“My biggest fear is my fame onto them. I hope they can live out of my shadow. My name could spoil their lives and I don’t want that to happen.” In the end fame extracted its price, hitting Shah Rukh Khan where any parent is most vulnerable — through his child.
But when the curtains rose on the biggest stage called life, as his prescient words from the past came back to haunt the actor in an India that is in dissonance with the dream he once stood for, the man who faced a billion people remained stoic, graceful, restrained — in the role SRK has been proud of the most, as a father.
His misery though became entertainment when all he had sought to do was entertain us and give his fans a reason to forget their worries. And yet SRK kept walking with composure, acknowledging others around him with folded hands as he came out after meeting his son in jail.
The media that feasts on invading the privacy of celebrities fed their hunger by enclosing SRK in their vice, such is the sense of entitlement even in times of sorrow that those who report have become the story, but don’t even realise it.
Soft power of Bollywood
SRK’s old comments were taken out of context, and they even reached his doorstep — the actor is often seen on the balcony of his house Mannat acknowledging his journey. The soft power of Bollywood though only lasts till the last selfie.
“The decision to have a child is the decision to let a piece of your heart walk outside your body,” the actor — who lost his own parents early, had once said. Every parent across the political or religious divide — the only things that define us today, will at least agree to this.
But consensus stops here because the calls to incarcerate a young man on whom nothing was found except a flourish of ‘conscious possession’ has become the new version of mob lynching. Legions of his fans who have grown up with SRK and his movies today ask people to make a choice — If you speak up for the actor or his son, then you are as usual against ‘them.’ It is only black or white and truth has become collateral damage. Somewhere down the line, an India has started believing in its own role playing.
SRK showed aspirational India to have stars in their eyes and take a one-way ticket to a better life. For me that was bigger than any of his movies.
The public persecution of a young man — even as the case itself grows murkier by the day — shows how there are no unspoken rules anymore. There is also a desperation to forget that Aryan is also his mother’s son. Irrespective, until now a child was always sacrosanct, as a parent this thirst should not worry just me.
Misadventure of youth in societies is treated through rehabilitation, we have instead treated Aryan Khan — guilty or not — as a seasoned criminal. If we are serious in solving the drug problem among the youth in the country, then we need to question its easy accessibility in parts of India.
Simpler still is to head to schools and college campus and not just in North India to get a reality check. An NCRB report says one juvenile dies of an overdose every ten days. Another report in 2019 revealed that one out of every six children in Delhi in the vulnerable age group of 8-12 have abused drugs.
Even though this doesn’t fit the plot, there is more. Hash remains illegal in the country, but Delhi is the third highest consumer globally. Detox centres in Bengaluru and Mumbai increasingly have a full house with teenagers, with some children as young as twelve or thirteen. Not all drug transactions take place on cruise ships.
Forgiveness and inclusiveness
A society in turmoil has its own demons but a family’s basic tenet is to teach forgiveness and inclusiveness. This hatred by the adults for a young man — who in their eye’s is more his father’s son — shows we have a problem that goes much beyond the interpretation of ‘having a blast.’ Aryan has been scarred, perhaps for life by a public jury that will helicopter in to save their own child even in the playground.
To think that our own kids will not face challenges in a social media landscape powered by smartphones is naive and yet the mirror our children are being shown is stained. As a parent I am concerned that we have the stick ready for all children — except our own.
There are also those who are educated and yet expose the myth that literacy comes from a degree. School WhatsApp groups have been abuzz calling for the strictest punishment for Aryan. I can vouch for it that many of these parents are themselves unaware of what their children are up to- online and offline.
Drugs, vaping, gaming addiction, cyber bullying, mental health disorders — the list is long and in need of immediate intervention. But instead of confronting these issues with care, we remain in denial unless it is Aryan Khan or Bollywood children.
There is so much venom in our hearts and our homes that we forget our children are watching too. They are learning that it is normal to be vindictive and to bay for blood, little realising that when their turn comes, there will be no second chances either.
Schools often say pressure by parents forces their hand in taking harsher steps than intended in rehabilitating mistakes. Institutions on the ground know that a system that punishes the youth hardens them instead of salvaging them and will only drive them to the edge.
But a faux moral indignation prefers to label people into boxes. Unfortunately, these days there is a heady power rush in making citizens apologetic for what and who they are.
India once was an idea — the same as what SRK pushes for in his latest Diwali advertisement. (Hopefully this ad buckles the trend and is not withdrawn). The actor showed aspirational India to have stars in their eyes and take a one-way ticket to a better life. For me that was bigger than any of his movies.
SRK taught us how to love. But in the end, we only wanted to embrace hate. He showed us Rahul and Raj, but we only wanted to remember that his name and his son’s name is Khan. And more than his, that is our tragedy.