Years ago, when I was at an impressionable age, my grandmother told me a story. A mother loves her son very much and he loves her back. But after the son marries, he brings home a cruel wife. He showers her with attention, affection, riches, but she isn’t satisfied. Jealous of her husband’s love for his mother, she declares that the only way she will be convinced of his love is if he brings her his mother’s heart.
I know. But let’s go on.
The son is torn apart and broods for days, not eating or drinking anything. When the concerned mother finds out the reason behind this massive mood, she takes a knife, cuts out a heart and hands it to him. Then, she dies.
I know. But this isn’t the worst part either.
When the son is rushing to bring the heart to his clearly disturbed wife, he stumbles and falls. Whereupon, his mother’s voice cries forth from the heart: “Careful, my son! I hope you didn’t get hurt!”
I. KNOW. RIGHT?
There are at least ten things that are deeply problematic in this story, but today, I’m going to discuss the least creepy one. Because I’m nice like that. I’m going to talk about the trope of parental sacrifice. Not like, sacrificing your parents, because we’re not that kind of society – yet – but the one where parents are supposed to sacrifice EVERYTHING for their kids. You’re somehow considered less of a parent, not good enough a parent if you don’t give your kids whatever the fuck they want.
Which is some bullshit, I have to say.
Take Angrezi Medium. The movie hasn’t released yet but thanks to the Bollywood trend of dumping the whole plot in the trailer itself, one can guess what it’s about. A father, who runs a sweet shop in Rajasthan, runs from pillar to post to ensure that this brilliant daughter, the apple of his eye, gets her heart’s desire: a London education. The trailer doesn’t specify a college. Presumably as long as it’s in London, any one will do.
Peppered through the trailer are gems like ‘I have decided I will go to London means I will go to London’ and ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get the money for the fees even if I have to sell my blood’ and my favourite ‘You don’t understand my dreams, if I had a mother she would understand.’ At which point I had to physically curb myself from slapping my laptop.
Now, I get it, alright. Why shouldn’t a 17-year-old Rajasthani girl dream big? Of course, she can. But what gets me is the entitlement of this child and the message it sends other children. That if you’re an only child, you are entitled to ask your parents to drop their lives and live for you. That if you want to study abroad, no matter your family’s financial situation, your parents should make it happen. Even if it means selling their own body parts. That if they can’t, they should absolutely consider throwing themselves in front of an oncoming car, because really, what’s the point of their life if they can’t fulfill their child’s dreams?
My question is this: what kind of a dream is ‘I want to study in London’? The dad even asks her ‘Why don’t you go to Jaipur?’ and her reply, I shit you not, is ‘How long will I live with you? Give me a little freedom.’ So what she basically wants is to get away from her dad? Hey, I get it, we’ve all been there. But there are like eight other cities in India where she can do that without making the man consider selling his own blood.
As a parent, not being able to give your children what they want, is disappointing. It’s a hard lesson to learn: that sometimes just loving your child to bits isn’t enough. That your best isn’t enough. But what about the kids? Don’t they need to experience disappointment too? At what point do they get to learn that your parents can’t give you everything and that’s okay?
I remember my parents not letting me go for summer camp because we didn’t have the money for it. This was explained to me blandly and with no regret or apology because those were the facts and at thirteen I was expected to understand and digest the concept of money and the lack of it. I didn’t. I cried. Then my dad yelled at me because tough titties, we still didn’t have the money and me crying wasn’t going to change that.
I was told by my parents at fifteen that it was a competitive world out there, that I needed to do my best academically to have a fighting chance at anything: a good college, a good job, a good salary. It was made very clear to me that there was a limit to what they could do for me and anything I wanted beyond that, I was on my own.
I wanted to go to Oxford. I’d shortlisted colleges and everything. I tried for the Rhodes Scholarship and didn’t get it. So I did some hard thinking and changed the course of my career to one that would be reasonably lucrative. I didn’t emotionally blackmail my parents to cough up money for Oxford, no matter how badly I wanted to go. I got a student loan to finance my post graduation in advertising. As soon as I got a job I paid the EMIs and my parents paid the interest on those EMIs so within four years of being employed, I had paid off the whole loan.
At no point did I tell my parents they sucked because they weren’t millionaires. I’d have been thrown out of the house, even if I’d had the nerve. And somehow, I think that’s a healthier way of parenting that whatever the fuck is shown in Angrezi Medium.