Open Letters: To Indian parents

Last Updated: Tue, May 27, 2008 02:47 hrs

Mainak Dhar is an alumnus of IIM-Ahmedabad whose career in the corporate sector has spanned almost a dozen years across Mumbai, Bangkok and now Singapore. Cubicle dweller by day and writer by night, he has written six books, including the bestselling novel, The Funda of Mix-ology. Learn more about it at

In this new series, Mainak writes open letters to people in the news, commenting on the state of affairs in the world today. Today's column is an open letter to Indian parents, inspired by the recent Aarushi Talwar murder case.


Indian parents

I am a recent entrant into your ranks, with our son having been born just three weeks ago. So while I may not have the experience that many of you have in raising kids, there are some things that are already becoming apparent to me. The first is the overwhelming desire to nurture and protect this little being who has joined our family. All the sleepless nights, all the diaper changes, all the crying seem to pale before the newfound emotion that no matter what, I won’t let anything happen to our child. The second is the realization that while, like all parents, I will perhaps never be a perfect father, I so want to do the best job I can. Over time, my son will grow up, move away, get a job, succeed, fail, fall in love, get dumped, experience ecstasy and agony, and in general do all the things every person does- but in the time I have with him, I do want to make sure that if I do nothing else, if I can help him learn to become a happy and well-adjusted person, I would have considered myself a success.

So parenthood and the relationship between parents and children have been very much top of mind for me over the last few weeks. So imagine my horror when I read about the Aarushi Talwar murder case, and the fact that the prime accused is none other than her own father. To be clear, I don’t want to presume anyone’s guilt here. Let the Police do their job and figure out if indeed he was the murderer. But as details of the case emerged, and some of the circumstances behind the case were revealed, it got me thinking about the role parents are playing in Indian society today, especially in the so-called upwardly mobile segments of society. Add to this case all the other recent cases involving school shootings, underage drinking and various other scandals involving the young and you do wonder what we as parents have to do with it.

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Every relationship is obviously a two-way street and if children stray, they also need to be accountable for their actions. However, the bottom line is that they are not mature enough to always comprehend the consequences of their actions, and as parents, we act as their role models and moral compass. What they see us doing and saying sometimes becomes acceptable behaviour for them, or at any rate shapes how they themselves come to view life and relationships when they grow up. It is on this count that I feel so many parents are letting their children down.

The last couple of decades have been a heady time for the Indian society and economy, with opportunities and lifestyles that previous generations could only have dreamt of. But this new found material wealth and lifestyle has brought with it a hidden cost, one which is increasingly gnawing at the foundations of our families, and reflecting in changing relationships between parents and children.

Read all Mainak Dhar columns

The very first impact has been the inordinate focus on the individual. I am hardly an expert on the subject, but my life experience tells me that the key to making a family, or any relationship for that matter, work is the willingness to sometimes put other’s needs before one’s own. It is in that interplay of little gestures of selfless love that the foundations of a family are created, and children come to learn that more than pocket money or toys, its this love that is their strongest bond to their parents. However, so many of us nowadays prioritize our individual desires and gratification over what our children need. In the Aarushi case, tales of her father’s extra-marital affair may or may not be true, but we all know families where the parents are too busy pursuing their own social and professional lives to really know what’s going on in their children’s minds, and lives. Busy yuppie parents and increased exposure to information through the Internet and mass media make for a deadly concoction- where either the chief source of values for our children become maids and household help who take care of them, or the Internet or friends, whose advice, taken without the filter of a dose of adult maturity, can be dangerous. Either these children try and emulate their parents, rationalizing that if it’s ok for their parents to have affairs or drink and drive, it must be for them; or they rebel, as Aarushi is alleged to have done in rejecting her father’s affair, and pay the price of estrangement, or in her case, even worse.

The second impact is that in the pursuit of a bigger house, a better car, a fatter bank balance, and the next material symbol of upward mobility, many of us are losing track of what really matters. One day, we will all fade away, and what will remain will not be our designations, drinking buddies or cars- the single biggest legacy we leave behind will be our children and the values they will bring to bear on their world, and on their own children. Yes, we can’t stop everything else and spend time with our children, but often in life, it’s the small things that matter. That dinner table chat together instead of drinking with office buddies, that spending weekends together instead of at office, that one on one talk on a sticky issue instead of hoping it goes away, and most importantly, holding ourselves to the values we would expect our children to exhibit in the things we do and say before them. It’s those little things we can do every day that could make a big difference. And a big difference is what we need. They say India is shining, but on this one count, I feel we are sliding. Sliding into a twilight zone where we may emerge materially richer than before, but lose a lot of what used to hold our families, and our society together.

Best regards,

Mainak Dhar

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