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Delhi's new rich and restless

Almost always, when two worlds collide, it doesn't make a pretty sight. Last fortnight, Anukool Rishi, the 27-year-old son of a real estate tycoon and Kishan Lal, a 55-year-old cyclist, were killed when Rishi drove his Lamborghini into Lal.
Hindustan Times | By Isha Manchanda, Shalini Singh and Samar Khurshid, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2012 11:17 PM IST

Almost always, when two worlds collide, it doesn't make a pretty sight. Last fortnight, Anukool Rishi, the 27-year-old son of a real estate tycoon and Kishan Lal, a 55-year-old cyclist, were killed when Rishi drove his Lamborghini into Lal. The accident made headlines and ironically, took place on Delhi's BRT Corridor, meant to segregate diverse vehicles and the people in them.

Rishi wasn't the only reckless driver in a luxury car on the city's roads. After a Carerra and a Mercedes Benz, this was the third accident involving sports cars in the city in recent times. With the third highest per capita income in the country, according to a government survey on spending that came out in February, Delhiites spend the most amongst Indian states.

Always a city where power and money carried clout, the Capital's rich and restless are not averse to flaunting their wealth. Increasing displays of luxury cars, paying of enormous club bills, flaunting designer labels and VIP licence plates could be the tip of proverbial iceberg: Delhi's new flamboyance indicates that attitudes towards spending are undergoing a metamorphosis in the power-hungry city.

Till the onset of 2000s, a Porsche on the road turned heads - now the owner of Prince Paan, a paanshop in GK, has a fleet of fancy cars as do the host of unknown rich who frequent the growing number of nightclubs in the city. Last year, Kuki, a Delhi club hosted a special electronic music night where having a German passport or flashing your Mercedes, Jaguar or Porsche keys could get you free entry and high-end alcohol on the house.

A 2007 survey conducted by Indicus Analytics revealed that Delhi was home to the maximum number of millionaires in the country - a whopping 1.38 lakh Delhiites earn more than a million rupees every year. And many are unapologetic about flashing it.

Golfer Abhyaudya Sanghi, 25, scion of a business family that owns one of Delhi's biggest car dealerships, says of the new culture of ostentatious display: "Unless you go out in the best cars to the best places, dressed in the biggest designer labels, you feel like you're not respected," he says.

At times, the affluence is in your face. Consider the case of Delnaz Ahmed, 18, from a typical Delhi business family that owns franchises of a popular designer label. Delnaz (name changed on request) has a singular pursuit these days: to make herself look the best she can, cost be damned. Still in her teens, Delnaz has already undergone three cosmetic surgeries - one for her nose, another to inject collagen into her lips and a liposuction to lose weight. If cosmetic surgery is a mode of acceptability for certain teenagers, other affluent youngsters don't blink twice before shelling out between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh for coveted number plates. "I wanted a VIP number so I went to Chandigarh. It's tough to get a premium number in Delhi," says a second generation entrepreneur who didn't wish to be quoted.

The new pecking order
As India's one percent rises steadily - estimated to reach a net worth of Rs 235 Trillion by 2015-16 - it is natural to assume that the national capital, the cradle of political power, will also see a growth in the upper crust.

In the last 10 years, says image consultant Dilip Cherian, the explosive growth of the real estate sector and unaccounted for cash has fuelled the emergence of another class. "Every real estate broker has become a tycoon. Add to that the exporters and the invasion of the rich from abroad, and you have a heady cocktail of the old and new rich." Cherian recounts a prominent member of the chattering set telling him that if he walked into a party of 200 people earlier, he knew at least 50% of people. Now, he barely knows five. "There's a surfacing of several layers of the rich," says Cherian.

Over the last three decades, the lines between the city's Old Money and the Nouveau Riche gradually began to blur. While the number of the rich in Delhi rising, the city has a volatile tendency of allowing people to lead disparate lives even as the physical proximity between the middle and lower classes, and the rich, decreases.

Growing up in 1980s Delhi, it was easy to tell when one was passing through a rich area - the rich lived on Prithviraj Road and in Golf Links and travelled in red beacon or high-end cars. With the onset of liberalisation in the 90s, says politician-filmmaker Pritish Nandi: "There was a shift in values. In the last two decades, everything has become about money."

Nikhil Khanna of Avian Media, who once wrote a society column and continues to keep a watch on the well-heeled, says the chaos is driven by consumerism. "Car companies such as BMW and Audi are holding classes to teach people how to drive these cars. People who have the money to buy them but don't know how to drive them - it's a metaphor for what's happening to the city."

Writer Shourya Bali, 24, recalls a classmate's family coming into wealth almost over-night when he was studying at Delhi Public School, Mathura Road. "All of a sudden, she would travel to school in a new car every week and started looking like an designer-wear catalogue," he adds.

The display of sudden wealth really began in earnest in Delhi in the 90s. One of the factors that propagated it, says Nandi, was Page 3 that gave every lunching lady and her aunt their 15 minutes of fame, promoting vulgar displays of riches, brands and cars.

Recently, at Lap, a premier Delhi club, a landed politician's son from Ghaziabad was overheard declaring that he saw "no difference in Delhi's roads post the CWG makeover." When asked how that was possible, he replied in crude English: "When the cars are big and drive almost over the rest of the city, it is difficult to see what's on the ground."

Unfortunately, many times, that metaphor is too close to real life. Ask the Rishi and Lal families.

'You need to stand out to impress'
Abhyudaya Sanghi, 25
Amateur Golfer

Abhyudaya Sanghi is a 25-year-old amateur golfer, who lives in Golf Links, Delhi. "Anybody who's from Delhi would know what that means," he says. On prodding further, he reveals that it is one of those "classic rich addresses". An address that wealth is attached to and, according to Sanghi, a lot of pride as well.

Born to the family that owns MG Motors, one of Delhi's biggest car dealerships, Sanghi seems almost apologetic talking about how their family has only six cars, and the most expensive of the lot is an Honda Accord, which he drives. "We're planning to buy the BMW X6 and the Audi Q5 in the next few months," he adds. Sanghi almost laments how everyone these days has a BMW or a Mercedes, and talks about how his family has acquired a R20 crore plot in Okhla recently with unnerving ease. "We have 15 car dealerships in Haryana and therefore whatever real estate we purchase is mostly for business purposes," he points out.

With a well set-up family business, Abhyudaya - or Abhyu to friends - did battle reservations from the family when he decided to pursue golf professionally. "I never had much of a talent for business anyway and golf is a pretty prestigious sport as well," he adds. Like any other 20-something in urban India, Abhyudaya likes socialising and goes clubbing at least once a week. On an average night, he'll ride up a bill of about R25-30,000, though on occasion he's been "bullied" into paying atrocious sums. "I was visiting a friend, Yuvraj, in Chicago for a few days and ended up picking up a tab of about a $1, 000," he says. "He's so smart, he almost conned me into paying the bill," he adds jokingly.

Every time Sanghi goes out, he feels the pressure to assert his class, to establish that he is at the top of the rung. "You know I used to love going to smaller pubs but now I only go to places like Blue Bar at the Taj and Lap," he points out. "You need to stand out to impress people."

'I decide for myself'

Ronak Sekhri, 25

Ronak Sekhri, 25, is the director of his company. The young professional started under his father's wing but has made his own way through life. As a child, he had always wanted to be independent. "I wanted to get out of the house. People are always on your case about important decisions. I wanted to decide for myself."

While studying business administration at Oxford Brooks, Sekhri experienced a near epiphany which changed his priorities. "In my second year, I thought to myself 'Time to get serious. I've enjoyed college but my dad is spending a lot of money on me and I need to focus.'"

In the following years , his father and uncle split their shared business and Sekhri joined the ranks as a trainee for six months. Relaunching the roads branch of the company, he reinvented the business model to double profits within a year.

Sekhri acknowledges he would be nowhere if not for the break given to him. "I don't take things for granted and learning the hard way keeps me grounded and humble. I do enjoy a good restaurant or a good car. But I don't do it for the sake of swaggering." He often entertains prospective clients at the lounge of The Aman hotel - his favourite place for business meetings - but he still enjoys the occasional kathi roll from Nizam's or the butter chicken at Moti Mahal.

However, Sekhri bears no ill-will for those who aren't so down-to-earth. "A successful businessman's son has a right to enjoy the fruits of his father's work, as long as he makes his own way in the world."

For Sekhri, work and family are his priorities. "It's my turn to give back to my parents." Inspired by his mother's efforts in social work, the desire to help the underprivileged people pulls at his heartstrings. "But I don't pity them. They're happy in their own world. Just because you're poor doesn't make you sad." - Samar Khurshid

'I try to keep it simple'

Nishant Arora, 32
Family business

Next to one of Delhi's most popular nightclubs in GK-2 is the JMD Kohinoor Mall. The mall's basement houses the mall owner's no-frills work-space. Nishant Arora, 32, who works in his family business, the Kohinoor Basmati Rice group's food division, spends an average day here like most new-age entrepreneurs. Dressed casually in jeans, Arora could very well be any 20-something urban Delhiite. He's an Audi car fan, but keeps things in perspective. "Four years ago I had a Mercedes SLK 55 but realised it wasn't practical. Delhi's driving culture is hazardous to such cars. After what happened to one of my close friends [who died in the Lamborghini accident recently], it validated my decision to get an SUV," he says. Arora likes his cars white - a trend he picked up from Dubai - but keeps it simpler for a phone. "The maximum I've invested is in a top-end Blackberry. I'm not the kind to spend Rs 2 lakh on a Vertu."

Arora's family business started in the 70s when they started branding rice and selling it as an FMCG commodity. Despite having inherited the set-up, Arora says he began at the lowest rung. "I trained as an area sales representative, going on a bike from shop to shop."

He enjoys the travel that his work affords him and says his ambition is to "see Kohinoor at a Walmart, a Tesco and even a shop in South Africa". What's average day like? "I'm in office by 10:30am, spending the day in meetings… now with Skype, I can even chat with my buyers abroad." Post work, he heads for a workout or a game of tennis to the Srifort Club. Sundays are meant for family time. Partying? "I enjoy going to Lap. I know people who spend Rs 2-3 lakh a night there, but my upper limit is Rs 15,000. My wife doesn't drink and I'm not a heavy drinker."

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