When did wealth become a measure of a man’s worth? | Latest India News
“When did money become the ultimate goal of Indian society? The man asked. Which I found a bit rich (um, forgive the pun), considering we were enjoying a sumptuous Sunday brunch (priced at around ??5,000 per pop) at the Four Seasons Bengaluru. So there we were, the one percent of India was talking about money and what it meant to us.
We were college friends who had seen each other rise and fall. We were far from our humble beginnings. Our problem was felt strongly in Bengaluru where millionaires happen overnight: How could we enjoy the fruits of our hard work while making sure our children stay stupid, hungry and drive, to paraphrase Rashmi Bansal’s terrific book .
Many middle-aged Indians who are successful professionals today have a similar trajectory. We have our “unqualified compartment” stories. You know what I mean? Or maybe not. This is the time when you travel by Indian train. Here you are, after an unsightly and outrageous run, sitting on the upper bunk of the unreserved compartment, surrounded by sweaty bodies. In a scene worthy of a Kannada movie, you swear you’ll never see each other again.
Especially not. All the professionals I meet in the big companies in Bengaluru, be it Titan or Flipkart, have their ‘origin stories’ of how they’ve struggled and been successful. Likewise, all of us, myself included, are now leading lives, where we do all we can so that our children do not struggle. Our children do not take public transport, they do not ride a bicycle to buy vegetables, they have never traveled in the unreserved compartment when they return from vacation. Yet we want them to stay grounded, hungry, and motivated, just like we were. The question is: can you make your kids go hungry without literally letting them go hungry? How do you keep them anchored if you live on top of a glitzy skyscraper?
Different parents adopt different strategies. My friend Leo, for example, travels business class when he is alone, but travels economy class whenever the family goes on vacation, so his children can learn the values of frugality. He also wants his children to be ambitious, to have a passion. “We mainly define success and ambition as related to wealth, which I think is totally silly. For me the ambition is to go after what you want and to work hard.
As a parent, what are the two or three cardinal values that you would like to pass on to your children? For me that would be frugality and courage, but it could be different for you. North Indians tend to use words like courage and determination. Frugality, I find, is appreciated mainly by South Indians (not counting the inhabitants of Andhra or Telangana). I think it’s because we have a certain uneasiness with wealth. We don’t ‘own’ her emotionally, we have an inherent suspicion, and you might well argue as to whether this will change our character. Serial entrepreneur Ramji Srinivasan calls it “southern India hanging up on finances and wealth.” He said, “My father always says ‘material goods will never love you back.’ I try to remember this advice to this day.
To speak of frugality at the Four Seasons is a contradiction, one might say. But this is where the nuance lies. As adults we all want to enjoy our champagne brunch. Damn, we deserved it. But we don’t want our kids to grow up thinking this is their reality. We want them to win it too. So what’s a parent to do? One option we all came up with was taking our kids to Woodlands for outings rather than, say, Zen at The Leela. Let them fight, let them win, then let them go out where they want, that was the point. Did we do it? Not really. On this helicopter parenting day, children accompany their parents wherever they go. However, all is not lost.
Recently, Namu Kini, owner of the Kynkyny Art Gallery, held a weekend market at Hatworks Boulevard, an oasis in central Bangalore. Entitled Uru Collective, it was a collection of local brands, all geared towards plant-based and sustainable solutions. What I saw at the market gave me hope. Most of the founders are Bengalurians in their twenties and thirties. They came from privileged backgrounds. Yet they were there, ambitious if not hungry. They followed their passion even though it did not conform to their parents’ traditional notions of success, which in India usually means medicine, engineering, law or accounting. These people were entrepreneurs who followed their passion and their principles. There were Angelo’s Vegan cheeses, Asan menstrual cups, Bare Neccessities zero waste products, Huda Bar cereal and more. Check out the Uru Collective Facebook page for the full list of local brands.
Success has many models, and each model has an expiration date. Young people today value work-life balance, personal growth and happiness, rather than the brute force that climbs the corporate ladder at the cost of almost anything.
If you are a parent who has a child who does something counterintuitive, supporting them involves internalizing the harshest truth of all: that our children are not our reflections. They are gloriously different individuals who walk at a different pace.
Ultimately, isn’t that the reason for successful parenting?
(Shoba Narayan is an award-winning author based in Bangalore. She is also a freelance contributor writing on art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications)