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!


  1. Being ambitious for one's kids isn't a bad thing. Everyone wants their kids to be well settled and not have draining financial worries later in life. But giving kids the opportunity to discover their true calling so that they match what they love doing as closely as possible with what they actually do hasn't been our (the Indian) way for a very long time. Also, we aren't educated enough about the opportunities our kids have in various fields today.

    Hopefully, we are making the effort to change; hopefully, our kids realise that and hopefully, parents who let their own ambitions and competitive spirit with other parents override every other consideration will become terribly passé amongst Indians.

    1. I agree, pushing your kids to be well settled is not a bad thing at all, which is why I don't mind being pushed to get good grades. If you can give your kids the opportunity to do what they love and be successful in it, then it's a win-win situation for both the parents and the kids. The one expectation that really pisses me off is being pressured into getting married at a certain age... having kids at a certain age, etc -- that one is just plain unfair!

      Thanks for the insightful comments, KayEm.

  2. Actually Asians are like that. BTW, you should have told the doctor that our grand parents married at 14-15, so his age is bad, very bad.

    We are in a race, we don't savor life. And then we crib of having nothing but work. We need to change and live a more wholesome life. Thank God, I don't mind what others say. I am what I am.

    1. LOL... yeah, I sure wanted to tell him off. More than anything, it's his ATTITUDE that's bad, very bad! :-P

      You're absolutely right, we keep running the rat race and don't really live life well enough when we're young. Then when we get older , it's too late. Thank god I also stopped listening to other people while I still have a life left -- I'm much better off for it now.

  3. Dark, couldn't agree with you more on all these points. Felt all of these pressures my whole life and know many Indian kids in the U.s. and around the world who have gone through similar experiences. Let me show you how I've failed to live up to the pressure of each point you make.

    My grades too were slightly above average. Even though I was getting mostly A's in school, when your peers are going to Harvard, nothing matches up!

    High degree check. But not using my high degree or the license that came with it. So fail here.

    I'm neither a doctor, IT person or engineer. Not in the sciences. Now is the time to start chanting mantras for my soul.

    Gave up high salaries every time I had the opportunity to make one to support the little guy, underdog and marginalized members of our society and community.

    I married young, divorced late and don't have kids. Epic fail.

    I've completely given up and tossed out any demands for social conformity in lieu of personal happiness. In the process, I've changed jobs to one that suits my purpose in life. Changed religions to worship the God of my heart. And changed my mentality bout culture, family and pressure. I went from one extreme (embracing all the silliness) to rejecting all the silliness. And in the process, I'm writing about it on a public blog to show the hypocricies and fear-based thinking of our culture and community!

    THanks for standing up and fighting against the high-pressure culture we live in.

    1. Wow Vishnu, I think you shared your entire life story in one post comment! :-)

      But seriously, thanks so much for your comments. When I was younger, I too was taught to embrace the stringent standards of our Indian culture for "my own good." It was only when I became older and wiser that I gave it up, and I'm so much better off for it.

      I can relate to a lot of things that you went through. It's so impossibly hard to measure up to all these expectations, and the ones I listed are just the tip of the iceberg. There are other ones like how you need to be light skinned to be considered attractive -- that's probably the worst one; it's my biggest pet peeve and it's just downright racist!

      Thanks again for your input. Hope to see you here lots more!

  4. Sometimes I feel like renouncing the world and going away to Himalayas. But they say there are yetis there and they expect you to perform much more!!

    1. LOL! Yeah I know the feeling Uma. That's the problem in India -- even the Yetis in the mountains are hyper-driven!!

  5. Very profound thoughts. Just some of the ills of our society. Loved the cartoon strip too.

    1. Thanks, glad you likeed it. Yeah, it's just one of the many ills in our society.

  6. hey I just loved this post of yours ... so true ... keep roaring ...

    1. Thanks so much Moon, glad you liked it... will keep on roaring! ;-)

  7. Compared to you, I did everything a few notches behind.

    A. Wasn't really that good, actually. Oh, I was pulling the straight A's in early years, but after I started publishing papers and doing my own research on the side, the classroom played second fiddle, and my grades went downhill from there.

    B. Still haven't done this. I am half a dropout -- I only finished one of my two majors. And for all the patents that people have that reference my old papers and with "Author's surname unknown", it doesn't really mean anything to people in our culture because there's a "B" instead of an "M" in my credentials. And it's not just us who get looked down upon as inferior beings. Our parents also get the stigma of "raising us poorly"... The same aunt you mentioned chided mom to her last breath as an abject failure of a mother.

    I also get the feeling this is a bit of a Southern thing. In the North, it seems like there are more equally superficial measures of your worth as a human being, but at least there's more than one.

    C. & D. As you already mentioned my profession -- while it may be cool to say that doing my job means I understand the connection between Einstein's field equations and the shininess of people's hair -- it doesn't have the possibility of making me even comfortable on income regardless of how much money the movies make. The problem is that working either for video games or movies means you get paid according to an equilibrium of how much your skill and experience is actually worth elsewhere and how badly you want to work in the industry.

    But at least I get to say that my official job title includes the phrase "Crimson Tiger Ninja".

    E. At least you were still in your 20s. I was 30. And we're not even considering kids until we're *both* working full time.

    This is a bit of a global cultural trend, though, and to some extent, I think this is a good thing. Getting married and having kids early had more to do with people expecting to die younger, I think. Being a male in a dominant role had more to do with the fact that women with a career was seen as an outlandish fantasy. We're better than that now as a society, and we recognize the value in doing something for ourselves before a screaming anklebiter becomes the new boss. The downside of it is that only those who are remotely educated and remotely career-oriented and have identified their long-term interests and personal goals in the first place think like this... and the rest are the ones who spit out one kid after another, and eventually, the world will be overrun with idiots.

    Hey, wait a minute....
    *looks out window*

    1. Wow, I think you beat Vishnu's post comment! *LOL*

      A. Your grades matter little now that you're a hair-animation expert! :-P

      B. You're totally right -- not only do we get labelled as failures but so do our parents as a result. But ironically, both you and I followed our own path and we have a lot more job satisfaction as a result -- those who cast us out are just crying sour grapes because we achieved something they never could.

      C & D. You may not make as much money as expected, but being a "Crimson Tiger Ninja" gives you enough importance to make up for that. Plus, it's a really nice sound bite for using at parties and other social gatherings! :-D

      E. Good, that's probably the best decision you ever made. This world has too many idiots already!

      Yeah, getting married & having kids young was mainly because of lower life expectancy, but also because there were fewer forms of entertainment back then. Times have changed and people need to adapt accordingly, no matter what their age.

  8. Very thoughtful post. I couldn't agree with you more on all these points. We, especially in India, keep running to achieve something or to fulfill our parents wishes which they could not.

    BTW, where are you these days? Can't hear your roars! :P

    1. Hey Nisha, good to hear from you after so long! Thanks for your comments... you're totally right.

      My new job eats up almost 12 hours of my day, so I don't get to blog much these days! :(

      But I'll be back soon... with a big roar! :-P