The kids aren’t alright

Parenting is hard, but in Bangladesh, it is downright lamentable

  • Photo- BIG STOCK
If you’ve lived in Dhaka for even a couple of years, you’re bound to have encountered one or more of the following scenarios.
Scene 1:
Midweek, and as you clock out from work, you get the munchies for something salty and cholesterol-rich, so you head to the nearest FC place for a quick bite. No sooner do you enter, than you are confronted by a gaggle of screaming, overweight children running amok, red faces and bare feet, followed by at least one harassed-looking maid, not much older than the kids she is minding. You wonder where the parents of these little beasts are, but it’s hard to pin-point, as the tables are taken up by adults determined to avoid eye-contact because for the blessed hour or so that they are at this FC place, they can hang up their parent hats and relax.
Scene 2:
Overheard conversation between mothers of young kids
Bhabi 1: Oh Bhabiiii….my little Puttush is sooo smart! She’s memorised the lyrics of all the latest Bollywood ‘item numbers’! She can do the whole Ishq Kameena dance! And she’s only seven! She’s totally addicted to these movies.
Bhabi 2: My Gollu Mollu too! He’s only two, but he can already operate my iPad and his Baba’s iPhone. Even I don’t know how to do all those app-tapp type things! I’m going to have to get him his own tablet soon.
Scene 3:
You’re at a typical large Bangladeshi wedding. The hall is full of people, the bride and groom on the stage, beset by photographers. Steaming plates of biriyani are being transported to the various tables as the guests in all their finery make small talk.
At some point, the parents of the bridal couple announce that it’s time for the munazat. A hush falls over the venue, as heads are bowed in prayer. As if on cue, the silence is shattered by the ear-splitting shrieks of someone’s toddler. Deadly glares pierce the embarrassed childminder who tries everything from jiggling the kid in her arms to pleading for quiet in a pained whisper. All this does is encourage the child to scream even louder. Adele herself could probably not achieve this kind of lungpower as the wailer, red-faced from effort, throws everything into a screaming crescendo. The other guests fidget irritably through the prayer, concentration blown to kingdom come.
There are more, but you probably get an idea. There’s something seriously wrong with our children.
Over the last few decades, the parks and playgrounds in Dhaka have disappeared, as have bookstores, all replaced by shiny malls and fast-food joints. Games of cricket in the alleyway between neighbours have been replaced with tabs and smartphone apps, home-cooked meals with fried chicken, pizza and cola, and books with their 3D movie adaptations.
We’re forcing artery-clogging, sodium rich and sugary poison into their systems, even as we starve them of much-needed nutrients. We’ve replaced real sports and games with video games, bed-time stories with Bollywood. Instead of study-time with parents, they get bounced around from tutor to tutor, before coming home, too exhausted to think. We’ve crippled their imaginations with apps and toys that do all their thinking for them. We’ve replaced quality family time with stuff, human interactions with social networking (yes, kids as young as 11 are seen to have Facebook accounts). Somewhere along the line, we’ve horribly failed our children.
Yes, maybe this is a generalisation, and yes, even if it was not, it’s true that parenting is not an easy job, particularly in urban Bangladesh today, which demands more women in the workplace but doesn’t give working mothers the necessary support system, and doesn’t even have a blueprint to consider the father’s role in all of this. This is precisely why we need to rethink this South Asian obsession with babies.
Pretty much every young person, man or woman, is groomed with the intention of ultimately maintaining a family, be it learning domestic skills to please the hubby and feed the kids, or getting a fancy degree and landing a well-paying job to snag a pretty bride. Even before the ink dries on the marriage certificate, ‘well meaning’ relatives start coming out of the woodwork, asking when the stork will come knocking on the door.
Here’s one thing very few of us stop to consider: not everyone is cut out to be a parent. Parenting is a lifetime commitment, comprising serious responsibilities and enormous sacrifices. Not everyone has the temperament, emotional maturity or even financial stability to manage such an undertaking. There are challenges enough living life in this country, keeping oneself on track, without bringing another life into the equation.
Kudos to all those parents, and there are still plenty, who rise against the odds, and make the sacrifices in order to get it right. The truth remains, though, that there are plenty more who are completely clueless, and the ones that pay the price are the kids.