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Why it is so cool to beat up the rich

LiveMint logoLiveMint 19-09-2017 Monika Halan

Around this time every year, for the last few years, Mint does a special edition tracking the uber rich in India. Conceptualised and edited by my colleague Vivina Vishwanathan, the edition looks at the lives of the super rich Indians through the lens of money. Economic liberalisation allowed new categories of people an entrance into the uber rich club. Doctors, lawyers, professionals, first-generation entrepreneurs, actors and sportsmen joined the high table of the super rich where the already rich through inheritance sat.

The new Indian rich and how they got there

Year 2014 kicked off the edition idea with an issue that mapped the new Indian rich. You can read the edition here: bit.ly/2xsiOjF. Year 2015 mapped the Rich Professional. You can read the edition here: bit.ly/2wAF1be. In 2016, Mint Rich Stars mapped the money lives of India’s movie and sports stars. You can see the edition here: bit.ly/2hapZaf. We found behind the glitter and the high living was an uncertain future, sporadic income and a short tinsel earnings lifespan. This year, we mapped the lives of the young inheritors of some of the biggest business houses in India. You can read the edition here: bit.ly/2xfj6tY.

The reactions to the editions have always been a mirror to our difficulty in dealing with money. The basic question asked is: why do we map the lives of the rich? Why feature their lives in a poor country? I can only answer with a counter-question: why not? Mint aims to be an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian dream. A lot of young Indians dream to be rich. Surely it is better to dream to be rich than dream to be poor. Chronicling the lives of the rich in one edition a year doesn’t make Mint an apologist for the rich.

The professional rich and how they work

On another track, I remember how upset some people were when we featured adult entertainment actor Sunny Leone. Some of them hadn’t even read the story. I have to tell you, when I read Vivina’s interview of Leone, the one thing that sprang out was how money-smart she was. Especially when the usual female response to money is: “I don’t know a thing about money because I’m a girl.” Leone’s control and direction over her life—money and professional—was so good to read about.

Starring: Money

This year’s edition on the rich business scions got us this comment: why hold a candle to somebody who won the ovarian lottery? Let’s unpack this comment. Yes, they won the ovarian lottery. And if you are reading this newspaper, so did you. I won the ovarian lottery because I was born to parents who brought up girls with a wealth in education rather than gold for dowry. How do I discard this ovarian lottery? Do I unlearn things I learnt? Will you reject the 3-BHK that your parents bequeath to you? How does a rich kid born in a business family, legitimate heir to the share of business the parent owns and wants to bequeath, say no to it? Should he? Will you?

The Inheritors

The other thread is the angst over the space the rich occupy to live, or the money they splurge on stuff. Maybe we need to look in the mirror—do we upgrade homes, cars, restaurants as we move up in life? In terms of percentage of wealth spent on stuff, some of the urban mass affluent may have more indulgent lives than the uber rich. One comment on Twitter spoke about being happy to have a list of people to target ‘when the revolution comes’. Seriously, after the gigantic failure of the socialist system, we’re still waiting for the ‘revolution’? My only suggestion to those waiting for the revolution that is outside-in rather than inside-out, is to go read Animal Farm.

So, I’m asking this: how much of our (non-uber rich or even just rich, or just middle class) own attitudes towards the rich come from our own limitations? Given half a chance, would we not swap the metro for the Mercedes? We will continue to chronicle the India story at Mint—both of the rich and the poor and all those in the middle. Before rushing to be judgemental on the uber rich, maybe we should examine our own attitudes to money. I will quote Sri Aurobindo on money here. He wrote: “You must neither turn with an ascetic shrinking from the money power, the means it gives and the objects it brings, nor cherish a rajasic attachment to them or a spirit of enslaving self-indulgence in their gratifications.... All wealth belongs to the Divine and those who hold it are trustees, not possessors...any perturbation of mind with regard to money and its use, any claim, any grudging is a sure index of some imperfection or bondage.”

Monika Halan works in the area of consumer protection in finance. She is consulting editor Mint and on the board of FPSB India. She can be reached at monika.h@livemint.com

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