Tigers dont purr softly


I was born in the Year of the Dragon. That’s all I know. And now I also know that I am not a Tiger. Definitely not a Tiger Mom.

Hoping that the Goa trip would give me a few hours to catch up on some reading, I hurriedly picked up ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom’ by Amy Chua from Flipkart. Till now I had only read a few reviews and heard her hold her own with Bill Maher on his weekly podcast. I was curious. How hard can it be to be a Tiger Mom? Doesn’t it come naturally to most Indian moms too? Boy was I off the mark!

Firstly, I love her style of writing – dry humour that’s so effortlessly thrown in that you are really not sure if she’s joking or serious. Sometimes she is saying something so outrageous that you hope and pray she is joking. Mostly she is not.

Secondly, she eases you into her story so well, kinda catches you unawares and before you know it you are in this whirlwind of parenting extremes, hoping to come out alive!

Thirdly, on some level I identify with her and I feel I know her. As a kid I spent a few of my formative years studying in a public school in New York City. I know girls like Sophie and Lulu (her daughters). Playing the piano or violin was part of their identity, the skill was their strength. The rest of us secretly admired them, knowing that hours of dedication went into turning talent into music. But as a kid, I never pictured the Mom behind the curtains. And now as a parent, I find it difficult to put myself in the girls’ shoes. I can only be the Mom now.

As I cross the first few pages, I find myself grinning along, telling myself this is easy stuff and how she is bang on about how the Chinese parenting style produces winners. At this stage I am convinced that I too should practice what she preaches (and practices) – push the girls to achieve because they dont know any better, build their self-esteem from genuine achievement and not empty praise. Walk the Talk, I am telling myself and nodding at Amy.

Then slowly she starts to reveal her true methods. I flinch. She gets tougher, more driven, less mercy. I try to look away. But I am hooked now. Is this mother for real? And these girls are still sticking the course? How is her American husband even tolerating this?

They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. That’s so many hours borrowed from doing something else. At the slightest voice of discomfort or fatigue, I would allow K to stop what she is doing and take a break. That’s cowardice? I don’t have the inner strength to push her towards what’s good for her? In a perfect world every parent would find that perfect balance between pushing and letting go. In a perfect world. In this world, we too have to make a choice, get off the fence and lean one way.

But this is the reality. And it works. These kids do excel in their chosen field. Do they gain more than they lose? The second child rebels and her interactions with Lulu have some heart-wrenching moments, where I feel I am standing in the same room but unsure which side I am on. Choices. That’s what it all comes down to.

The only true lesson for me is that I need to invest more of my time and energy in my girls’ future. It’s my job to walk them down the chosen path. Yes, some choices will be mine but also some will be theirs. For the greater good. Because not trying at all is just not good enough.

If you are a parent, go read this book. Or don’t. The choice is always yours.