A letter gone viral on twitter, facebook, Indian Express to NDTV are singing praises of Mr. Bachchan’s letter to his granddaughters; Navya Naveli and Aaradhya. I cannot help but agree with the contents of the letter. What I can as a feminist have to say against a beautifully worded piece of advice from an emotional grandfather to his granddaughters. It is commendable each time a person in patriarchal India takes any stand and any, even as much as a post denouncing misogyny and towards encouraging our girls is commendable and coming from much revered Mr. Bachchan it carries authority and power too.
Glad it went viral and it deserved to, yet there is something in it that disturbed and upset me greatly…
What also went viral with his message is also our deeply embedded prejudice, our traditional, deep seated, subconscious belief that a ‘single’ woman carries the legacy of only her “great grandfathers” not “great grandmothers”, the notion that last names are derived from the patriarch, the male head of the family, the women who choose to give up and merge themselves as one, who also for a large part of their lives live with their adopted surnames are not even worth a mention.
Why Mr. Bachhan, what so ever happened to your own dynamic, well-educated and connected mother, Teji Bachhan who happened to be much ahead of her times as she used to teach psychology at a University in Lahore much like your illustrious father, Dr. Harivansh Rai Bachhan who taught English at Allahabad University. Your own wife, Jaya Bachchan is a much decorated actor herself and was way more successful commercially when you first met her.
Your daughter in law, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, acclaimed both at national and international level for her performances both enthralling and impactful, from ‘Provoked’ where she essays with conviction the role of a battered wife to ‘Chokher Bali’, where she transforms with ease into a lonely widow, shunned by the society and family alike; her being a “Bachchan” now should not take away from her glory, she is way more recognized and successful, if we choose to define accomplishment in terms of money and fame than your son. So in Aardhya’s case whose legacy should she carry if success is a measure and perhaps going by your letter the only yardstick apart from her last name for taking forward a family’s name? Or should Aaradhya be only known for the work done by the men of her family?
How Mr. Bachchan could you in your right conscience miss this very essential aspect of feminism and empowerment in a paean to womanhood and her ability of making choices?
Chasm between words and action is another matter of course and Bollywood is legendary as far this aspect is concerned. You preach one thing while your actions defy and deny every word spoken. Whether it is Aamir Khan who did a whole episode on Satyamev Jayate dedicated to hazards of drunken driving but chose to maintain a stoic silence on Salman Khan or whether it is Parineeti Chopra who made a sensitive video on how she felt when she was body shammed and then after losing her few pounds was barefaced enough to advice a friend on her birthday to ‘eat less and lose weight’ or even when Kangana Ranaut and Rekha are called ‘bitches’ for speaking their minds, how many actually step in and take sides? Sides are taken only when a “Khan”, “Bachchan” or “Roshan” is embroiled in any hullabaloo not for “outsiders” and certainly not for women who dare to swim against the tide of conventions.
And Mr. Bachchan why did Aishwarya Rai marry a tree before marrying your son? You may justify it as a matter of choice but a right thinking, progressive person that you have tried to project should have not only have disapproved but tried to reason her out of a superstition both demeaning and nonsensical. Reformist men that I know of or the feminists that I revere are Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau, whose actions and speech both point in the right direction not pseudo liberals but in a nation desperate for idols, just anyone with deep pockets fits the bill.
So as much as I applaud any benevolent message, I cannot help questioning some fundamental contradictions and paradoxes made so apparent not only by the messenger but our blind following.
Incidentally Amitabh Bachchan also escaped the label of being an “Anti-National” despite being evasive on the issue of Panama Leaks. Contrary to what Shakespeare thought, a lot lies in a name or last name, who would agree more than Mr. Bachchan himself.
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