There’s a scene in one of the Austin Powers movies in which the villainous Dr Evil has time-travelled to the very late 20th century from the 1960s. He threatens to destroy the world unless the world community pays him “one million dollars”. World leaders break into a collective guffaw on hearing the ransom demand, which after some consultation with his biological son, Dr Evil changes to a more reasonable “one hundred billion dollars”. As in the case of Dr Evil, for most of us on the wrong side of the latest Forbes list of the world’s richest people, the joke about inflation takes a while to register — Kaun Banega Crorepati? notwithstanding.
But being super-duper rich (like being super-duper poor) is a matter of comparing with the other blokes in the field. So India, now having the highest number of billionaires in Asia according to the totemic Forbes magazine, is worth opening that bottle of Krug, Clos du Mesnil 1995. Right up front is London-based Indian passport-holder Lakshmi Mittal, fifth richest man in the world, in a list of 36 desis. So much for the enhanced reputation of the city where he spent his early years: poor, dreary Calcutta.
Not to be too parochial about such things, Bill Gates remains the ‘billionairest’ of them all for the 13th year running. While the rest of us keep our eyes firmly on the taxi meter and the price of onions, the billionaires of the world make us yearn for a time when we are wealthy enough to not love the rustle of money. A billion, million, whatever should do the needful.