By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
23 March 2016
Recently, I’ve been reading up on a subject that I’ve always felt strongly about—parenting. When I was younger, there was relatively little literature on parenting. But now, there’s plenty available—on the Internet and in newspapers, in magazines devoted specifically to parenting and in numerous books on the subject.
In addition to the burgeoning literature on parenting, there’s another wonderful source of wisdom on the subject: listening to people reminisce about their childhood experiences. This isn’t as simple as it sounds, however, because people today are generally so caught up with their ultra-busy lives that few might be willing or able to spare the time you need for this. Recently, though, I was fortunate to find someone generous enough to share two whole hours of his, sharing the story of his childhood and providing me some amazing ideas about wise parenting.
Sanjay (29) has been working as a cook in my mother’s house for almost a decade now. He’s honest, hardworking, cheerful and very positive. He remembers his childhood with great fondness. “If you see anything good in me,” he says, “it’s because of my parents and the way they brought us up.”
Growing up in a landless rural family in eastern India, life as a child was far from easy for Sanjay. Sometimes, there was little to eat at home. Yet, his parents, he says, gave their children all that they needed—including, and especially, great love.
Sanjay gets to meet his parents once a year, when he gets a month’s leave. But he stays in touch with them every day by phone. When he told me this, I unthinkingly remarked that I thought that was being a bit excessive. What was there to talk to them about every single day? Didn’t he get tired answering the same old questions, like, ‘How was your day?’, ‘What are you doing?’, ‘How’s the weather?”, “What did you have for lunch?” and so on? Didn’t it get boring after a while? And wasn’t it also a rather unnecessary expense, I asked.
“Arey Bhaiya!” Sanjay retorted, “Think of all that our parents have done for us! Compared to that, spending a few rupees a day to call them is nothing! Speaking to them is the high-point of my day! It never gets boring. I just love listening to their voice, even if they ask me the same old questions!”
Sanjay then went on to tell me more about his childhood:
“God truly blessed me by giving me the parents He did. They are very wise and kind-hearted people. They know what love is. After all, they had an inter-caste love marriage, facing the wrath of their families. This was at a time when love marriages even between two people of the same caste were rare. I think because they deeply loved each other—and they still do, 35 years later—they were able to give us children so much love, too. I’ve worked in many peoples’ houses in big-big cities—people with a lot of money, people who have studied in big-big universities in America and England, people who live in big-big bungalows. But I have yet to see the sort of love and respect among them that our family has been blessed with. I don’t say money and university education are bad things. But what’s the use if you have a big-big bungalow and many, many cars and you have studied abroad in some big-big university but you don’t have love and respect for others in your heart, including for your spouse and children? My parents didn’t read books on parenting, like you are doing these days Bhaiya, and yet they knew how to rear their children well!
“Bhaiya, you ask me why I call my parents every day. I know you think it’s a bit too much, but I really love speaking to them and hearing their voices. If they hadn’t given us so much love when we were children, I guess I wouldn’t want to call them—at least not as often as I do now. In almost all of the big-big families that I’ve worked with I’ve seen that there’s little love between people. Some of them actually hate each other but live under the same roof only because they have no choice. In many such homes, mother and father work outside, and so what happens to the child? He’s sent, even at the age of two, to play-school! And when he is brought back home, what happens? He’s put in front of the TV or given many toys to play with or a maid entertains him so that his parents can do what they like—maybe chat on their phones or work on their laptops or go out for parties and to malls and hotels. If you don’t spend enough time doing things with your children, how do you expect them to grow up to love you? No wonder many children become lonely and depressed and don’t have any love for their parents.
“My mother doesn’t know even A, B, C. She can sign only with her thumb.
My father studied till Class 5. But you know what, Bhaiya? Our parents were always there for us. We’d come back from school and run into Ma’s waiting arms. In the evenings, we’d go with Baba, my father, for a walk to the village pond. At night, Ma or Baba would tell us a story. All of us—Baba, Ma and us children—would work together, doing household chores, collecting firewood and cow-dung for fuel, bathing in the river, and in the morning and before going to bed, we’d pray together as a family. If we didn’t do things together like that, if my parents hadn’t bothered to spend time with us, I don’t think we’d be such a loving, closely-knit family. We siblings—my brother, sister and I—are very close even though we live far apart, and that’s because of the love that our parents had for each other and for us.
“When I say my parents showered us with a lot of love, I don’t mean to say they couldn’t be strict when they needed to. But even then, they combined strictness with love. There’s one incident I’ll never forget—it had such an impact on me! I was around 6 years old at that time. There was an old man called Kanu Da in our village who was mentally retarded. His hut was next to ours. Every day, he’d go around the village begging—that’s how he survived.
“One day, some of us friends were playing hide-and-seek, and one of us—Raju, who was considerably older than the rest—peeped into Kanu Da’s hut. There, he saw a bag full of coins and notes lying on the floor. He went inside the hut and discovered that Kanu Da was away. He excitedly called us to join him.
“‘Arey! So much money! So much money!’ I remember exclaiming as I entered the hut and saw the bag. I hadn’t seen so much money ever before!
“We hurriedly grabbed as much money as we could, stuffing it into our pockets, and then ran out. But the truth always comes out, some time or the other. Somehow, later that day, our fathers came to know what we had done. Raju’s father gave Raju a sound thrashing. You could hear him hollering at him a mile away. But you know what my father did? He didn’t beat me or shout at or abuse me. He said to me, gently but firmly, ‘Son, I heard what you did this morning. Kanu Da is a very poor man. Poorer than even us. He is mentally retarded. You know that he cannot work. No one will give him a job. Imagine if you were in his place. How would you feel if someone robbed your money?’
“When Baba said that, I tried to put myself in Kanu Da’s place. I imagined living in that little hut made of mud and straw, all alone. I pictured myself leaning on a walking stick, going out every day around the village, begging from house to house, sometimes getting a few coins or a couple of cold Rotis, at other times nothing but abuses and scorn. I tried to feel what Kanu Da must feel every day. It was horrible!
“‘Tell me, son, how would you feel if you were Kanu Da and someone stole your money?’ Baba repeated after a while.
“‘I would feel awful, Baba,’ I replied, tears welling in my eyes.
“‘Okay, so what would you like to do now?’ Baba asked.
“‘I’m going to Kanu Da’s house to give back the money I took from him,’ I stuttered.
“‘That’s like my son. God bless you,’ Baba said. I could see, even from a distance, that there were tears in his eyes too.
“I rushed to Kanu Da’s hut, clutching the money I had stolen in my hands. Luckily, Kanu Da wasn’t in. If he had been, it would have been very embarrassing to have to face him. I quickly placed the money where I had taken it from and ran back home. You won’t believe how relieved I was that I had made amends for my crime! It lifted the burden of guilt all at once.
“It was amazing the way Baba handled the situation. He taught me the importance of honesty that day, and in such a nice way that I’ll always remember it. The way he passed on this message to me made me love him even more. Supposing he had beaten me and abused and shouted at me like Raju’s father had done, do you know what might have happened, Bhaiya? I would have hated him for that, and instead of vowing never to steal again, I might have stolen even more, even if just to defy him. That’s in fact what Raju did. He became a habitual stealer. Maybe if his father had tried to correct him the way my father did—firmly but with love—he wouldn’t have ruined his life.
“In life, what’s most important is your faith in God and your character. This is what my parents taught us. They didn’t give us a big bank balance or a big house or fancy clothes. They couldn’t afford to educate us further than primary school. But they gave us the two most valuable gifts in the world—faith in God and a sound morality. I don’t know what’s written in the books about parenting that you have been reading Bhaiya, but I do know that a good parent must help their children grow in faith in God and provide them good Sanskars and be concerned with their moral development.
“Many parents don’t think that way, however, these days. They think that good parenting means sending your children to an expensive, English-medium school, gifting them costly gadgets, and taking them out to fancy hotels and parties. That’s what I’ve seen in many of the houses I’ve worked in. They care little for the spiritual and moral development of their children—and so it’s hardly surprising that their children grow up to be selfish, rude and greedy and have no respect for others, not even for their own parents. No wonder these families are full of tension and conflict.
“But, Bhaiya is how life is to be lived? Is this what God has made us for? If you lack faith in God and morality, you may possess the biggest house in the world and the largest fleet of cars, but what’s the use? You may have a fancy degree from a foreign college, but if you are not a loving, considerate person, it’s all useless. You may have a huge bank balance, but if you’ve forgotten your Creator and have, instead, made this world your god, your life is a total waste.
“So, to come back to the question you asked of what I think is the best way of parenting, I’d say that the best parents are those who help their children grow in faith in God and in character—after all, your devotion to God and your good deeds are the only two things that will accompany you to your grave when you depart from this world. And on that account, I think I have been blessed with wonderful parents. I couldn’t have asked for more.”