Saturday, April 21, 2012

Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I had been playing hide-and-seek with this book for long. I knew that it is a book I desperately want to read the day I read the first newspaper article about it, but for some reason, I always resisted buying it. The procrastination continued for more than a year. Finally, when a cousin used the benevolent flipkart phenomenon to not only bear easy on his pocket, but to also make me fall in love with him while he snugly sat in his office more than a 1000 kilometers away, I knew this book was destined to reach my hands. However, the book did not turn out to be anything I had expected it to be. It turned out different and better. Much better. 

I have stood testimony to various kinds of Indian parenting set ups. While the way kids our brought up in our country, those belonging to my generation at least, differs in very nuanced manner across the nation,- regions and communities- the Indian parenting set up is characterized by a remarkably similar lowest common denominator- that in terms of strictness. "Child is the father of Man" philosophy has not quite taken roots in our country. Our family set up thrives on a strictly built hierarchical setup, (flamboyantly patriarchal, too), where seniority is respected and juveniles are, with all good motives, thought of as nothing more than an off shoot still attached to the main body.  This off shoot is not looked at as an individual, and is most often subjected to the 'stick' approach of child rearing. I, here, by no means, talk for all of Indian parents, but as an accepted fact, Asian parenting is regarded as strict and tough on the child. Ancillary to the same generalization is the fact that Asain kids turn out to be the strongest and brightest and more precocious as compared to their western counterparts.

So, affected (and afflicted) by the most crude manifestation of brown parenting, I was kind of hoping to find some vindication in this book which promised a tour of the world of yellow parenting vis-a-vis white parenting. It did not aid my motive. Rather, the book opened my eyes to the psyche behind the stringent, often ruthless parenting which Asians are (in)famous for resorting to when it comes to the well being of their child. Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother (BHOTTM) is a treat for readers, both young and old. It deals with a topic as sensitive as bringing up a child with remarkable lightness of narrative, and wit and humor. Amy Chua, the author of this book, has written it with honesty which borders on brutal. Her tone throughout the book, is not consistent, but conforms to the ambivalent voice of a mind which has been shaken out of a process it always thought was just and proper.

BHOTTM is a memoir by Chua of how she brought up her two girls, Sophia and Louisa (Lulu) in a strict Chinese style, while co-existing with liberal American parents. Chua is a professor of law at Yale and married to a Jew. Her own childhood was a perfect example of strict, no-nonsense Chinese parenting- an institution she took after once her own daughters were born. Incidents she describes out of her ugly trysts with both her daughters could have, had it not been for the overall light and self incriminating tone of the author, pierced the calm in the mind of a reader like me. However, more than anything, those very incidents serve a purpose in stimulating the minds of readers into the dynamics that govern a Chinese (Asian) family, the bonds which hold it together. To say that Chua was hard on her daughters would be an understatement. She was the kind of mother to whom A minus grade was mortifying, who returned cards her daughters made for her birthday with arrogance and disdain for she found them shabby, who made her daughters practice piano and violin for strangely long hours during the day, who thought play was not supposed to be called an integral part of a child's upbringing, who could call her daughters garbage for underperforming. In short, she was a parent who would be a child welfare NGO's delight- a case to go after, blow out of proportions and attain glory.

It was however, Chua's defiant younger daughter, Lulu, who changed her style of looking at her children. Lulu was stubborn since her very childhood, but the day she stood upto her mother, at a mere age of thirteen, was the day Chua decided to let go. To allow her kids to find their own path.

Don't read this book as a spiced up story of someone's domestic affairs. Read this book because it has something important to discuss. Not to tell, but to discuss. This book offers contrasts of western parenting against Chinese parenting, in thought, theory and even statistics, at appropriate places. It dwells honestly on the psyche of a mother who makes her daughters' welfare her single minded focus, even to obsessive limits. It shows you how a motherly heart reaches out not to her natural offsprings, but even to others who fall under its care- in the case of BHOTTM, two incredibly cute samoyeds. It talks of the strong ties which bind Asian families, where taking care of each other is not a matter of choice, but a way of life. And finally, this book will help you understand why, despite being brought up in the strictest and devoid-of-sympathy circumstances, do Asian kids continue to revere, care for and love their parents.
Chua with her husband- Jed, two daughters-Sophia and Lulu, and her adorable samoyeds- Coco and Pushkin.

Fun and learning- this book at least wins four on five stars. More than that, this books wins my heart. Perhaps the most important thought this books conveyed to me was- Asian parents assume strength in their kids, Westerners assume weakness and gullibility. I pondered on it for long. May be you, too, will.

PS- When it comes to parenting, I always remember these words by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.


  1. hi saumya...first of all let me compliment u on how good you're looking,and after reading your blog...i feel like stretching my hand of friendship to u.i still have to read more in your blog,but from today's entry,i feel like even a home is an international play stage for parents and children.
    i mean,on tv they can be watching an american cartoon programme,whilst their parents watch a classic indian movie or serial,while their brothers and sisters listen to british pop music, all whilst living in uk or wherever.
    the old days where the whole family would sit together and watch tv have gone,and there is no discussion.
    i am very old fashioned.all my children r in the habit of listening to a bed time story before going to sleep,and that hour or so before bed is what gives the day its meaning.
    as a songwriter writing in urdu,and writing both poetry and songs in both english and urdu,i try to make my children participate in the stories i read by asking them ' what do u think happens next?' which usually brings out a few jokes and a few quarrels and a few smiles.
    similarly,i write a few lines of poetry and then tell my children to complete them.but in the society i live in,enough people call me 'weird'...i'll contribute as u start answering..i have to do the promo work for my ebooks of poetry 'irreverent natter' and 'poetry e motion' as well as completing a mukhda for an upcoming hindi/urdu album...keep in touch.

    1. It is very nice to hear from you sir!
      Thank your for the compliments, a lot.
      I am compelled to thank you more for sharing with such candour details of your life back home. There is something about this book which motivated even me to lay bare a few aspects of my personal life, but, I did censor myself in time. It means a lot that via a simple request on twitter, you took out time to express yourself here, on my blog.

      I shall keep in touch. All the best to you for your writing endeavours. Do keep me posted about your progress as a poet. My best wishes. Also, do mail me snippets of your shayari, if possible.

      Warm regards.

    2. hi saumya,
      so nice of u to reply.u should never ask a poet to share his shayari,u'll be up all night but the poet won't have finished his shaayari(ha!ha!).but i'll oblige as far as u keep replying.
      i'll give u something a bit commercial to keep the atmosphere light.The following ghazal has been made into a song and u can find it on amazon in the mp3 downloads section by searching 'zahid saani'(the name of the singer)as well as the free download sites tho. i don't know how they spell the words in the title and some don't give the name of the singer is called 'YOON DOSTON SE DUSHMANI...'.Here goes:

      Yoon doston se dushmani achhi nahin hoti
      Aye jaan-e-jaan,yeh dillagi achhi nahin hoti

      Tum ghair ki mehfil main machal jaatey ho janaan
      Hum poochhein to phir pal main badal jaatey ho janaan
      Aye dost! yeh sitamgari achhi nahin hoti
      Yoon doston se dushmani...

      Lehraa ke woh aana tera, bal khaa ke woh jaana
      hansna tera, chalna tera, nazron ko jhukaana
      Dilbar mere! yeh dilbari achhi nahin hoti
      Aye jaan-e-jaan yeh dillagi...

      Poorab se hawaa aati hai, leti hai tera naam
      Chanda ki shuaaon ne bhi bheja hai yeh paighaam
      AADIL se apney be-rukhi achhi nahin hoti
      Aye jaan-e-jaan yeh dillagi achhi nahin hoti
      Yoon doston se dushmani...

    3. Wah! Kya baat hai. This poem is indeed beautiful sir!

      I am lucky that you shared it with me.
      Much gratitude. Looking forward to more such gems from you :)