Amitabh Bachchan’s letter to his granddaughters is important in more ways than one. Firstly, it is a letter. Letter writing is an art of which the cultural elite know very well across the world; the intellectual pariahs who abound the social media and not having any kind of cultural heritage perhaps do not know of this grand art imagining that in the days of mobile messaging, why do people write letters at all? Their families may never have known letter writing and hence this unfamiliarity with this form of art. This is what one has to put up in democracies, the culturally lower classes abound in the same sphere.
Next is that he actually instructs his granddaughters. In Indian families, girls are cuddled, clothed, fed and pampered but rarely instructed specifically especially by the patriarch. Sons and grandsons are because they will have to bear the legacy of the family. But here, the patriarch takes upon himself to instruct his granddaughters on letters of life. The fact of especially instructing is already a step forward for here is the grandfather’s acknowledgment that they will bear the family legacy with them. He would not have bothered to instruct them if they were to be just individuals; because he looks upon them as legatees of the family that he sets about instructing them.
He assigns to each a lineage; the hard patriarchal lineage. Progressive families teach girls, teach them to be independent and individualistic and in many cases to even opt out of marriage. But such girls are raised as individuals and never as members of position within their families. Amitabh could have mixed the lineage; the Nanda girl could have been said to have also been a Bachchan girl. But he does not do this. He maintains the edifice of the class of heirs in the Indian law and more so in the custom. This is important because as independent women the greatest challenge comes from within the family in which when you are not married and on your own, a time comes when families marginalize you, count you out, cut you off and eventually forget you. You may have the autonomy but never a position in the family. Amitabh therefore, clearly assigns them the position of legatee of the patriarchal line of inheritance. This, I sense is remarkable.
Why not then also tell them of their mothers and grandmother? Amitabh is not socializing them or teaching them the arts. He is teaching them life and here he is assigning to them a post that women almost never have; a post within patriarchy despite not falling into one or the other of its roles. This is the great strategy of the lineage.
What are these instructions? The instructions are rather simple and in fact there is only a single instruction and which is that they should listen to only themselves and lend a deaf ear to whatever else people are asking them to do. But where is the guarantee that within the minds of these girls they will take the right decision? There are two ways in which this guarantee is achieved. One by making decisions as the legacy bearer of the patriarchal family which immediately assigns to them the position of inheritors and the other is by expanding their courage to accept the full consequence of their actions. Women suffer for want of inheritance; it is because of the essential lack of inheritance most prominent being forever remaining as outsiders and tentative members of their families of birth that women are basically rootless and anchorless. The other problem is of feminism and feminine politics itself and which is the hesitation in accepting the consequences of actions. You assert your rights within marriage and the man throws you out, you try to walk away from home and fall victim to sex trafficking; everywhere women are made weak by the consequences of their actions. Few feminists have ever recognized that the vulnerability of women to the fall out of their assertions lie in their lack of any legacy within their families. Because they have no “post” to fill in the families of their birth that women remain vulnerable, inconsequential and seemingly irrational. Amitabh’s strategies of first assigning to the independent woman a position within the patriarchal family lays the foundation for these girls to be autonomous for marry if they must, says Amitabh, marry only for reasons of marrying and not for anything else.
Why does he ask the girls to do things and not the boys? He does not curtail the girls and free the boys; he frees the girls. What would he tell the boys? and which boys? the ones on the streets, to stay off because his girls are walking it?