There is something sinful associated with the idea of luxury in this country. One can understand why. With far too many people still busy in the artless art of making ends meet, products or services that provide pleasure of the highest — and sometimes of the most intangible — kind, can seem to provide a jarring contrast in a somewhat desolate landscape. But providing such a contrast is hardly a spurious activity even in this land of the aam admi. Luxury simply takes the concept of providing comfort to a higher, far more aesthetic level. And who can deny that India, however rarefied and ‘unreal’ this segment may be, today desires the best the world has to offer and, more important, can afford it. The land of poverty has also been the land of Maharajas. It is the new Maharajas and Maharanis who are drawing the attention of global brands. Earlier, one would have had to travel to Europe and contact one’s favourite boutique for a suit, a dress, a perfume or an accessory. In fact, the non-availability of global luxury products within the shores of India gave the ‘purchased from abroad’ tag a special cachet.
That rather irrational phenomenon is rapidly changing. The figures tell the story. According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) estimates, the Indian luxury market, currently worth $ 2.2 billion, is growing by 20 per cent every year. Indian households with an annual income of more than $ 100,000 number 2 million and is growing by 14 per cent a year. But numbers being bandied about — a rather vulgar way to approach the subject of luxury — tells only part of the story. The real one is about India Desiring.
In 1736, three years before the exquisitely bejewelled Takht-e-Tavous or the Peacock Throne of the Mughal emperors was carried off to Persia by Nadir Shah, Voltaire had defined the paradoxical nature of luxury: “Le superflu, chose si nécessaire” (The superfluous, a very necessary thing). A culture, a civilisation is also defined by its yearnings for beauty and pleasures. The fact that more and more Indians can now afford what they have desired and also desire new pleasures shows maturity. And above all, the ability to wield that weapon against crass money-throwing vulgarity: good taste.