Last week as news of the tragic suicide of singer Asha Bhosle’s 56-year-old daughter Varsha hit the headlines, it once again turned the focus on the collateral damage that can befall those related to the rich and famous.
There is a long and sad history of the not-so-famous relatives of celebrities who have to deal with a stack of issues that almost seem to come with the territory: odious comparisons, extraordinary public scrutiny, accusations of nepotism and a parasitic existence, low self-esteem and low self-worth.
Often, being the relative of a famous person can be a heavy cross to bear. Ask Marvin Bush, son of Senior Bush and brother to Dubya and Jeb. That his life did not amount to much might have not been as big an issue if he didn’t have such famous relatives to be compared to.
Or look at the pattern of tragedy that has befallen the Kennedys. From alcoholism and substance abuse to violent deaths and marital strife, the relatives of JFK and Robert Kennedy have not had anything near as good a life as being close to the seat of power is made out to foster.
Almost like a mirror image closer home is the curious case of the Gandhis and, particularly, those who married into the Gandhi family.
Maneka Gandhi lost her brother and father in tragic circumstances, and as for Robert Vadra, the litany of his losses is almost as alarming as the corruption he’s being accused of. To lose a sister, brother and father in the short spell of a few years is an unnatural phenomenon under any circumstances.
Other instances in the subcontinent of the relatives of famous and powerful families suffering hugely also exist — the Bhuttos are a prime example of this. Only one of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s four children is alive today — his daughter Sanam; Benazir, Murtaza and Shahnawaz have all perished under mysterious and violent circumstances while young.
Besides violence and early deaths, the other issue that relatives of famous people face is, of course, growing up under their shadows.
Very few children of famous fathers have been able to make a mark of their own: the sons of Charlie Chaplin and Satyajit Ray have never enjoyed the kind of success their fathers did even though they had the headstart in cinema their fathers didn’t. Mimi Rogers, the talented singer-sister of Joan Baez. had to be content to live her life as a footnote in the larger story of her illustrious sister. And though most of the Beatles’ kids followed in their parents’ footsteps, how many are taken seriously regardless of their talent?
This is not to say that the relatives of the rich and famous do not receive the perks and privileges of their positions. Sure they do, there are freebies and entitlements, invitations and easy access to the gilded lives of their more famous kin. But with it comes its particular brickbats and stumbling blocks.
Above all there’s the peculiar syndrome of the also-ran relatives of famous individuals: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Live under the shadow of your surname and you’re a public joke, attempt to break out and do something for yourself and you’re a national scandal.
No sir, it’s not easy being a cipher in a famous family’s life. Ask Robert Vadra.
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer