It's admission time at Bangalore's premier pre-school, and anxious parents swarm the playground, armed with forms and squirming two-year olds. "We looked at about ten schools," says one father, "What they teach, Montessori or not. It is very important at this stage."
Yes, at this stage, and the next, also the one right after.... This is just the beginning of the long rat race that awaits our kids, of class ranks, test scores, cutoff marks and percentiles. And we will be right beside them: waking at the crack of dawn at exam time, hauling them to the inevitable extra tuition classes, filling out those college admission forms, moving mountains – even cities – to jam our kids through the right schools, colleges, and graduate programs. Before you know it, we'll be coyly turning down invitations to dinners, weddings, and parties, saying, "My daughter has exams..."
This then is the ISI-chaap version of "good parenting" in India. Any less is considered a form of child abuse – or at least a treasonous dereliction of duty. No wonder so many of us were thrilled when Amy Chua invented the term "tiger mom," a cool, 21st century moniker for Asian A-type parenting. Really, what's not to like about a woman who never allowed her kids to "get any grade less than an A"; to "not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama." And – sweeter still – who sneers at those lazy and over-indulgent Americans for not doing the same. Revenge of the parental nerds, indeed!
Chua's label has now become a badge of honour for upper middle-class, over-educated parents intent on raising kids who are not just "first class first" – as our parents desired – but also fluent in French, pitch-perfect in both piano and bharatnatyam, and read Proust in their spare time. Harvard, baby, here I come!
"I'm a tiger mom. And I have no problems with that," says one NRI acquaintance, "Kids should be pushed to achieve. We went through it and it worked for us."
When the conversation turns to potential schools for our kids, she dismisses both the old-fashioned Indian schools – huge class size, crap teachers – and the more loosey-goosey international ones. "It's all horse riding and artsy crap with all these super-rich kids, No discipline" she says of a well-known contender. Chua would not approve. Neither would the grandparents.
During each of these discussions, I sheepishly await my turn, for that moment when I will be found out. "We don't want her to be in a school where it's all about academics," I mumble to incredulous stares. Besides, that 'artsy crap' sounds like fun.
Continues on the next page