Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, May 28, 2009

By Shehtaz Huq

Your test scores come in the mail, and in one fell swoop life, as you know it is over. In the time it takes for your parents to slit the envelope open, you see all remnants of joy fly out the window. There goes your chance of catching the midnight premier of 'Angels and Demons.' There goes your allowance. And there, right there, still tangible enough for you to taste, is your fervent desire that maybe (just maybe) your parents will pat you on the back and say, 'You know what, son? It's really not that bad…'

Nope. Not happening. The wheels, you can tell, are in motion. You can see it in their eyes.

You think of making one last-ditch effort to appease the Higher Authority. You swear off Coke. You swear off video games. You promise to volunteer at the local homeless shelter. What do you know? The Higher Authority does not care. And hell hath no fury like the wrath of a parent.

The Cause
Blame genetics, for that unholy union of X and Y-chromosomes spawning the one creature capable of haunting your life forever. Second cousin once removed, neighbour's daughter, father's colleague's son, your own flesh and blood…it could be anyone, really. All you know is that it's not you. Life, you reason, would have been a whole lot less complicated if that gosh-darned Creature of Heaven (who you call by other names) didn't exist. Then you wouldn't have your parents harping about your relative failure all the waking hours of your life. 'Look at your cousin, all he does is study!' 'She learned to play Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on her own! What did you ever accomplish?' 'He got into HARVARD.' The occasion to harp is never-ending, and you might as well just deal with it. It will be drilled into your skull within an inch of your life that, no matter what you do, your resident genius will trounce you. And then go off and discover the cure for cancer. All while deciphering the Rosetta Stone. In the grand scheme of things, you are the ant that gets squashed under the tires, and the sum of your life amounts to a whole lot of nothing. Someone out there will always one-up you. And your parents will never let you forget that.

The Effect
If life is the canvas, your life has now become a whole lot of empty. The TV remote is no longer yours for surfing. The telephone recedes into the periphery of your days. You realize, with a horribly sinking feeling in your gut, that it is time for you cell phone to become intimately acquainted with the secret compartment in your parents' closet (the combination of which has been most definitely changed. You know, because you saw the locksmith). Friends become a blip on the radar. Your social life becomes non-existent. You, for your part, come to anticipate your parents bringing up your abysmal grades and the failure that is your life every chance they get. No, they will not let it rest. Yes, they will yell at you. They will pull out all the skeletons in your closet and inundate you with a volley of emotional blackmail that could crack Wolverine. Rest assured. No stone will be left unturned.

The Rationale
Perhaps your parents think that the unrelenting nature of the punishment will goad you to turn over a new leaf. That, burdened with shame, you will vow to uphold your parents' honor. That you will forsake all that you hold dear and take after your beloved cousin/neighbor/random acquaintance's daughter and study sixteen hours a day. Maybe your parents hope that one day they will stumble (we meant 'barge') into your room and see you knee-deep in quantum physics. That, when offered chocolate chip ice cream you will glare at them and say, 'I'm too busy studying to care.' Perhaps they believe your captivity is somehow directly proportional to the chances that Ivy League scouts will chance upon your application and deem it necessary for you to grace their hallowed halls with your presence. 'It could happen,' your parents reason. 'It could happen.'

They put their faith in evolution, your parents, in that innate human desire to compete. They assume that, seething with envy at your genius second cousin once removed who (guess what?) got into Harvard, you will decide to be the biggest fish in the biggest pond. Roadblocks be damned. YOU will defy the odds. You will rise from the ashes of humiliation (by which we mean a 2010 on your SATs) and win that Nobel Prize and find that cure for leukaemia.

The Reaction
Do you fling yourself histrionically on your bed, stare up at the ceiling, and carry out a lengthy heart-to-heart with the heavens? Do you get sucked into that whirlpool of self-pity that, sooner rather than later, will leave you typing out a piteous Facebook status update that just screams for sympathy? Do you wonder what sins you had committed in any past lives to warrant this kind of punishment? 'It's just one B,' you reason. 'It's just one rejection letter. It's not the end of the world.' Do you vow to cross over to the dark side, perhaps invest in some heavy duty waterproof mascara and go shopping for black T-shirts and skinny jeans?

Maybe, and maybe not. Maybe you do vow to do right by your parents and work till your nose drops off your face and you bring home that Princeton acceptance letter. In which case, we offer you our heartiest felicitations. But really, what are the chances of you being the one to wipe that sanctimonious smirk off of your second cousin's face when you bring home the Pulitzer?
Yes. We thought so, too.




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