Overparenting….yes, there really is such a term


Yes, there is such a term called ‘over-parenting’. Read this Wikipedia article about the same.

I first heard (or actually read) about this particular phenomenon some months ago when I read this article about the book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ written by Amy Chua. You can read enough and more articles supporting and against this particular book and its concepts all over the internet, just google “Tiger Mother” and you will find hundreds or even thousands of articles.

What prompted this post was the fact that I came across this article in Firstpost about how today’s parents put too much pressure on their kids to perform well not just at school and academics but also outside of school, in the playground, at home, wherever they are, whatever they do.

My wife and me noticed the fact that most of the lanes around where we stay in Bangalore are crowded with pre-schools/play-schools and how all of them seem to have some or the other summer camp going on. From teaching kids painting, dancing, crafts, and all other assorted types of hobbies. We have started this daily walk habit and everyday we take a different route to walk in, and everyday we notice new pre-schools and play-schools, but one theme is common, all of them are in the Summer Camp season right now. This led to both of us wondering what we used to do when we were kids. And the consensus was that we pretty much used to spend time either at home, or at an uncle’s house with our cousins doing nothing focused, playing games at random, enjoying the summer sun, and the glorious outdoors with minimum adult supervision. Yes, we might not have realized our true potentials as painters, dancers or singers, but we turned out Ok, didn’t we!!!

Having said that, our parents led less hectic and tedious lives. They didn’t have to travel 25+ kms a day to office, they didn’t have to drive through ‘road-rage’ filled traffic, they didn’t have to contend with as much pollution, they didn’t have to fight tooth and nail to get good appraisals and promotions, they didn’t have to worry too much about job security, etc. As parents nowadays, all of the above items are realities. As adult individuals, if we face so many problems, then just add the children variable to the equation and it is quite clear that today’s parents are screwed.

Today, we have to necessarily worry about our careers and the money we make simply because pot loads of money is what is required to ensure that our kids have a good future. Something as basic and simple as a pre-school costs at least INR 5000/- for a trimester, and I am not even talking about the world-class pre-schools, but regular neighborhood aunty-variety ones. A school admission in any decent school (meaning one with qualified, accredited, good teachers) does entail some kind of donation irrespective of whichever politician or policeman you know. Add to this the cost of uniforms, books, school bus, other related items such as stationery, accessories, etc, and all of this in today’s prices adds up to quite a bit.

And guess what, given the number of kids that are enrolling in decent schools, the competition for any decent degree such as a BE, B’Tech, B Sc, B Com, BA, etc has also exponentially increased. Making our kids employable is another costly story which I am not even getting into.

The above two paragraphs kind of explain why today’s parents are anxious to ensure that anything and everything related to their kid’s development and education happen without a glitch. Where today’s parents make the mistake is when they get personally involved with their kid’s learning (not education but the learning process itself). Today’s parents are not allowing their kids to make mistakes and learn from them. Yes, kids require hand-holding, but it is only when kids fall down will they learn that falling down hurts, but they also learn that when they fall down, all they have to do is to stand up, brush themselves off and continue walking once again. They need to learn that falling down is only a temporary setback and not a permanent one. As parents, our responsibility is to ensure that kids learn to stand back up on their own, learn to brush themselves off, and teach them to start walking again. We need to teach our kids how to overcome temporary setbacks, rather than taking steps to ensure that they never face setbacks or failures.

In fact, this wonderful article from The Atlantic goes on to talk about why parents should allow their kids to fail once in a while, as it makes the kids tougher, grittier and stronger to face bigger failures when they are older. This other article from The Atlantic talks about how parents from different parts of the world perceive their children’s state of mind, and it is interesting to note that American parents seem to focus more on the cognitive development of their kids whereas European parents seem to focus more on the state of mind of the kid. Europeans seem more laidback when compared to Americans in terms of how their kids develop ‘scientific skills’ compared to ‘life skills’. I personally would love my daughter to develop more life skills as I believe these will anyways help her pick up scientific skills later on an ‘as-required’ basis and thank God, my wife agrees with me on this.

Image courtesy: http://blessedexistence-blessed.blogspot.com

Work-Life Balance…some thoughts


The term ‘work-life balance’ is a loosely used term and means different things to different people. However, consensus is that most of us use the term in the following sense. It basically refers to a situation where we are provided with enough opportunity, time and energy to pursue our passions, hobbies and interests outside of office. While for most of us this might just mean spending time with the family, kids at home, for a few of us, this might also refer to the fact that we have enough time to train for marathons, pursue hobbies like trekking, cycling, quizzing, theatre, music, reading, etc. In a nutshell, work-life balance refers to a situation where we have enough time outside of office to take a break, unwind and recharge our batteries which will directly contribute to our productivity inside office as well.

However, given that most of us spend at least 12 hrs outside of home every day, including travel time to and from office, this term has become just a dream. Added to that is the fact that most of us live in nuclear families and consequently most of our weekends are spent in purchasing groceries, cleaning our homes, paying utility bills, etc. We therefore are pretty much left with no time to pursue any kind of interests or hobbies. In fact the situation is so bad for most of us that we only have around an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening when we get to see our spouse, kids, talk to them and spend some quality time with them.

As if this was not bad enough, all the time we spend in office is also spent tackling hectic deadlines, pressure-filled deliverables, managing hyper competitive colleagues who will snatch away that elusive 1st bucket rating and promotions, and ever demanding supervisors. All our time in office is spent either looking at our monitors or over our shoulders at what people sitting around us are doing to get that competitive edge over them. Even the people who profess not to be worried by appraisals and promotions do get affected to whatever small extent when they see that the person who got promoted was someone who in their opinion was not necessarily a deserving candidate.

Add to this the tension we all face in our journey to and from office. Even if we are using company transport, the fact that the bus drivers make it a point to make the journey like a roller-coaster ride does not help. The loud blaring horns, the constant swerving and changing of lanes, the frequent sudden brakes, all of this make this journey a terrible one. I am not even going to talk about the people who use their own transport to office. Lesser said about their travails, the better.

The easiest thing for all of us to do in such situations is to blame our supervisor, our boss, our company for ensuring such a bad work-life balance for all of us. But how many of us have taken a step back and thought about how much responsibility we ourselves should take for the situation we find ourselves in. Yes, client commitments, deadlines, timeline pressures, etc are not self imposed, but the high expectations we have from ourselves, our desire to get a 1st bucket appraisal every time, our desire to get promoted every 24 months, all of these are our own doing, right???

That and the fact that we all get so caught up in the rat race, that we don’t realize when we succumb to mob mentality and start running with the crowd. Most of the times, we do things because everyone around us is doing it. We want a promotion, earn more money, because everyone wants that. How many of us stop and think, hey, is that what I really want from life? Am I not better off spending more time with my family, loved ones, doing things that I really love doing? How many of us ask ourselves these questions?

Read this wonderful thought-provoking article in the Fortune magazine which asks us to stop blaming our boss for a crazy work-life. Although the examples and references are to the US context, am sure we are all smart enough to draw parallels to our Indian context and glean necessary lessons from the same.

Image courtesy: www.dilbert.com

The Curse of Parikshit

Once King Parikshit went hunting to a forest. After hunting for a long time he became very exhausted and searched for wells or tanks of water but couldn’t find any. While wandering for water he happened to reach Sage Sameeka’s hermit. He saw the Sage engrossed in deep Samadhi with disheveled locks of hair. The king asked for some water but the sage didn’t wake up from his meditation. This angered the king who thought that the sage was pretending to be in meditation and in his anger he took a dead snake of his hunt and put it over Sage Sameeka’s neck. He then went away in great antagonism.

The son of the sage who was playing with his friends when this incident happened. When the son came to know of his father’s insult through his spiritual power he cursed the King in great anger. He told that a Kshatriya whose duty is to protect the Brahmanas has got into the house and insulted Him and thus shall die of a serpent Takshaka’s bite in seven days. He then went to the hermit and pulled out the dead snake from his father’s neck and cried loudly. Hearing the cries of the boy the hermit woke up and the boy told the sage of what had happened. The Sage admonished the foolishness of the boy because a king is like a divine being that protects his country from enemies, makes it prosperous and controls theft and law-breakers. The sage knew that the King Parikshit was a protector of Dharma, a man of great reputation and a one who is deeply devoted to God.

A true devotee of the Lord, though he may be endowed with power will never retaliate for an injury done to him.

The holy man thus expressed his regret for the sin committed by his son; he was never concerned about the insult on him as he depended only on his Atman.

Meanwhile the king returned from his hunt and began to repent over his act of insulting a holy man and a Brahmana. While engaging in such thoughts he heard about the curse and immediately decided to go to the banks of Ganga and fast unto death. He decided to meditate of the Lord abandoning all attachments and adopting as ascetic’s life.

Hearing about Parikshit’s fast on the banks of Ganga many renouned Maharshis, Rajarshis and Devarshis flocked around the king. The king prostrated at their feet and told them that he is the most fortunate among kings to have got this curse and take a path of renunciation and devotion to the Lord. He told them of his desire to hear about the excellences of the supreme Lord and increase his love towards God.

{To be continued}

Customer Service in India….not quite dead yet…


When we talk of ‘customer-service’ in India, I am reminded of what my Services Marketing Professor back at IIM Indore used to tell…in India, a customer is one who will “kasht-mar”, loosely translated in Hindi, it means “someone who will die (mar) due to the kasht (troubles)” caused by the seller. Using that analogy, you can imagine my impressions of customer-service in India. And truth be told, in the 20+ yrs that I have actively, individually been using services in India such as banks, mobile phones, mobile service providers, cable TV providers, and other such assorted services, the customer-service has been nothing too great. In fact, if I managed to get decent service, that was a bonus, and if I managed to get a smile from the service provider, that was like a double bonus 🙂 .

The entire above paragraph was just to give the readers an idea about my general perception of customer service in India. Please note that these views are based purely on my personal experiences and are probably not a general statement about all service providers across India.

This being said, when I walked into GK Vale, Photographers, at the New BEL Road branch at Bangalore for two simple requests, I wasn’t expecting too much from them. All I wanted them to do was to scan one photo and give me 3 prints of a larger size. And the second request was to cut out one person from one photo and another person from another photo and merge them both into one new photo and give me 3 prints of the new photo. Simple enough, right?

Wrong…first up, the person behind the counter, the so called ‘expert’ informed me that the merging cannot be done without even enquiring with the person who was actually in charge of the merging process. He didn’t even bother asking the Adobe Photoshop expert whether it could be done and flatly refused even to take the order. It took my intervention and speaking to the person behind the computer and showing her the two photos after which he took the order for the merging.

I was then informed that the merging would take place on the system after approximately 12 hrs and that I would be required to come back to the showroom on Sunday morning at around 11 AM to confirm whether the merge was correct, and then the photo would be printed and delivered to me by around 6 PM on Sunday evening. While I didn’t understand why it would take them that much time, I consented for the same.

On Saturday evening at around 4 PM I was then called on my phone and informed that the merging was done on the system and that I had to approve of the same before the photo could be printed. When I went back to the showroom, one person was watching some B-Grade horror movie on one computer, and another person was checking his Gmail. While I understand that these things can be done when there are no customers around, the fact that even after I entered the store and stood there for a good two minutes without anybody caring for me, while the movie viewing and mail checking was going on was quite disturbing to say the least. After a while, the person watching the movie turned around and asked me what I wanted. When I told her that somebody had called me to approve of the merged photo, she just turned around and continued watching her movie. After standing there quietly for around 2 more minutes, when I asked her what to do next, she told me that the person performing the merge had gone out and would be back in 15 mins. I then sat down waiting for the Photoshop expert to arrive.

And then when the expert did arrive, she promptly parked herself next to this lady and started watching the movie. It was only when I spoke to her and told her that I had come over to approve a photo did she get up and show me the merged photo.  I was then informed that I could collect all my photos, 3 prints of the enlarged photo and 3 prints of the merged photo at 8.15 PM the same evening.

Then I made my third trip to the showroom at 8.15 PM on Saturday, when I was informed that while 3 prints of the merged photo were available, only 2 prints of the enlarged photo were available. Apparently there was some error when they placed the order with the lab where these photos were printed. While errors are acceptable, the fact that the information was provided to me without so much as a simple “sorry” or any kind of regret in behavior/tone of voice/attitude was what irritated me to the core.

I was asked to come on Sunday evening at 3 PM to collect the one remaining print.

All of these experiences ticked me off so much that I went ahead and did something for the first time in my life. I actually sat down and narrated these experiences in a mail and sent it to 3 mail ids which were mentioned in the store as Customer Care mail ids. The typing out and sending out of the complaint itself were my wife’s and my way of letting out our frustrations without actually hoping for any kind of responses or results.

What happened later completely took my wife and me by surprise. We actually got a call from the CEO of GK Vale enquiring about the exact nature of my complaint. We were then informed that this particular branch, the New BEL Road one was 1 of 5 franchisees of GK Vale and that there were 26 other stores in Bangalore, Mangalore and Hubli which were run by the company itself. Apparently, a few other customers had complained about the poor customer service at this particular branch and the franchisee had already been warned about the same. Based on what the CEO told me, I get the feeling that this was the last straw and that the company would withdraw the franchise from this particular guy.

What happens to the New BEL Road franchise is not the point of this long post at all. Rather, the fact that somebody as big as the CEO of the company took time out to read my mail and give me a call, apologize for what happened and explain the corrective action being taken in this regard, that completely surprised me and left behind a really good opinion about the individual and the brand in question. For an Indian brand to be so sensitive to its customer opinions, take action based on complaints, and that too so promptly, was really surprising to me. I guess Indian consumers still have some hope for better customer service after all.

On a related note, read this Firstpost article about the author’s experience with Amazon.com customer- service.

Image courtesy: GK Vale official website

The Battle of the Bulge – The science behind junk food



Am sure all the readers of this blog love their junk food fix. For some it might be their packet of Lays, for some it might be a can of Coke, for some others it might be their favorite ice cream. But for a moment, have any of us thought about how much harm the same does to our bodies and health.

Most of us today lead a sedentary lifestyle, ie, we don’t do too much physical activity other than walk up to the bus stop to catch our office buses, move our fingers around on a keyboard, move our hands to click on the mouse button, etc. As if this was not bad enough, we end up adding more and more calories to our systems with all the junk food that we have.

I just read this long article from the New York times [Link to article] which talks about how the biggest snack brands of the US have conveniently ignored the perils of producing, aggressively marketing and selling their products to the US market for at least 30+ years now which have resulted in a significant portion of US adults and teenagers suffering from problems such as obesity, gout and junk food addiction.

The article cites examples of all the brands pictured above – Dr. Peppers, Lunchables, Frito Lays and Coke and goes on to describe how each of them have used consumer research and science to make their products achieve what is called the ‘bliss point’, the exact point at which consumers get that AHA moment and where the product satisfies their innermost cravings.

Read this well researched article and you might just think twice before you pick up that packet of chips again at the supermarket.

PS: In case you are wondering what the baby carrots are doing in the picture above, read on until the end of the article to find out more.

Images courtesy : Collage of images found using Google’s image search option