Dear Indian Parents, Your Kids are Not Your Retirement Plan

POV

Dear Indian Parents, Your Kids are Not Your Retirement Plan

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

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uilt-tripping is the ultimate parent trap that a lot of us have fallen into like the Starks attending the Red Wedding. It has prompted us to do many blasphemous things like cancelling our Goa plan since it clashed with a certain ceremony in the family, watching a TV show we didn’t want to, and attending a wedding of that distant relative you last saw when you were five.

Parents are pros at making you feel like horrible beings, especially if your ambitions fail to align with what they expect from you, their ingrate offspring, who have been clothed and fed by them? How dare you change the channel when Baghban is playing, you insensitive millennial prick? The look on your dad’s face while watching the film’s epic monologue is the sign of a major “Maine tumhe paal pos ke bada kiya hai” rant coming your way, that can hit you even if you ask them to simply pass some chutney.

The guilt-tripping hits its peak post 60 because now they are not just your parents, they’ve also retired. Remember these are the people you literally owe your life to. From your education to your wedding, they have spent all their life’s savings on you. I bet you’ve got a memo about this a million times already, but did you just forget to read the fine print? It being your moral duty to do the same for them.

My neighbour Ankur, who is in his late 20s, is a struggling son of two retired parents. He recently moved to Mumbai because of his job and diligently sends half his salary back home. After paying his rent, he barely makes it to the end of the month. Flashback to 30 years prior: Ankur’s father was in the same spot, supporting his parents, looking out for his children, saving very little for his own future. He is now dependent on Akash, who really wants to quit his dead- end marketing job. He dreams of a start-up that designs education-based video games, but he won’t do that. He can’t afford to. He’s shit-scared to even get hitched. The idea of supporting one more family on his meagre income terrifies him.

In the West, student loans are de rigueur. Even if your dad does pay for college, it is with the understanding that you will pay him back.

In a deeply filial society like ours, when it comes to our parents, selfless sacrifice is the only way. It’s either that or the highway to hell. What this gives birth to, is a never-ending cycle of people providing for each other for most part of their lives, and never really being able to envision their own future and pursue their own dream. The risk of doing anything new, brave, or vaguely experimental is not just an individual choice, it is collective and compounded by heavy dependencies.

The idea of children becoming their parents’ retirement plan, is seeded somewhere in the idea of parents being education sponsors of their children. According to 2017 report of a committee on household finance set up by the RBI, only 23 per cent of Indians had a retirement plan. The reason: They are heavily funding their kid’s futures. We don’t need Madhavan’s dad in 3 Idiots to tell us how many sacrifices our parents made to send us to top colleges (and how many AC-less nights they suffered in the summer). We already know that. Our parents are no different from Mr Qureshi. The idea of taking student loans and breaking this cycle of toxic codependence has never struck Indian parents… or their kids!

In the West, student loans are de rigueur. Even if your dad does pay for college, it is with the understanding that you will pay him back. So you take up odd jobs, you get a good health insurance cover, and get your shit together. You don’t even think of asking them to pay for your fancy destination wedding. They will tell you, like any sensible parent should, that having a big, fat, pointless wedding will not secure your future. Instead, making sure your parents have a secure retirement plan, actually will.   

A few months ago, I met a couple of young British travellers in their 20s, backpacking to Himachal. They were, of course, funding their own gap year with summer jobs and freelance work. Charmed by them, I considered proposing this plan to my parents. I’d fund my own education if they would fund their own retirement and let me figure out my own future. I didn’t do it because I would have been told to shut up and focus on my studies and handed a plate of ghar ka khana with a glass of water.

With our life expectancy rising and population expected to cross China’s by 2024, the percentage of our senior citizens will double in the next 30 years. If this doesn’t raise a red flag, I wonder what will. Since we are woefully incapable of putting ourselves behind standardised old-age homes and other retirement services, we need to be less about the selfless sacrifice and more about the selfish planning. Make no mistake… both are still about loving your parents. Just sensibly please.

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