The Self-made Man: Illusion and Reality

Maverick: The Self-made Man: Illusion and Reality
By Farzana Versey
Covert, May 16, 2009

He got out of his BMW as the chauffeur held the door open for him. He was wearing a white bush-shirt, white pants and black sandals with criss-cross straps. He returned the peon’s salaam and even managed a camaraderie-dripping “Oye Ganpat, kaisa hai tu?

The peon grinned nervously, wondering why he did not have a BMW, although he too had a white shirt, white trousers and that funny-looking sandal.

Mr. White walked down the dark corridor with much authority. However, once inside the room he was headed to, he dropped his neck at a 20 degree angle and pulled his elbows close to his body. This was his ‘let’s play obsequious’ position.

Mr. Clean was wearing a white kurta, white pyjamas and those sandals. White greeted Clean with a namaste; the latter was sitting at a table that kept visitors at a distance but made him look puny. He could assert his authority only by standing up and raising his hands in what looked like a benediction.

The subtle hierarchy suggested that the politician had a slight edge.

So, what is this story all about? It is about two people called self-made men. There are such people in different professions, but it is important to zero in on the two pillars that keep the wheels of society moving.

There is no ready reckoner on how to be self-made men except that, according to reliable sources, you have to do some work and be pushy. They would not go along with Charlie McCarthy who said, “Ambition is a poor excuse for not having sense enough to be lazy.”

Of course, they do not use the word ambition; they always talk about a dream. I suppose there is a difference between the two terms. In one you have got to have some money; in the other you should have inherited poverty.

Here are a few self-made man ploys…

“I ran away from home with just ten rupees.”

There is the tearjerker about sleeping on platforms, on footpaths, becoming a stowaway. After years of “sweat, toil and tears” he can finally afford anti-perspirant and a no more tears shampoo; he continues to toil, though. It often translates into cultivating people in power. This is where the neck drop-elbow touching body trick is mastered. He gets into the good books because chances of the guy in power being from the same stock are high. With some sleight of hand, both are happy.

“I believe in simple living high thinking.”

It means he flies economy class. The pilot will wait for him to arrive, the flight attendants will know who he is and offer him wet towels and the almond-cashew packet instead of peanuts. He won’t blink. This is high thinking. To remain unmoved. He will give media interviews about how he still likes to sleep on the floor. There is no mention of the ankle-deep Persian rug and the fact that there is a master bedroom that could hold a conference. He likes doing that, holding fort and forth.

“I want to return to the nation and society what they have given me.”

He wants to sit behind that large desk and make the nation and society dance to his tune or ring tone. No one asks how he managed to get where he did because they are busy with the rags-to-riches tale. If he is from a high-caste, he will be anti-reservations because, “I managed with only ten rupees in my pocket, na?” If he is from a scheduled caste, he will be anti-reservations because, “See, if I can reach here with only ten rupees then so can others.”

“I want to die with my shoes on.”

He is unlikely to give up on life but even more unlikely is the possibility of his giving up his position. He is still wearing those sandals, so where do the shoes come in? This is a code for his PA to keep the designer Miu Miu footwear hidden in the closet when the time comes for a few roads, institutions and park benches to be named after him.

The self-made man is a pricey man-made image.


  1. Nice piece. As an aside, are you pro reservation?

  2. Enjoyed this a lot!!Any real life inspiration??I can think of many such type even in Kolkata

  3. Atul:

    Thanks. And yes.


    Of course, you will watch this game if you walk down any government office, especially Mantralaya.

    Kolkata's dress code would be different - white dhoti, white kurta and chappals. And there would be some attempt at a fight interspersed with "Raabish!"


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