The Cloistered Children
By Tarang Bansal
If you are from an upper middle-class family or higher, have gone to a private school or better- then look around you and spot the cloistered children in your family, among relatives, friends’ families or neighbourhoods. ‘Cloistered Children’, as I would define, are children raised with a mindset that failure is not for them or that they will have everything they want in life. These children envision having a strong financial security throughout their lives, marrying attractive spouses, being welcomed to wealthy social circles, studying in big educational institutions, getting away with the petty crimes they might commit, and much more. Having such powerful visions of one’s future might make you think that these are extremely intelligent, diligent and ambitious children, but no, this is not an article about them. It is about those children who are born in rich ‘business’ households and who need not be intelligent, diligent or ambitious to have these visions. Their parents or grandparents were intelligent, diligent and ambitious enough to let their subsequent generations eat the fruits of their labour.
Cloistered Children can be easily identified by their lifestyle. They go to top schools in the city, have a private room with all utilities provided, wear the best brands, have a private vehicle on demand, the pocket-money received is directly proportional to the pocket-money asked, have the best birthday parties and little-to-no restriction on expenditure. If you read these points again, you will see that none of them are about the child’s IQ or EQ, hobbies or goals; rather a list of privileges that money can buy. Don’t get me wrong- the natural capabilities of these children is no-less or more compared to the ‘un-cloistered’ children. It’s just that the privileges showered upon them during their upbringing makes them take a different approach towards life. Now, what is this different approach? Let me try to list a few ‘fundas’ that cloistered children approach life by. Note that they have been extremely generalised to drive home the point.
- With the best parties, coolest gadgets and a personal car, I am the popular kid in school. I come to school to enjoy, not listen to these boring teachers. Anyway my tuition teacher teaches way better, so let me take classes casually.
- I am too bored of this city. The 12th boards are coming up and I have to shift to a college in a metro or maybe abroad but all colleges have high cut-offs. Let me study harder but also let my parents know how serious I am about studying at these big institutions so that they can help me get a seat somehow. P.S. I also need another personal tutor who can make me study.
The next two ‘fundas’ differ based on gender. Men and women know that their social realities are different and hence, create ‘fundas’ accordingly.
- College life away from parents is the best. A private flat, everyday parties, weekend getaways and no strain of studying as no one fails in college, and anyway I am here only for the degree. It’s not like I want a job or a placement. Moreover, my parents make more in a month than I will probably make in a year.
- A search for high-paying jobs is so difficult given my low grades and absence of hard-skills. But I have had a lot of exposure from meeting so many people and visiting so many places. Plus, my parents are asking me to join the family business. They themselves are neither highly-educated nor the most hard-working yet they run it so well. By joining it, I will also live a loved, happy and comfortable life with money, position and freedom.
- College life away from parents is the best. A private flat, everyday parties, weekend getaways and no strain of studying as no one has ever fails in college. Let me get a job and do it for a year or two as anyway after that I will be married and may never get a chance to experience the corporate life. Though the salary may be less for my lifestyle, I can rely on my parents for rent and other stuff.
- My in-laws don’t want me to work for someone but instead want me to focus on my husband and having a child. I can still start my own boutique, bakery or other home-based business and see how it goes. I need not rely on its success as my husband earns well in his family business and can provide well. I will live a loved, happy and comfortable life.
These are all rational ideas maximizing the child satisfaction with minimum of efforts. But how are these ideas popping up in their minds? What makes their thinking different from the other kids? I believe their parents play a pivotal role. They are weaving a narrative for their children which makes them create these ‘fundas’. Let me write this narrative which again differs based on the gender of the child. Also, note that it has been extremely generalised to drive home the point.
It’s a girl. We are so happy. She is our princess but we still have a second child, preferably a boy (for business succession and retirement benefits). We will ensure that our girl gets everything in life. She will be short of nothing and will get the very best- the best education, a safe environment, all the material goods, her social-esteem expenses etc. We want her to be successful and happy. But we are not sure if we want to send her to an outstation college or let her study too much. It’s not safe for girls outside plus she may get herself into wrong groups and spoil her name. It can be difficult for us to convince the families of the best bachelors in our community to marry a girl who has been with other men or drinks or smokes. We have to make sure she knows the importance of an ‘intact’ cultural character and so doesn’t do anything that can bring disrepute to her or her family. She may choose to work but she should know that marrying at an appropriate age and then raising children will always precede her work. She need not worry about the financial support as a culturally-appropriate girl is always supported both by her parents and her in-laws. We need her to understand what being financially taken care of means. We hope we get her the most providing and loving husband so that she can have a loved, happy and comfortable life.
It’s a boy. We are so happy. He is our prince and now, we may think of a second child. We will ensure that our boy gets everything in life. He is short of nothing and gets the very best- the best education, a safe environment, all the material goods, his social-esteem expenses etc. We want him to be successful and happy. But we are not sure if we want him to be too independent in life. We don’t want him to imagine a life without us. We don’t want him to choose a job over our family business. He will be the boss here and earn far more than in those companies out there. We want him to stay with us till our death, marry a suitable girl from our community and give us the joy of grandchildren. We have to make him understand that all we have belongs to him and we have worked very hard so that he can take over the reins one day. He needs to understand what ‘more money’, ‘the top designation’ or being your ‘own boss’ means. Equally important is that he knows that this entitlement to the income from the family business and the love from his family only comes from joining it. We hope he has a loved, happy and comfortable life.
Again, very rational perspectives maximizing the parents’ long-term joy. But I would like to highlight why it’s not a win-win situation. These children end up living a lavish life but always feeling indebted to their parents for financing their expensive lifestyles. So, when the going gets tough in school, college or work, the tough don’t get going as the saying says, rather when the going gets tough, the children get going to their parents. In school and college, they forego on making themselves more skilled or employable given it’s a lot of hard work and rather take comfort in the family’s financial cushion- not realising that joining the family business comes also comes with a cost, a different type of cost. They lose much of their independence on vital decisions in life- on matters of whom to love, when to marry, when to become a parent, which communities to avoid being friends with or which lifestyle habits to discontinue etc, they basically have to adapt to the value system of the parents however regressive or progressive that might be. If the children fail to adapt, they rebel with their parents shattering decade old expectations and creating disharmony.
Both the parents’ narrative and the children’s approach together create undesirable parallels even beyond them for the society at large.
- Un-cloistered children in school try to mimic the popular kids as it’s easy and fun-filled, not realizing that their parents cannot provide them the financial cushion if they can’t stand on their own feet
- People who have studied or worked very hard feel cheated by the system when they see a rich-born sitting on an inherited throne. They feel even worse knowing that the princes/ princesses don’t give a damn about the envy or anger of the masses and will continue this even with the next generation.
- The society loses on innovation. With equally good minds but far more resources, the potential of the cloistered children to come up with new technologies, processes or organisations is huge but this potential becomes useless with an underperforming mindset.
The article tries to highlight the bane of inheritance. Our society unevenly rewards the capital holders and their successors. Inheritance from close relatives is not taxable in India. This, I believe, along with inequality in school education, are the biggest reasons for so much economic disparity in our country.
Now, before you call me a socialist, let me tell you that I believe in the idea of private capital formation for growing an economy. I understand that the idea of passing on my assets to my successors someday is a big motivator for me to work today and no inheritance or a 100% tax on inheritance would be ridiculously demotivating and detrimental for the growth of an economy but so is a ‘0%’ tax. I don’t have a perfect solution for his bane of inheritance but I guess we could have had the answer if there were more intelligent, diligent and ambitious people.