By Shilpi Madan
Banker turned bestselling author Chetan Bhagat loves being a parent in progress. He has no regrets over his decision of having quit an 11-year-old, well-paying job with a global bank in Hong Kong and relocating to India to pursue his passion for writing, full-time. Chetan Bhagat is a busy guy, essaying columns, pursuing public speaking, writing books and screenplays…all while he brings up twin sons with his wife, Anusha, in suburban Mumbai. India’s first author celeb, he is known for speaking his mind in his signature mince-no-words style and is decisively vocal on social media as well. Count the chirps in his repertoire and Five Point Someone, One Night @ the Call Center, The 3 Mistakes of My Life, 2 States, What Young India Wants, Half Girlfriend, One Indian Girl … pop up instantly, having inspired box-office spinners. Excerpts from a cool chat with Chetan.
So how’s the ride going: bringing up a pair of twin boys?
(Smiles) Well, it is tough to bring up two kids at the same time, but I think my wife has the tougher role. The benefit is that you end up raising two kids at the same time, so you don’t have to do it all over again for the younger one.
Is it relatively easier to bring up two kids of the same age? Any pearl of wisdom here?
I think so, as the kids give each other company and keep themselves amused. However, it is more hectic to deal with two sets of tantrums instead of one.
You are one of the few lucky dads who have the chance to be around physically at home to spend time with the kids, bond with them, enjoy the parenting experience. Do Ishaan and Shyam tend to ‘value’ you less (as compared to Anusha) since you are not a traditional “office going” parent?
It is true that when I am around, I am around a lot, apart from when I travel for my talks or other engagements. I wonder if they value me less because of that. I think I give them their space and don’t really come after them even when at home. I would like to think that hence, I maintain my value!
What extra dimension does your being at home bring into the picture?
I think they see me as someone who lives life on his own terms. I think and hope that at some level it inspires them. Also, it makes them less hung up about ideas like men have to go to work and women have to stay at home. I feel one parent needs to be relatively accessible to the children. I missed that with my parents while we were growing up as my father (who was serving the Indian Army) was stationed out of town on different postings and my mother was working full-time (in the Agriculture Ministry).
Back to the daily parenting grind: How and when do they know you mean business, that they cannot push you any further?
I think I am a fair person, and while I am casual and easygoing most of the time, they know that certain things are non-negotiable with me. Doing their own work, talking politely to the domestic help are some issues where they get scolded if they fall out of line. Since I am easygoing at most times, they don’t take my being upset lightly. Usually, a look is enough (laughs).
Compare Anusha and your parenting styles.
I am more laidback and relaxed compared to Anusha; she is more task-oriented and deadline driven. That brings in a sense of balancing in our parenting ways
What is the most challenging aspect about being a working parent?
I think working or not, just to stay truly connected with your children is harder these days, especially when they approach their teens. The phone is everywhere, and although I can call or chat with my kids from everywhere, that same phone means they are lost in their world a lot of the time. Fostering a true connection over the years is a big challenge.
You believe that one parent needs to be around for the kids. Can there be two full fledged careers in a family?
I think it is possible to have two full careers, but you need a lot of luck and effort. I was lucky that the profession I chose allowed me to be at home a lot. Else, it would be quite difficult. I think whether the kids value it or express it or not, one parent being at home does help.
One thing that you do with the boys every day.
Whenever I am home, we always try to have all meals together and ask how each other’s day was.
You maintain that you want to instil a sound value system in your kids or you will think you have failed as a parent. How far have you been successful in this respect?
The most rewarding thing about parenting is when you realise that you really are shaping two human beings. Sure, feeding them and giving them shelter is important, but the real challenge and thus reward comes in changing the way they think. One of my sons was hesitant to try for a play audition in school. I worked with him and explained the concept of fighting one’s fears, and he went and gave the audition. He even got selected. Since then, he is a changed person and continues to try for things. It feels nice that I was able to cultivate that in him.
One aspect of parenting that you wish you could outsource (if you could).
I think reminding them to do their homework would be near the top of the list.
Define independence. Do you believe in rationing it out to the boys, or are they pretty independent in terms of managing stuff on their own?
Independence is being able to manage life effectively on your own. We try to make them that way, but they are children at the end of the day and I think there is still some distance to go in that department. My wife really wants them to be more independent, while I keep telling her to be patient.
Are the kids more emotionally welded to you or to their mom?
I think they are closer to their mother, who is far more involved with them. I am somebody they have fun with.
What do you guys do over the weekend?
Sometimes, we eat at roadside joints (to keep them grounded), board a local train to rough it out (it brings in a sense of adventure), play cricket, jump into an auto-rickshaw instead of the car (to enforce value for money). We always try to add a physical activity—be it a walk, gym visit, sport or a run. We go out for lunch and try to get dinner at home. The idea is to remain simple, and find creative ways to have a good time, something that doesn’t really have to cost a lot of money.