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The story that I heard today really disturbed me. I got a frantic call at 9 am this morning from someone I know very well. Tired, after a hectic weekend, I was in no mood to pick-up the call or talk to this person — however as goes my disposition, I picked up after two missed calls. This lady was calling me up to know what should she do with her twelve year old niece, studying in class -IXth? How should she counsel her? I was intrigued, asked her if there were those pre-teen age problems that many kids encounter these days involving friends, boys, and parents-children dynamics. She was confused and said I must hear the entire story before I can draw my conclusions. I am writing this article with her permission.

She told me that this young lady of twelve years has been harassing her eighty year old grandmother, to give her a complete control over her grandfather’s house and three bedrooms of that house. Not only that, she wants all the property like beds, chairs, sofas, and books, of her late grandfather removed from the rooms of the house and thrown out, because they are old and unnecessary.  She wants the house arranged as per the tastes of her and her friends. Moreover, she has apparently threatened the old grandmother to throw her out of the house if she is not given her ‘share’. I just couldn’t believe my ears — how can a twelve-year old say something like that? It’s a joint family property, the lady informed me and they have a lot of emotional attachment to these properties as the last token of memory of their late father.

Sleep vanished  and I replied “what!” How can such a small kid say these things? This is not possible — kids are completely beyond these adult skirmishes about properties and land. These are school-going children, how can they be a part of these unnecessary family quarrels.” I have briefly met this little girl before — she is a bright young lady, studying in a “good” school, getting fairly good grades. However, this came as a complete shock for me.

I hung-up and made enquiries from other family friends and they all confirmed the news. The old lady is petrified and she has been sent off to the home of some other relatives for a week or so. I called back my acquaintance and asked her that “how does this girl study? when does she get the time to study if she has been into threatening and fighting  her own folks? are the parents instigating her?” My curiosity was regarding the education and the way all these internal family disputes existing in the crumbling joint family structures affect the studies and psyche of children. As far as I remember, our parents were extremely finicky about our education. They went to the extent of being over-protective when we were studying, such that internal family matters, were kept out of the ambit of all children. We were not even invited to sit in the drawing room when uncles, aunties, parents gathered. And here is a child who is threatening her grandparent for a ‘share’ in the property! Completely incomprehensible for me.

I got a strange and intriguing response. The lady told me “You see these are the new generation children. They are very planned and focused. They know very well that CBSE boards have been relaxed and with the new grading systems, every other person gets a First Division and in fact good grades.  They are completely sure of the grades they want and the grades that they get. Moreover, they can threaten with suicides and other such steps in extreme cases, saying that studies are disturbing their mental balance. They do not aim for the best in higher studies — they know very well that a seat can be easily secured in the engineering colleges of their own locality, and after that a job in a company or a small startup is guaranteed. What else do they need? They just have to finish their school, engineering studies and go for a job. With a future as secured as that, what else do they need to do — spend time on Facebooking, talking for hours over mobile phone, or threatening grandparents to concede their properties. They are well-prepared for their future. They do not need parents to fight these battles — they can fight their own battle of inheritance.”

I am shocked  to hear this interpretation. Grades, schooling, higher-studies — everything build us up, true, but I had sincerely not thought of the moral and ethical dimensions involved in them.  It was shocking for me, because after years of higher-education, we are still unclear  about our own future — how can these kids be so secured? If they are then I would call it a dangerous level of complacence and a dangerous trend for a still developing society.

A few years ago my cousin sister-in-law had visited me at the hostel at IIT with her two and half year old kid. We went to shop in a mall. This little child was so sure of what he wanted to wear that I was completely surprised. She could not buy a single dress that was not his choice — if she did, he shrieked at the top of his voice and ran away to hide in the trial room 🙂 . I was amused then, but later was scared of the coming generations. Children being completely isolated and purely independent at very early ages disturbs me. Many of our moms still buy our clothes and advise us what to wear and what not to, friends advise us what to choose, grandparents advise us what to think, dads tell us what investments to go for, we tell ourselves which advises to seek and which not to. It is a collective activity  😦 …..

I am not a sociologist or a psychologist to be able to comment on these changes in the society. I think from an idealistic perspective.  Even though single, I am crazily fond of kids — have an idea that children can do or think no wrong and if they are, then it is we who are to be blamed. But, I am seriously rethinking our own stance as adults in the society. Are we into literacy rather than education? Education teaches you to be wise and sensible, but literacy teaches you only alphabet that can cater to your hunger, not your wisdom.  What are we doing to our children? What are we preparing them for? The case of this little girl is not an isolated case —  have been hearing similar cases for some years. I often ask my students in the class regarding what literary books have they read? They reply with none or one or two cursory readings. I find it truly dangerous — reading and reading beyond texts is important if we have to develop the ethical, moral and the ‘thinking’ side of individuals.

Agreed, that children should not be over-protected and nor should they be pampered — they should be given rights to voice their opinion. Agreed, that some grandparents are conservative to the extent of being over-interfering in the life of grand children. But, is it desirable that children should be allowed to talk about inheritance and property at such early stages? If I were a parent, I would be extremely strict about such issues being discussed by my child. It would be  unacceptable.

I am confused and nervous about this parenting business. I have heard a statement that “men go for wives who they think can prove to be good mothers for their children”. I am rather unsure of the entire adult population now, men or women — you might call me old fashioned or conventional, but a generation that doesn’t care for its senior citizens will be insensitive towards a lot of other things in my opinion. You might agree or choose to disagree.