The Curse of Inheritance in India

Bijay J Anand | February 11, 2016

I have a friend in New York. When his wife of 48 years passed away, he donated his entire art collection worth millions of dollars to a museum. His son was 38 years old at that time. Married with two children, living the life of a typical American. Big outstanding mortgage payments, insurance, exorbitant schooling fees for his children… Between his wife and himself, they struggled to keep up with the stress and strain of survival.

I remember meeting his son during the handing-over ceremony of the art collection to the museum. He was calm, cool, composed and was extremely upset about the recent demise of his beloved mother. At least on the surface, it did not look at all like it bothered him that his father was bestowing millions of dollars worth of art when he, as his son, should ideally have inherited it all.

In India, a son like that would have shot his father, or worse.

That might be an overstatement or exaggeration. But certainly, in India, we assume from birth that what belongs to our parents is ours to keep.We consider it our birthright to inherit everything that our parents have toiled for. It is inconceivable to us that our parents might have dreams of their own, plans of their own or maybe want to make their own decisions as far as their money or wealth is concerned.

Which makes inheritance the biggest cause of pain, sorrow, grief and acrimony in India.

The first issue that comes up is that what belongs to my parents is mine,so why do I need to wait for them to die to have it. I need it today to start a new business, to invest in the stock market or to simply buy a new house and a swanky car. The time when the parents’ incomes are going to ebb or stop altogether, when they stop being the principal bread-earners of the family – that is when impatience and frustration sets in.

Why wait for my mother to leave me her jewellery in her inheritance? Why can’t I wear her gorgeous antique set for tonight’s wedding? Why can’t I have it altogether?

So, the heartburn and side-glances begin from that stage itself.

The second glaring point of conflagration occurs when one sees the parents gift another of their kin. The depth of the gash is directly commensurate with the value of such a gift. A new iPhone 6s Plus would maybe give rise to a limited amount of resentment or consternation, but an apartment gifted to the younger brother is sure to get the elder one into a psychopathic fit of insanity. Similarly, what jewellery was gifted to daughter number one during her wedding is remembered by daughter number two, and, when her marriage happens, shrewd calculations are done to ensure that one is not left holding the short end of the stick.

I consider myself very luck that my parents never ever had anything to give me. I was told from the age when I was in the 8th grade that if I wanted to continue my education, I needed to start working or stop studying altogether.

Being independent, knowing that I had nothing to look forward to by way of a legacy or inheritance, that I had to make my own life. Which I did.

Now knowing and recognising the difference in my independent upbringing where I knew that I was not going to get anything from my parents and now looking at the lives of my friends and relatives who were brought up mentally handicapped with that expectation, I can see how the word ‘inheritance’ can be a curse for mankind.

It limits you. Inhibits your life. Controls your soul and does not let you soar and touch the sky.

I am often asked when I travel why arranged marriages still take place in India. Well, one of the reasons is that should a son dare to go against the wishes of his parents, the first threat that he is to face is to be thrown out of the inheritance. Many a times, even the choice of vocation is not the decision of the child in India. The father who is in the army ‘decides’ that his son would also be a general like him.So it has been said and so it shall be done.

A doctor decides that his daughter should follow on his noble footsteps and take over his hospital one day, and so it is how it will be.

It is another matter altogether that the son wanted to be a painter and he loves art, paint, colour and canvas, and that the daughter hates the sight of blood. She would rather be a dancer where her soul feels free and alive.

Inheritance is a curse. It allows the parents the control to live the incomplete aspects of their lives through their children, or to make them follow the path that they themselves savour. Thus making the lives of such children bereft of inner happiness.

Inheritance controls the life, decisions, choices and soul calling of the children by keeping the sword of dis-inheritance always hanging over their heads.

Inheritance makes life for the children miserable, and sows powerful seeds of distrust and animosity between the kith and kin when issues of partiality and division of estates and properties take place.

Inheritance makes the parents themselves, who have used it as a weapon their entire lives, to freeze the verdant, flowering minds of their children, to become targets of court cases, family break-ups and, in many cases, face the prospect of being declared insane or mentally challenged if they decide to favour the loving, caring child over the ‘evil’ one.

My friend from New York asked me, many years later, if I felt that he made a mistake by bequeathing all his art to the museum. I said to him, “Yes, you made a mistake, you should have at least given something to your son to help him out of his struggle.” And yes, I meant it. There is nothing wrong in gifting something to your flesh and blood. What is wrong is for that flesh and blood to expect it as a birthright, take it for granted and to dawdle away his entire life waiting for his parents to pass away so that he can inherit it.

I have repeatedly told my own daughter, who is all of seven years old, that I will teach her to be independent. I will ensure that she doesbecome independent. I will ensure that she imbibes the best value systems by which to live her life from my wife and myself. I will ensure that she is comfortable her entire life. But I have also ensured her that what I earn is not for her or for myself. Whatever I earn will stay with me for safekeeping till such time that I give it all away for the very reason that I have been earning it in the first place. For the betterment of humanity.To spread the message of love, peace and happiness in this world.

It is not mine to give away, and not hers to keep or to expect.

I have, thus far, freed my beautiful daughter from the curse of inheritance so that she may live a free, beautiful and spiritual life.

Sat Nam


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