10/26/2012 04:36 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

The Over-Achieving Parent


The one thing that never fails to amuse me is how people seem to remember entirely different things about the very same event, years down the line. I remember trying to read Rudyard Kipling's Kim in the 5th grade; I was new to town, new school, new faces... My English was not very good back then, I had just moved from Mumbai, then Bombay, to the much smaller city Bangalore. I was educated in an English-medium school, and was able to read and write perfectly well, but Bombay being Bombay, I don't remember conversing with kids from my neighborhood in anything but Hindi. We weren't particularly affluent in those days; we were essentially ideal examples of the huge Indian middle-class population. Then we moved to Bangalore, and my father being the terrific dad that he is, insisted on putting me in the very best school that money could buy.

Private schools were the norm for any self-respecting parent, and my father and mother, are shining examples of great parenting. Within two days of moving into the new apartment, my dad came home late in the evening, and was having a serious chat with my mom about schools in the area; he had short-listed five that he deemed were the best because they were the ones his close friends had put their own kids in, and therefore had recommended, and following a preliminary investigation of the matter at hand, he had satisfied himself, at least for the time being. Each of these schools was filled to the brim with wannabe/pseudo-cheerleaders and bursting-at-the-seams-with-money boys, as I was to later find out, but what mattered to my parents, was education and education only. You see, my grandfather, whom I did not have the good fortune to interact much with, given his rather untimely death when I was six due to a sudden stomach ulcer issue, was my father's role-model.

Apparently said grandfather went through a great deal to show my dad that he cared to no end about his son, and that left such a deep impression upon my young father, that he decided it would be his mission in life to bring up his kids, the way his dad had brought him up. My dad never said no to a single thing I asked him for, at least not any that I can recall. Granted I was never a demanding child, but he would make it a point to inform me: Yes, of course, anything for you my dear, for I am your dad! My father spoke about his father on so many occasions, I know a lot of the stuff he did practically by heart -- like how my father ran up and perched himself on top of a tree, when it was time to pull out a tooth at age 7, my grandfather said: "Fear not son, I will take you to the dentist!" Going to get a tooth extracted from the dentist in the 1950s in rural India was unheard of, where I am sure 99.9 percent of the general population, accomplished this painful feat using plain old cotton thread, and ample muscle strength much to the chagrin of the child in question; clearly anesthesia and paying money to a guy in a lab coat were frowned upon (unless you were on your deathbed of course), but my grandfather was an exception. My dad refused to relent, and stuck to his high abode. My grandfather then proceeded to coax him by using the carrot approach, promising him ice cream (a treat to beat all treats in those days I'm sure).

This was enough for dad, and he promptly got out his tooth and got in some ice cream. The reason I bring this up, is because my father followed the same cunning protocol with me. I didn't have a tree nearby to climb onto, what with my childhood being spent in a metropolis, but my mom recalls how she stood looking out of the window of our apartment, to see me walk up the road with my dad, hand in hand, and my eyes all swollen up from crying, looking wistfully at my mother, while my mom and dad adopted a worried and amused expression respectively -- all the while, my only solace being that there was ice cream waiting for my tormented soul at home.

Anyway my dad decided to put me in the best school imaginable, and I regret that decision to this day. You see, not only did he spend a substantial portion of his salary to educate me at this grand old place, with his firm conviction that any amount he spent was never enough to improve his daughter, but the place was a bloody hell for a new student like me. I was popular back at my school in Bombay, my teachers loved me, my classmates admired me, or were jealous of me (which by some accounts was even better) but somehow I started out on the wrong foot here. The kids were all stupendously rich in comparison, and they made sure they made everybody else acutely aware of it, the teachers already had their favorites in place, and I felt like a complete misfit. I remember this one classmate who refused to share his brown marker with me for some rather childishly annoying coloring project we had to finish, and I took that to be an excellent excuse to cry my heart out; clearly I was a dam waiting to burst. My teachers were aghast. They hadn't quite encountered a scene like this before from a 5th grade student, and all along, I pretended to have something stuck in my eye. I remember one teacher whispering to another: If she had something stuck in her eye, why are both her eyes tearing up? Years later, I came across this ex-classmate of mine, and jokingly reminded him of the incident; I said I held no grudges and that all was forgiven and forgotten, and his only reply was: I thought we were fighting over a red marker! And at the end of the day, the most important detail I can recall about my dentist incident was that I had had strawberry ice cream! Scoops of it.