I’ve been thinking about what I will call the cyclical control of the desi parent. It’s a particular kind of desperation, combined with a power struggle and a healthy dash of guilt (the inducement of, that is). When I talk to young people, many are ruled by their parents, as many young people are. But they are ruled. Not guided. A lot of desi parents then progress to become desi parents in law, and embark upon a new adventure of control and power on the new additions to the family. When they are old, they then expect to be waited on hand and food because Religion! Religious Duty! The Right of Parents! Even if they aren’t your parents! Where does this all come from? And why are we continuing to engender it?

Parents expend a massive amount of energy, time and money on their children. This is undeniable. The sacrifices are innumerable, from careers and sanity to that lovely family heirloom someone left in a hotel bathroom or accidentally smashed. But what is vital to remember is that parenting is not really a reciprocal relationship. A parent is invariably a giver and children are takers. This is the natural order of things, and is amply addressed when they have children of their own and you have a smug little chuckle when your grandchildren put your children through the wringer. But it is unhealthy and unfair to expect a child to “repay” you do all you’ve done for them. It’s not a child’s job to try and balance that scale, because they never can, and when a parent begins to expect it then they are sending their children down a bottomless rabbit hole of guilt. It’s even worse to expect a daughter or son in law to do it.

And yet, that sword of Damocles that hangs above most desi kids’ necks: obligation. You become a doctor so you don’t upset your parents. You give up the love of your life because your mother said it would kill her. You give up professional opportunities and satisfaction because your parents are expecting you to come home. Some parents never explicitly say it but they mean it. Some parents are quite blatant about their expectations. But there is no parent who doesn’t know exactly what they are doing when they do it. All parents know their children and they know when they are being unfair to them- and many still do it anyway.

Why are we so terrified? Why do we want to keep our children on a leash their entire lives? Did we bring them into the world to be glorified nurses to us when we are old or to leave behind something of us that will make the world better for having them? How many of us really think why we want children before we actually have them? We’re still caught in the vicious cycle of expecting “good news” literal months into our arranged marriages, so that we never give couples time to even think about the why and wherefore of a child and boom! They’re parents now and everyone is congratulating them about now having a “burhapay ka sahara”, i.e that miserable adult at Heathrow who is pushing a perfectly healthy, gold-bangled, pursed-mouthed middle aged woman around in a wheelchair because that’s why you were born dammit. Why can’t you just walk, perfectly capable of walking woman, and get off your mysterious power trip?

Children don’t ask to be born. We make them happen. It’s not their fault you were pressurized, or didn’t know better, or had an accident. It’s not their fault that they took over your life and you never got it back or whatever reason one has to make a child pay one back for the rest of their adult lives. And as it is with any relationship, if you are a good and kind and loving person then you will be loved and shown kindness in return. That is the actual balance of life. Parents abuse the bond a child has with them when they expect blind loyalty and unquestioning obedience. It is cruel to make them jump through hoops for approval because all children, no matter how old, want to feel that their parents love them. And as parents our job is not to control and stifle, but to love them, to guide them, to watch out for them- and when the time comes, set them free. Any kite flier worth their salt knows that a patang soars highest when you stop clutching the dorr.