Spelling Bee

Anurag Kashyap – a second generation Indian-American won this year’s spelling competition continuing the great run of success that Indians have had in this competition. This success brings into spotlight both the strengths and weakness of the Indian community at large in India.

Second generation Indians, like their parents have been wildly successful in a variety of “upscale” professions. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers etc. In fact Indian immigrants are often compared to Jews for their similar work ethics and an emphasis on higher education. This is in stark contrast to some of other immigrants – most notably the Mexicans who do not put that much emphasis on education. My question is, are they having fun while being successful? Let me explain. Anurag Kashyap is a straight A student – his “hobby” is Science. When asked as to what was his aim in life, his answer was to go to a good college and get a good job. A commendable aim by all means – for an eight grader in India but not for the one born and raised in the US. It seems to me that first generation Indians in their zeal to make sure that their children follow in their own footsteps of traditional success are depriving them to live the American dream. The dream that says that the linear path to success is not always the most rewarding. The linear path dictates that you concentrate only on studies through your school life; that sports, voluntary and social work are usually a waste of time unless they look good on your resume. The linear path dictates that engineering, medicine or MBA are the only worthwhile careers.

You might ask that adhering to linear path got many of us to this point, to so much success so what is wrong if parents want their kids to do the same? Well there is a fundamental difference between the Indians who were born in India and are settled in the US and the ones who were born in this country. Because of the population pressure and limited opportunities in India, most of us were too busy making sure that the other person does not get ahead of us that we never ever took time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. How many of us took time off to travel across India? How many of us took time to volunteer for a favorite social cause? How many of us devoted time to pursue a favorite hobby? From the 10th boards, to the 12th boards to the engineering and medical entrance tests, to campus interviews, to GREs and CATs, to Green Card – it is one long breathless rat race.

Now we want to impose the same work ethic on second generation Indians, trying to make sure that they do not get too Americanized (whatever that means), that they take up “safe” professions. Anyone who has seen Spellbound, the documentary on the spelling bee contest knows the extent to which Indian parents goad and force these kids to be successful in this competition. So much so that neither the parents, nor the kids have any life beyond the spelling bee competition. And since only one person can win it, some of them keep coming back 2nd, 3rd and 4th time and probably return back heart broken every time. The time that they could have spent in reading that Harry Potter book, or practicing that perfect curve ball, or going for salsa classes, or visiting that national park is gone in getting the spelling for “a-p-p-o-g-g-i-a-t-u-r-a” right. What a waste of time and opportunity.

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