Legacies are funny things in the Indian context; they seem to be based largely on patriarchy. When Sheila Dikshit was rolled out in Uttar Pradesh as the chief ministerial candidate, her father-in-law’s credentials were trotted out to give her credibility. And here was a woman who was three times chief minister of Delhi and a veteran Congress leader. Yet, it is the fact that she was Uma Shankar Dikshit’s daughter-in-law that the Congress thought fit to highlight.
Let us go back further. We never tire of hearing how much of Nehru’s patrician lineage his daughter Indira inherited. But do we hear of her mother, Kamla who was a freedom fighter and led many a picketing expedition against British textiles and other goods? She did not speak in Nehru’s cut glass accent but she stood up to be counted in the freedom struggle, not an easy task for a woman in those days.
In the film industry, we see the Kapoor khandaan where all greatness and glory is attributed to fantastic acting genes bequeathed by patriarch Raj Kapoor. The younger Kapoor mothers, at least two of them actors themselves, are sheet anchors for their children emotionally, but somehow projected as unconnected with their talent.
J Jayalalithaa, no slouch when it comes to politics, is still not given the credit she deserves for being able to enforce her iron rule in a largely male-dominated political scenario. No, she is the inheritor, a worthy one, of MGR’s legacy though she has far outgrown her mentor. Similarly, Mayawati who has put Dalit politics on the map and changed caste equations forever is still Kanshi’s Ram’s best pupil though her success has far exceeded anything Kanshi Ram could have envisaged for her.
This brings me to the recent letter written by Amitabh Bachchan to his grand-daughters, labelled “the cutest ever” by breathless reporters both in print and on television. So, it was with great joy that I read a stinging critique of the letter on an online platform.
The writer correctly asks why the legacy that the two little girls bear on their fragile shoulders is only those of their great-grandfathers. What happened to the women in the family? Teji Bachchan was no pushover if I recall right. Jaya Bachchan is one of the finest actors of her generation. The youngest Bachchan grandchild’s mother is an actor in her own right. Surely they have something do with the kind of person the child will turn out to be, there will be something of their legacy in her.
Then, of course, we had all that talk about how our women sportspersons are inspirational to women in India. They are inspirational to everyone. To call any achiever a daughter of the nation is by now de rigueur. I have heard on the occasion, the great jurist Leela Seth being described as the mother of Vikram Seth. Not to diminish Vikram Seth’s huge literary prowess, Justice Seth is a pathbreaker in a judicial world of grey male eminences. And so we could go on.