Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Family : fame, name, and game ?

Wanting your offspring to follow your profession has its benefits. Sometimes disadvantages.

Things are of course easier, when there is a sort of a qualifying test admitting you to that profession. So a lawyer is secretly thrilled to bits when his son or daughter gets admission to Law school/college, and a set of doctor parents, breathe a sigh of relief after the dainty looking daughter actually manages to conquer her fear, vasovagal reflexes, and obsessive cleanliness syndrome, after successfully spending her initial med school semester dissecting bodies from the morgue.

I am sure Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, and all our great musicians with hard working children look on fondly as they enjoy their children's success in the musical world.

Actually, that's true everywhere. Before my current household help, K, started working with me, it was her mother A. who was the pillar I leaned upon when I first came to stay here. When widowhood, age and a cataract appeared on the scene, she "put in a word" with me for her daughter, who then came to help me, in her mother's place, and continues to do so today. She excels at everything her mother helped me with, and more, and is more like a friend today.

But it appears that some folks have super qualifications. They flit around . Geographically, as well as professionally. And Powerfully. This is election season in my state of Maharashtra. You would think that the people of the state would be qualified to judge who is good for them. But no. Everyone in politics with an offspring of electable age is making a beeline to Delhi, where the Queen Bee will decide who will get to fight the elections from the various constituencies. Of course there exists a Prince Bee, but as per documentable records, his princliness happened by demand from the clamouring masses, all clamouring in a very well organized manner, if you know what I mean.

So the Presidents son is selected a candidate, ignoring someone who has represented the place earlier well. Several ministers have their sons lined up , making the rounds in the capital, paying obeisance in the right manner in the right places, dressed in the approved political style, with assorted hanger-on's. A certain minister has brought in his daughter as well as son-in-law, and wants candidature for both.

This habit crosses party lines. The Opposition, not to be outdone, has selected daughters, nieces, and sons of party functionaries as candidates. The family thing even works in reverse. When the party fires the father, the son announces his resignation from the party. Sometimes the whole thing is orchestrated in ways that would make event managers squirm, and HR management types insist on removing the HR from their titles. The son of a recently accidentally deceased chief minister, organizes truckloads of people visiting him at his late father's official residence, and assorted "dedicated" types are assigned the duty and the cost, (the last to be suitably rewarded), of providing food , drink, and suitable incentive for these people, turn by turn, to impress the party high command into appointing him in his father's place. And never mind that folks staying in that area keep complaining about the traffic , noise, and delays.

This is, incidentally ,
not just an Indian phenomenon.

Irving Kristol is a well known neo conservative in US politics. Its amazing to see how his son, William, another neoconservative, got his start in politics. Prof. Katznelson, and eminent political scientist at Columbia in the late 90's describes a lunch conversation , during the first Bush administration, describing William Kristol's ascent into politics.

"The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon's domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.

"With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. 'I oppose it,' Irving replied. 'It subverts meritocracy.' "

Mr William, would have been a perfect fit in Indian politics.

Having wandered so far in rarefied atmospheres of the posh and the powerful, it is instructive to note that for us ordinary types, carrying the same family name and even sometimes the same initial
doesn't help at all.

And I am not talking about exalted things like power and elections.

Back in the days when my children were small, and reserving train tickets involved standing in long queues and casting disturbed glances at certain people who seemed to be reaching the front of the queue again and again, I managed to book a couple of tickets for myself and son for a short journey to grandma's. It so happened that at the last minute , my son ended up delaying his trip and my daughter decided to accompany me.

The ticket , of course was not transferable. Not that the ticket checker ever demanded to see ID cards etc, but
theoretically, he could.

Had I been a politician, the entire job was apparently transferable.

This was just a measly train ticket, that too, of the common second class variety.

I didn't have time to go cancel one ticket, buy another, and expect to get the same seat, which was important as the children were young, and we would need to sit together. So I decided to brave it.

My daughter and I got on the train, she sitting in a place,
that the railways had assigned to my son. It was a short ride, and there were several small kids in the compartment. Indian trains have another feature , of mobile hawkers, that wander around selling everything from food to books to toys and games, and the children often look longingly at something another kid has bought. She made friends with some kids and they were playing across seats.

Somewhere in all this the ticket checker appeared . We all pulled out our tickets and submitted them for checking and punching. The ticket person would look at the ticket , ask us about our group and carry on after some scribbling on the ticket somewhere. When he came to me, my daughter was not in her seat, and she and a bunch of other kids were in the process of retrieving a spinning top, that had spun out of control under one of the seats. WhenI was asked about the second traveller , I just wordlessly pointed vaguely to the back of three kids, one of whom was a little boy, all three of them busy fooling with the top. Like G. Washington, I could not tell a lie. Here the operative word was "tell"; and I did not.

Traditionally, it's acceptable if women do not speak. In front of unknown males. In the "highest(!)" traditions, I innocently pointed at the kids, and pretended to look for my sandals, which I had removed before sitting cross legged in comfort, now that my daughter had vacated her seat, temporarily.

The ticket inspector looked bored . He still had half the train to complete. He did a squiggle of sorts on the ticket , returned it to me, and left.

Sometimes, I think the ticket checker knew what was happening. Maybe he had children. Maybe he too, had to stand in line for everything. And maybe, he too noticed, that for some folks in the country, the entry into a queue, is from the top.

It was enough for him that my children had the same last name as me. There as no need to check the qualifications. All they wanted to do was play....

My daughter doesnt remember this event at all. Despite the ease with which everything ocurred, I dont think this is something I want her to learn to do. Technology has cooperated, and today I dont need to go stand in lines to purchase tickets, and curse those coming in out of turn.

It just occurred to me, that had I been a politician, this kind of stuff would have probably been in her DNA.


  1. Wonderful post... !!

    thank god for IRCTC !!! really.. !! it was such a pain to be standing in the queues and fighting with those who would enter from the front..

    however for certain changes you still have to go... to stand in the queue.. I recently went... stood for an hour... and amazingly it was well organised... and it sort of reminded me of days long forgotten...

  2. Another brilliant post!! I have no doubt it would have been in her DNA :)

    Not that this justifies what's happening in Indian politics, I am really unhappy with this! Most disappointing!! I particularly don't like the idea of a President's child coming into politics!

    Booking tickets these days is so convenient (so is paying the bills!)... and train journeys are always full of memories but still at the time it must have troubled you!!

  3. Indian politics and ticket seeking are almost a reason for the family planning policy to undergo change !

    Its time that we got a 'one family one person' ! The way it looks like, everybody who has a toe hold into any political arena creates a huge stadia for himself.

    The TN CM karunanidhi has two wives. One son being primed to be CM after him. Another becoming a central minister. The daughter somewhere there. And ministeries are divided along family lines as well !

    Sigh !

    And i guess the rest of us are just like the bored TTE !

  4. The worst thing about dynasty politics is that so many people justify it. I like Kavi's suggestion of only one person per family in politics!

    Nice account of the train ticket incident.:)

  5. My ex servant too recommended me to an older sister before getting married and the woman worked for 22years in my house and became almost a family member.But would the politician's son show any loyalty to his job having been favored over the others?No, I think true to his DNA, he'd amass wealth beyond his known source of income and later his son would take charge and do the same.

  6. It has been a while since I've seen Rhavi Shankar's name. Oh my goodness that brought back some memories from the Woodstock times. I wasn't there, but I did buy an album he made.

    About your least your country has had a woman leading the country, Indira Ghandi. Mine has not and we talk endlessly of equality, but so far I haven't seen that much, and we have come a long way, baby, so they say in the cigarette commercials. My grandmother marched and was a suffregette to get women in her time the right to vote. The women who spoke out and tried to get to right to vote were abused physically and mentally. An HBO movie called "Iron Jawed Angels" tells a part of that story.

  7. I work for my father. I have since I was 12 years old. I don't like to say that, because people think of Nepotism and all it's negative connotations, but for me, it's the opposite.

    Dad knows what I'm capable of and if I do less, he will not tolerate it. Also, I represent him and am held to a higher standard than any other employee.

    I suppose, it depends upon the parent when it comes down to the behavior when a child is involved in the same line of business and if the person will be allowed special favors or not.

    I'm sorry you had to "not lie" as you did in the train and that anyone should have to deal with such nonsense with tickets. Some things are nontransferable and sometimes it's just red tape to make a person pay more, either in time or in money or both...