice around be damned.
I am having a tough time doing this. I am afraid. I am conflicted. I am torn. What is a parent’s moral responsibility? Safety or autonomy for their child? What do we owe her to help her be, a soaring eaglet or a safe sparrow?!