I have been posting on my FB site about the recent story of the US pressing charges on Mr. Rajat Gupta for his involvement in insider trading. This story comes across as the striking story of neoliberal greed that has inundated India, particularly so because Mr. Gupta has been the poster child of success in the Indian landscape, depicting the markers of success along the lines that middle class parents desire for their children to model into. These markers of success are carried out in India by the trajectory of the IITs and IIMs, ultimately ending up with the ultimate job of an investment banker on Wall Street. The value of the investment banker for his parents lies in the markers of materialism he has achieved. This story furthermore gets gendered as we move ahead to complete the story: the parents of Indian girls in the marriage market desiring for their daughters to marry a hot-shot investment banker with all the material resources. This is of course then framed within the framework of desiring a comfortable life for one's daughter, which seems to be a fairly normal and perhaps the only dream of most middle class Indian parents.
Amidst these dreams, the backside of the story goes something like this. As Indian parents spend their invaluable resources bringing up their child and training them for the competitive exams (spending loads of money on coaching centers), they also ensure that the child grows up with a tremendous sense of entitlement. One that tells him that he is somehow special. He is different, smart, intelligent, cut out from the rest of the population by his brilliance, separate from the teeming masses of the country.
He is after all an IITian with an MBA. He is special. This sense of entitlement then becomes the fulcrum of choices that are made by the son who then goes on to use this brilliance to make money. This money then becomes the ticket to the Armani, LV, Chanel, Burberry and the world of luxury. The cushy flats in the suburbs, the destination vacations in tropical places, the fancy meals in fancy restaurants...these become the material markers of having arrived, of having accomplished something and of having succeeded in the world. The parents now are really proud of their son and his achievements.
Where entitlement gets in the way however is that it also pushes one to use whatever means that are available to make this money, because in the market, making the money is the marker of intelligence. So if he is able to figure out some loophole in regulations and make money, this is a sign of his brilliance, and he is entitled to the money. If he cheats specific regulations and makes the money, he is entitled to it because he is smart enought to cheat the system. If he is able to fool some people, that is of course a product of his brilliance and he is entitled to it. If he gets a huge bonus in the face of the bailouts, he is entitled to it. If he is reminded of the number of people that have lost their homes, he is quick to point out that they should not have had homes to begin with. He smirks at regulations, looks at the poor disdainfully, and considers those who have lost their life savings as "dumb Americans" who did not deserve the money.
You see, the problem I have with the style of middle class Indian parenting that only cares about success in material terms is that it becomes the site for breeding pathology. The one thing that the story of Rajat Gupta teaches us is that we harbor these pathologies amidst us and celebrate them. The story of Mr. Gupta perhaps teaches us that we are the pathology. The one lesson that I hope we take from this story is that there are real consequences when these pathologies go unchecked, when our desires and greed become the sole markers through which we measure ourselves and those around us. For parents of Indian children with the incredibly desirable Indian dreams, the story of Mr. Rajat Gupta perhaps chides us to take stock and think.