Opinion | Indians scorn 'dynasties' but are raising pampered children4 min read . Updated: 03 Jun 2019, 12:20 PM IST
The middle classes are coddling their children well into adulthood and trying to set them up for life
From what I gather, Rahul Gandhi is a good man, the kind of man who will win at the end of the main story arc in pulp fiction. There is something banal about his good nature, which is exactly how goodness resides in most of us. As a decent man, he is aware of his luck. Seven years ago, he said: “My father was in politics. My grandmother and great-grandfather were in politics. So, it was easy for me to enter politics. This is a problem. I am a symptom of this problem." There is a general view, even among those who like him, that he is so privileged, so protected that he does not know much about life and the feral real world. He is a modern Prince Siddhartha, who is a peepal tree short. He is what our children will become.
We are all raising Rahul Gandhis. Even the Chowkidars who have scorn for Gandhi raise their own children to be him. On this aspect of parenting, there is no polarization. Everyone admires Narendra Modi; everyone is raising Rahul Gandhis at home.
Even those who were once underdogs, the proud self-made, are not training their children to start at the bottom and find their way to the top. Our children have never taken public buses, or eaten real street food. They may not even have Indian bugs in their gut. They speak the language of their parents very poorly, that is, if they speak it at all. They have never talked to the poor, only instructed them. They have always travelled in a car, watching a menacing nation pass by, dreading at traffic lights the urchins and beggars who arrive to plead. Ten-year-olds in my charmed colony have never gone to a shop alone to buy things for their home. And even if some of them do go down those 500m to the market, they are equipped with phones and WhatsApp location-tracking, and they are filled by their parents with the terrors of life and all that can go wrong. Even large adolescent boys, their inner thighs colliding, walk with tiny maids half their size who carry their bulky cricket kits. As they grow older, they will be even more protected, in less obvious but more substantial ways. Our children are island people whose nation is the sea. And their parents make fun of Rahul Gandhi.
It is true that Gandhi’s social privileges did not prepare him to face the feral men of Indian politics who were naturally selected, who had to be extremely capable to come so far. But then, the fact is that a Modi is rare even in politics. Across all spheres of Indian life, the rags-to-riches story is uncommon today. That is why raising Rahul Gandhis is an inevitable parenting strategy.
The privileged usually win. Technology, business, arts, mainstream cinema and other occupations where talent is subordinate to lineage are dominated by Rahul Gandhis. The Indian elite have 100% reservation for their own genetic material, the reason why it is comical when they insult quotas for Dalits in colleges and jobs.
The objective of a family is to give its children unfair advantages. In that sense, every good family is a cartel.
There was a time, not long ago, when it appeared that this was true only in India. As a child, what struck me about Hollywood films was an America where parents did not have any meaningful control over adolescents, and where college education did not appear mandatory. In those stories, parents usually told their children they would not be paying for their college, while in my Chennai, the engineering or medical college was an inevitability, and fathers were whipping their sons who lost 1% in maths. In retrospect, this arrangement made sense. In nations where the state was unreliable, families had to be strong. They were crucial. Hence, parents could exercise great control and the servitude of dependant adult children was passed off as tradition. And in countries where the youth could depend on the state, the young seemed to be adventurous and independent. But now, modern American families have begun to resemble Indian.
About four years ago, the then US president Barack Obama said: “America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world. But in a 21st-century economy that rewards knowledge like never before… two in three job openings will require some higher education. Two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need."
In response to this age of aristocracy, the American middle classes are supporting their children well into their 20s, funding their education and lifestyles, and protecting them from the tumults of life. Across the world, parents are raising Rahul Gandhis.
Our children will join a global monoculture of decent, ecologically-conscious privileged youth, who will type angry or sly essays about the evils of inequality. They will unknowingly protect their turfs by creating social and intellectual tribes whose doors will be shut to most of the youth.
We do realize the unfairness of passing on privileges to our children, but what can parents do? Are they supposed to impoverish their children?
It is amusing that the person who has reminded us of the most reasonable solution is Rahul Gandhi. About six years ago, Gandhi said he was choosing bachelorhood. “If I get married and have children, I will be status-quoist and will like my children to take my place." Assuming he was not just trying to get out of a relationship, this was an act of kindness that many of us did not do.
Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’