Picture this- you walk into a watch store, complete with the Omega, the Rolex, the Tag Heuer. It's your 30th birthday and you're finally buying your dream gift, an expensive designer watch. There's a Tissot lying on the counter (the salesman is busy elsewhere) and you pick it up, looking at it admiringly. You can't believe it's almost yours…until you hear the unpleasant words, "I'm sorry, I just bought that." You whirl around in dismay only to be further disconcerted- the speaker turns out to be a mere 15-year- old boy! Instant deflation. What you've been wishing for and working hard for has been picked up by this post-pubescent monster, and all he had to do was to ask for it.
Spoilt brats. We've all heard the term and we've all seen them somewhere or the other- be it in shops, amongst friends or even in our own families. Chances are, you're either a spoilt brat yourself or you're somehow connected with one. The Brat can be identified by his/her youth (this is the chief marker), his/her obvious disregard for the value of money, and of course his/her access to all things expensive. The careless attitude must also be noted; for example, the month-old BMW becomes irrelevant once the Porsche comes in.
The Brat's entry into society is not a new phenomenon. As early as the ancient epic Mahabharata (c.400 BCE) we have young prince Duryodhana appealing to his father to permit him to play a (rigged) game of dice in order to beguile his cousins, the Pandavas, of their wealth. King Dhrtrastra gives in against his better judgment and allows the game to take place, with the feeble excuse "I wanted to favour my son." And from the looks of it that psychology hasn't changed much in the 21st century.
Continuing with analogies from classical antiquity, there's Achilles from Homer's Iliad (c.700 BCE). No doubt the greatest Greek hero of the legendary Trojan War, he throws tantrums as and when he pleases. Luckily for arrogant Achilles his mother is a goddess and she goes to no small trouble to pacify her son, the archetypal brat. He mentions the root cause of his tempers- his desire for honour. Achilles' idea of 'honour' can be easily translated within this context as "What will people think if I don't buy the Moto Razr the day it comes to the market?"
Coming back to 2005 we meet Zubin*, the son of a wealthy businessman. Zubin studies at one of the best and most expensive universities in the USA and he himself says that he definitely did not get admission on the basis of his grades. "I had only Cs and Ds. Luckily for me, my father can afford to pay. As for my admission essay, we paid a consultant to write it. I don't really care how I got through- what matters is the fact that I'm there and enjoying it." Another story is that of Shamim, a tycoon's son. This veritable brat when to the USA to study, paid $40,000 (about Tk. 24 lakh) and came back home after one week! The university refused to return the money, but that didn't matter as long as the spoilt darling got what he wanted. The reason for Shamim's flight was ostensibly homesickness but after a while he admitted, "It was a nightmare. Here I have a whole storey of the house to myself but there it was compulsory to live in a residential block for the first year. I shared a room with another guy but the bathroom was used by 20 others. And not only that- I didn't have an international driving license there and they're really strict about it. So how would I get around? Public transport is for the poor - I have never traveled in anything other than an expensive car and I don't intend to ever."
But don't think girls are any better. Aameya is a classic example of The Female Brat. She recently turned 18 and what do you think her parents' gift was? No less than a pair of solitaire earrings with a matching solitaire pendant, each diamond being over one carat. There's more- a brand new Toyota SUV and nearly half a lakh in cash. And even on ordinary days she carries thousands of taka in her handbag at all times. She says her father gives her Tk.500 if she's looking pretty, another 500 if she says good morning sweetly and another 1000 if she pours him a cup of tea - in short, he pays her for just existing.
You may be wondering what in the world is wrong with these parents. The main point of this disgusting display of wealth is to just avoid tantrums and quarrels. Parents are extremely worried about how far their children will carry histrionics. Shamim's mother shamefacedly confesses, "My husband and I knew he would take time to adjust but children these days are out of control. We were terrified he might get into anti-social activities or even try to harm himself just to make us bring him home. I'm not saying he would have actually killed himself but he would have certainly tried very horrible things to make us feel guilty." While this is somewhat understandable, Aameya's father gives a crazy answer, "I know I spoil my daughter but I only do it because I want her to know she's loved and appreciated. When she is being pleasant I give her money to encourage her good behaviour. Money is an incentive for her to be a good daughter."
Psychologists give another reason which is perhaps closest to the truth. The parents (especially the nouveau riche) advertise their own wealth and financial success through their children, they say. That's how it starts; however after a while the children themselves become so used to this spoiling that they cannot function without it. By this time the parents may begin to realise that their child is out of control but they give in to all the demands to avoid unnecessary arguments. Also if these parents are so rich they must be extremely busy too- so money and gifts become a way to relieve them of the guilt they feel for not being around. Touché?
On the other side of the coin is Anuditi who comes from a simple middle-class family. She has a generous but not extravagant allowance, she goes to a top university and she's happy. "Most of my friends are very rich and always want to go to the most expensive hangouts. I have a good allowance from my parents and I budget well. Maybe once a week I'll go to an expensive café while the rest of the time I'm fine at normal-priced places. I feel bad for my friends, they have no sense of belonging and they feel money is everything. Most of them are depressed and have got into bad habits. I think the root cause of it all is too much money and not enough guidance. I'm just a student so I live like one, and despite the fact that sometimes I do feel bad about not always being able to go out with them, I'm definitely happier and a million times more in control of my life than they are of theirs."
With no didacticism intended, a wise solution would probably be Buddha's theory of the middle path. Otherwise, you poor harassed parents, you can just say goodbye to any common sense that may still exist in your little demon. And remember- it's never too late to correct matters as they stand!
All names have been changed.
By Aditi Charanji