Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The ABCD experience

The ABCD experience
[ Sunday, April 30, 2006 02:45:25 amTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

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Till recently, the acr-onym ABCD, for Am-erican Born Confused Desi, had a slightly pejorative ring to it. It is used to describe mostly first generation US-born children of Indian immigrants, who, the premise went, were conflicted between their American upbringing and Indian roots.

In recent years, the expression is starting to lose resonance as the distance between India and the United States shrinks.

Now, it's as likely that A R Rahman will have a concert in Dallas as in New Delhi. You can access Bharatnatyam lessons in Baltimore or tabla classes in LA with the same ease as in Bangalore or Lucknow. With 24x7 Indian TV channels, almost zero-cost communication, and non-stop flights, India is just a click, call, or flight away.

Many ABCDs here are now less confused than the DCABs (Desis Chasing American Baits) shambling around India's shiny new malls.

My own exposure to ABCDs has been mixed and varied. Some are conflicted, but most seem accomplished, balanced, confident, and most of all, driven (didn't have to try hard to confect that abcd sequence.) They blend easily in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural America, comfortable in their Indian skin and American mindset.

There isn't any empirical evidence to back this, but random appraisal and anecdotal accounts suggest that ABCDs are the most successful immigrant children, matched only by Jewish kids. Pop into any Ivy League campus or any business or medical school to see this.

If it isn't a Goldberg, it's a Gandhi, a friend of mine likes to say. Of all the ABCD qualities, the most intriguing one is how driven they are. It seems failure is not an option for these kids. In many cases, they are not self-driven as motivated or goaded by high-achieving parents.

The saga of Ka-avya Viswanathan, the chick-lit phenom /plagiarist is emblematic of this pattern. Strictly speaking, Chennai-born Kaavya is not an ABCD. But her parents, both doctors, moved West when she was three, first to Scotland, and then to the US when she was 11, so she grew up in the West.

The story she was writing was her own — the pressure on an Indian-American girl to excel academically. The words to express this story — at least some — were, alas, borrowed.

Indian-American children are mostly privileged. Their parents have the highest income and academic profile in the country. Kaavya's parents — neurologist dad and gynaecologist mother — could pony up $10,000 to prepare her for Harvard.

More and more, well-heeled Indian parents are pulling kids out of public schools and putting them in private schools where fees range from $12,000 to $15,000 a year.

They are driven from a young age — from dance classes to piano lessons to tennis clinics — by feverish parents spurring them to success, sometimes a little too insistently.

The ABCD experience was best captu-red in a remarkable 2003 documentary called Spellbound on the US National Spelling Bee Championship. One of the finalists is an Indian-American whose father is so hungry for his sons, success that he hires Latin, French and German tutors to prepare him for the most obscure English words.

Back in India, his grandfather feeds 5,000 poor people to pr-ay for his success. The kid cruises thr-ough the most difficult words till he trips when asked to spell Darjeeling. "What's the origin of the word?" he asks.

Clearly, you can never prepare enough for success or failure. So here is my $0.02 suggestion for parents: Go easy on the kid; it's okay to be average.


starry nights said...

Beautiful post.My kids are ABCD but thats not how I have raised them.They go to public school,do well in school and are not spoiled.You should read the post I wrote about my sons poem ,it is true that most people place too much emphasis on education and want them to be the best in everything they do.Now I know it is wrong.Each child should be given room to grow and not pushed. all children are not born equal. Its the parents fault not the childs.

Aditi said...

Yea Kavya's incident has brought to the fore the pressure the children face. But unfortunately its not just there or else india wouldnt have suicides when exam results were announced. So again I claim its not just the indian americans who face this but maybe the ones in india as well

Id it is said...

Where mediocrity is bliss, it's folly to be outstanding! The US mindset cannot understand the drive of the Indian mind.