14 Surprising Things About Parenting In India | Cup of Jo

Parenthood in India

To our next Parenting around the world interview we spoke with Gopika Kapoor, a writer and neurodiversity consultant who lives in Mumbai with her husband and twin children. Here she describes arranged marriages, a deep reverence for grandparents and raising a child with autism in India…

Parenthood in India

Gopika’s Background: Born and raised in Mumbai, Gopika now lives with her lawyer husband, Mohit, with whom she is raising twins Vir and Gayatri. “I’ve lived in Mumbai all my life, except for two years when I worked as a journalist in Boston,” she says. “I moved back because this crazy, crowded, chaotic city is home.”

But when her son was diagnosed with autism at age three, Gopika struggled to navigate the school system, face crushing social stigma, and find resources and books about autism written in the context of a developing country. After learning all she could while fighting for her son, she became an autism therapist and is now one of India’s leading disability advocates. Her latest book, Beyond the Blueshares her beautifully honest story of raising a child with autism in India.

Today, Gopika’s children are 17 and thriving. Gayatri is an old soul who enjoys writing poems, playing her ukulele and petting the family bulldog. Vir is a visual thinker. He puts together 1000 piece puzzles and built his own radio and battery powered car. “Gayatri means ‘warmth, sunshine, wisdom’ and Vir means ‘brave,'” explains Gopika. “Both kids live up to their names.”

Parenthood in India

The slums and high-rises of Mumbai

In an exclusive apartment: We live in a three-room apartment in a closed area. In India there is a huge divide between rich and poor. Instead of saying ‘I live in Mumbai’, I often say I live in ‘my Mumbai’ as I don’t live the same life as someone who lives in a slum or someone who lives in a house ( multi-family tenancies) houses where a family shares a room). People in different parts of the country live in completely different ways – with their own cuisines, languages, clothes and cultures.

About representative films and books: The movie The white tiger feels very real to me that it does All the beautiful eternities by Katherine Boo. And in the book Sup (meaning quiet or silent), social scientist Deepa Narayan-Parker examines how women – even successful bankers, engineers, doctors, lawyers – have been taught to remain silent in their families and communities and not stand up for what they believe. There is also a funny novel called Polite society by Mahesh Rao, which is a modern day Emma set in high society Delhi.

Parenthood in India

About a favorite ritual: Our family likes board games and movies, but anything we do that is particularly ‘Indian’ is a hobby. You make offerings on fire – like grains, ghee and other Ayurvedic herbs. It’s a way to celebrate births, weddings and deaths, but it’s also how we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and just clear the atmosphere in the house. When our children were small, they sat on our laps, but today they recite the mantras and perform the sacrifices. We do a havan every few months as it makes us all feel good.

Parenthood in India

On creative problem solving: What I love most about life in India is a term called ‘jugaad’ which means solving problems using the resources at your disposal. Having limited resources like we do in India makes you creative and resilient; you keep looking for solutions until you find one that fits. For example, when we had a leaking pipe, Vir put a bottle on to catch the water drops until the plumber came. And when children with disabilities felt isolated during the lockdown, a friend and I created a Facebook group for them. Jugaad is so ingrained in us that it was difficult for me to even think of examples!

Parenthood in India

At family dinners: We primarily eat roti (bread), rice, dal/curry and vegetables as well as chicken, mutton or fish. My comfort food is a simple bowl of dal and rice; it hits the spot at the end of a long day. Everyone is also used to a spicy palate. My spice tolerance is medium high, but I know people who bite chili! They go to restaurants known for very, very spicy food, and they wipe their sweaty foreheads all the time.

About arranged marriages: In my social group I would say 50% of people are in love marriages and 50% in arranged marriages. There is absolutely no stigma. When someone in my social group can’t find anyone, they turn to their parents and say, ‘Okay, I’ve looked, it’s not working, find me a match.’ I know people who went the traditional arranged marriage route and only met twice before the wedding and are now very happy. If you have a love marriage, you go into it with these ideals of romance — especially since India is fed Bollywood movies — but in an arranged marriage, you go without many expectations, so everything is a bonus.

Parenthood in India

About pregnancy and birth: Since India has one of the largest populations in the world, pregnancy and birth happen all the time here. Around the seventh month of pregnancy, families plan a ‘godh-bharai’. Female relatives come over to sing, dance and bless the mother-to-be, filling her lap with fruit, money, gifts and sweets. For me, six days after my children were born, my husband’s mother and grandmother also organized a big tea party. Bloated and sleep deprived, I put on makeup and jewelry and squeezed into clothes to hang out with the extended family. My breasts were leaking like hell! Luckily I escaped to my room and claimed the twins needed to be fed and stayed there until all the guests left.

Parenthood in India

On raising a child with autism: When our twins were three, our son Vir was diagnosed with autism. I suddenly had so much to contend with, like therapy and education, but also the deep-rooted social stigma of having a child who was different from the norm. In India, there is a huge lack of awareness about developmental disabilities, so the mother is often blamed: “You didn’t eat well during pregnancy.” ‘You don’t spend enough time with your child.’ ‘You don’t talk enough to your child.’ While my family and friends were supportive, it was hard to deal with other people – coaches who told me Vir wouldn’t be a ‘good’ fit in their classes, mothers who looked at Vir and me suspiciously, kids who did laugh with him.

About navigating the school system: My experiences with schools have been diametrically opposed, as I have a neurotypical child and a neurodivergent child. With my daughter, the trip went fairly smoothly. With Vir, it has been a different ballpark. Most Indian schools claim to be inclusive but are not in reality. It was extremely difficult to get admission in a school if we disclosed his diagnosis, so we decided to do some ‘jugaad’ and not say anything. We finally got into a school, but a month later were summoned to the principal’s office and reprimanded for not telling them about Vir’s challenges. Although at one point they told us to leave, the school finally came around and let Vir stay with a shadow teacher.

On continuing the fight: Since then, Vir has attended two ‘special’ schools with smaller classes and less intensive curricula. Despite this, I find myself constantly having to fight for his rights, like getting him a writer for his exams (children with disabilities in India can have a younger child physically write their exam; the older child dictates). If it’s a struggle for someone with the privileges I have, I can’t imagine how hard it is for people who don’t have the means or the connections. This is why I have made it my mission to advocate for people with autism.

Parenthood in India

On gender expectations: Although it is getting better, there is still a difference between boys and girls – from families celebrating the birth of a boy rather than a girl (because he will carry on the family name) to activities children are encouraged to participate in (crafts and arts for girls, sports for boys) to careers children are expected to pursue (STEM for boys; education and care for girls). I remember my daughter telling me that her teacher asked the girls to clean the boys’ cubs – and my daughter refused!

About connection to in-laws: I call my husband’s parents ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ instead of their first names. If you are a woman, they say: you don’t marry a person, you marry a family. Since I married into my husband’s family, his parents are now my parents. It is also the duty of the wife to take care of her husband’s parents when they grow old. (When it comes to your own parents, if you have a brother, your brother’s wife will look after them.) My husband’s parents are 70 and 71 and, touch wood, in the best of health. We live by ourselves right now, so responsibility in the traditional Indian way is not yet happening to us. If they need more care, we will; we would like to.

On respect for grandparents: Grandparents have a great influence on grandchildren. Traditionally, they would make big decisions like what food the child will eat and what schools the child will attend; before the birth, the father’s mother can even choose the gynecologist for the mother-to-be. But these days, with us, grandparents are consulted instead of laying down the law. I call my mother-in-law to ask, ‘I’m thinking of enrolling the kids in a dance class, what do you think?’ I have a great relationship with her, although sometimes it’s a tug-of-war because you want autonomy over your children, but at the same time you honor your in-laws. Most people learn to pick their battles; that is the key.

Parenthood in India

On hope for the future: My dream is that all children are allowed to participate. I know not everyone can win and get the medals and I don’t even want that. I just want children with disabilities to have a chance. For example, my children went to camp for nine days in the hills. I was nervous, but I said, ‘Okay, I surrender.’ I had no phone access; I could only scroll through the Facebook photos to see if my kids looked happy. But the kids came back and I could see this confidence in my son. He had survived the nine days. He had shared a tent with three other boys. I wrote to the founder: ‘All the parents who have children who are different, all we want is for them to participate. You gave him that, and you don’t know what a difference you made in his life’. What usually happens is that these children are pushed to the side, but I want them to be on the playground, at the birthday party, at school, and then they will be able to grow up and have a chance in the workplace, socially, etc. . It makes such a difference as a society, even a global society. We just need to be kinder. I hope that all changes in a big way one day, but until then baby steps.

thank you Gopika!

PS The series Our parenting around the worldbelow Turkey and Wales.

Related Posts