I agree with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi that poverty is a state of mind and that it does not mean the scarcity of food, dollars or onions. So whenever I hear about top brands setting up shop here, I am pleased.
The thought that India has about 55 US dollar billionaires (2013 figure), next only to the United States, Russia, China and Germany and that our luxury market is projected to reach $14.7 billion in 2015 makes me proud — distorted, you would say, in view of the stark tales of inequalities in our country — but I cannot help it.
Legend has it that Rolls-Royce, by far the most sought-after marque in the royal garages of the princely states, once had to pay the price for slighting India. The British company refused to accept an order from Maharaja Bhupinder Singh for a new Rolls Royce car.
Not taking kindly to the snub, the old maharaja put some of his old cars to carry garbage dung and filth in Patiala, much to the horror and dismay of the Rolls Royce-loving viceroy and the class-conscious British ruling class, who eventually prevailed upon the company to ‘comply’ with the old maharaja’s wishes.
Now if you tend to rubbish such fables of ostentatious wealth for being utterly undemocratic, following the years of liberalisation, there has been a spurt in India’s new maharajas – industrialists, entrepreneurs, professionals and the rural rich, not to speak of the returning prodigal children, franchisees, and small and medium retailers as well as high net worth individuals (HNIs).
Besides many of the top brands are available in India and there are far too many recession-proof aunts and uncles in town shopping from Champs Elysées or buying a Piaget in Geneva, quite a number of people flying first class by British Airways, staying at the Waldorf Astoria, or buying über-premium real-estate in Mumbai.
And then there are those who cannot buy branded goods but love them nevertheless and so they go for those with faux Guccis, Calvin Kleins, Christian Diors, Versace, Diesel and Giorgio Armani logos embossed on them!
For me, the arrival of this new India, a greater spread of richer people all around us, is a great democratic thing. It makes me in part aspirational and in part resigned to my karma.
The greatest service that these tales of fabulous wealth has done for me is that it has enabled me to treat money as piffle due also to the fact that I stand in a divide of the class hierarchy — belonging as I do to the great Indian Middle Class. We stand equidistant from the two top extremes of the Indian economy, a vantage point from where I am both a prince and a pauper.
Being rich is also truly a state of mind.
(Prasenjit Chowdhury is a Kolkata-based commentator The views expressed by the author are personal)