Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Expectations too great

A few years ago, I went into a doctor’s office for a routine checkup.  Being an Indian doctor and given the fact that I was also Indian, as he was doing his routine activities (like checking my blood pressure, etc), he also started asking questions (in his broken English) about my personal life:

Doctor:  So where you’re from?

Me: Chennai originally.  How about you?

Doctor:  I’m from Hyderabad.  [writes some info in his chart]  So what age you got married?

Me: 28.  My wife and I…

Doctor: [interrupts] Why so late, man?!

Me: [looking at him perplexed, and a little annoyed] Excuse me?

Doctor: [glaring at me angrily] When I got married, I was 22.  My wife was 21.  Nine months later, we had our kids.  That only is the correct way.  Nowadays, everybody’s getting married like 28,30, 32… very bad… very, very bad!

At this point, I was doing the slow burn.  I was tempted to put my fist through his judgmental face but then I remembered that I needed this arrogant bastard to write up some prescriptions for me.  So I  kept my mouth shut, got my needed prescriptions written up and got the hell out of that office as fast as possible.  What was meant to be a simple doctor’s visit ended up being an ugly reminder about the great expectations… ridiculously high expectations that me and other Indians like myself face from our families and our own Indian community every day.  Here are a few:

  1. A.  You need to get good grades – When they say good, they mean only one thing: A+ and a perfect 4.0 GPA!  Good grades in Indian terms equates to perfect grades…. no room for error! Needless to say, I didn’t quite make the cut on this one.  My GPA wasn’t too shabby, but it wasn’t quite “good” either.  I don’t mind this one so much since it sets up to do well in our careers, but one should only strive for good grades, not expect them as a minimum.
    B.      Hold a high degree like MBA or Phd – Unless you’re studying to be a doctor, you need to get one of these to be brag-worthy for your parents and relatives.  Again, I came up short.  In fact, when one of my aunts was wife-hunting for me many years ago, she felt “utterly disgraced” when she had to mention in the matrimonial ad that I only had a Bachelors degree and not a Masters.  Oh, the horror! How can she ever show her face in public again?!?! :-P
    C.      Become a doctor, IT Professional or engineer – Your parents did it, your great grandparents did it… so you should do it too right?! :-P  Gee, I wonder what they’d say about my brother, who did game programming and shader writing work for the movie industry.  Doesn’t exactly fit the mold, does he?!?!
    D.      Make a good salary – Closely tied to Expectation C.  Just like expectation A, when they say good, they mean a stable, kick-ass awesome job that pays close to six figures or more!  Only then can you afford the nice car and house that's required of you after you marry. You also need a state-of-the-art blackberry cell phone that lets you do everything, including balancing your checkbook. After all, you gotta have the bling for the marriage thing! And, oh yes… if you’re a guy, it helps to be in a leadership position in your company so that your parents, relatives and your eventual wife can brag about you to their friends and relatives about how important you are -- fervently checking your Blackberry for new emails every 2 minutes helps a lot!
    E.       Get married before age X  and have kids before age Y – Now we come to the really fun expectations – ones that have time limits! This particular expectation is one of my biggest pet peeves and my reason for writing this post.  The reasoning behind this expectation is simple – get married young… and have your kids soon so that you’ll be young enough to raise them for a long time…. and then force all these expectations on them… so that they’ll be successful and have their kids young enough… so that they’ll be young enough to raise their kids for a long time…. and you’ll be a young enough grandparent to help them out... well, you get the idea.  For the marriage requirement, if you’re a guy, age X is around 30 (well, at least it's better than that idiot doctor's ridiculous requirement of 22!); if you’re a girl, this age limit is two years before that.  As for the kids’ thing, age Y is about 18 months after age X -- within that time, you have to either conceive or give birth; otherwise, you’ll face ridicule and banishment from the Indian community - alas, I came up short here too!  Now, why did I group marriage and kids together into one category, you ask?!?!  Well… because in the Indian community, the two are one in the same! After all, the wife is just a baby-producing machine, right?!?! :-P

All these expectations are a reflection of our Indian culture which can be summed up in one word – pressure!  Pressure to be wealthy… to be successful… and push ourselves to the limit to fulfill all the expectations listed above so that we can also be considered good enough to be a normal Indian.  Narrow-minded proponents of these expectations would argue that it’s this immense pressure that turns coals into diamonds, but the same pressure can also crumble the coal to dust.  The problem with pressure is that there will be only stress/tension from trying to meet an expectation and a temporary relief from fulfilling it -- there will be no joy in anything that you do; even if you’re a coal turned diamond, you’ll never be a happy one!  Call me crazy, but that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

All these incredibly unfair expectations only make us wound up, hyper-driven and running around like rats in an endless rat race.  Take a look at these rats below:

They aren’t really rats, but all of us.... running nonstop to meet expectations... running to beat the guy/gal before you..... running to buy more things... running to keep up with the Joneses.... and running endlessly to find the happiness that eludes us every single day.  If you’re in this race, please get out of it.  Stop worrying about what other people think or expect -- do your best in your endeavors and let the chips fall where they may.  Life is too short to be a rat in a rat race.  And for those of you ultra-conservative, narrow-minded wet blankets who keep pressuring us…. please get off our backs and get yourself a goddamn life!