Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Being Ultra Rich

The question that has been bothering me for the past few years is this: how can I become ultra-Rich?
To address this, you first have to understand if you are rich or not. The India Together Editor Ashwin Mahesh did some back-of-the-envelope calculations a few years back and wrote that you are rich in India if you have more than Rs.10000 as income per month.
This will be shocking to most people, because we call most people in that range as middle class; actually we call them lower middle class. We definitely did not consider ourselves rich when we were earning Rs.10000 per month.
But in India, the average wage is much lower than Rs.10000 per month. So most of us reading and writing in the internet are already Rich.
But there is an important reason why we do not consider ourselves rich - that is because, we still have to struggle for recognition with millions of other people. So we are Rich, but we do not get some of the SOCIAL benefits of being rich. We are not Unique.

The New Rich

You see, there are two kinds of rich people - we call in Tamil "Pudhu Panakkaaran" - the New Rich and "Paramparai Panakkaran" - the Traditional Rich.
Most of us are the New Rich - I started out with a pay of Rs.2500 in my first job and then reached Nirvana only because I went to the USA. The New Rich people have some money, and want to be respected as Rich. But we still have a long way to go.
How do you know the New Rich? We are the ones hanging out in Pizza Corner, Coffee Day, Barrista, LandMark, Odyssey and all these shops. There is a very very important way these shops are distinguished - in these shops, all the staff talk in English. They have "English" music going - never ordinary Tamil, Hindi movie songs.
You see, the New Rich are trying hard to show that they are Rich; they do this in a variety of ways. One of these ways is to make you feel you are "foreign".
I was browsing books in Odyssey the other day when a staff member walked over and said, "Do you need any help?". I said "No". The guy replied, as a single word, "Looking-for-nothing-in-particular" and walked away. It took me about five minutes to figure out what he said.
So, these shops, the New Rich shops provide an important function in society - they are there essentially for validating that you are, indeed, a Rich guy. They try to make you feel exclusive in a country with a hundred million other people exactly like you.
The staff there know this - they are so uncomfortable with their role, though.
This was brought home to me last week in Barrista. The guy at the cash register frowned at every one of his customers. A family came in and ordered coffee. The guy harassed them with all the stupid questions about coffee - latte, cream on top and all that. The couple gamely answered all the questions, but still could not get RESPECT from the register guy. So, they started complaining that the prices were higher than in the USA and tried to talk about the USA - for the sole purpose of informing the guy they were NRIs. That did not help either. The guy never stopped barking at them.
I was nervously waiting for my turn. I started out asking for coffee in Tamil, asked him a couple of questions about seating upstairs. The problem I have is that I find it difficult to talk in English with other Tamils - it is just not natural.I asked all my questions in Tamil, and the guy probably got offended. He resolutely kept answering in English. Finally I gave up.
When I thought about it later, I realized that all of us customers at Barrista are competing for some respect or distinction because we are the New Rich. Unfortunately, the staff there are aware of that. They know that they hold the power to make or break our Rich egos. So, they exercise that power.
I always find tense, morose staff at Coffee Day, Odyssey and Pizza Corner. The reason is not far to seek - the staff is forced to behave in a cultural context outside of their regular experience. It is somewhat like BPO.

The Ultra-Rich

But how can you truly distinguish yourself in Chennai?
You have to be one of the Ultra Rich traditional panakaarans.
Have you ever walked into the Taj in Chennai? Or Park Sheraton? You talk to them in Tamil, they would reply in Tamil. Right there is a clue of why they are so cool.
We have to realize that there is an unassuming tradition of richness, native to India.
When I was growing up in Tirunelveli, there was a family friend of ours. He would turn up at our home without wearing a chappal, covered in Neem oil and sit by the shoe rack and converse with my dad. Well, he was on the Board of Directors for the Ramco group and owned half the village of Kayathaar.
Again, there was the owner of a private bus transport. This guy would wear a cotton dhoti and white shirt. He would have a "thundu" (towel) bunched up in his hand wherever he went. The guy was a multi millionaire - he owned 10 buses in the Tirunelveli area and was a philanthropist. He donated the gold statue of Thyagaraja currently in Thiruvaiyaaru.
I saw the leader of the TN Congress Party and national King Maker, G.K.Mooppanaar once in Tirunelveli. He was simple as well, although he landed up in a fleet of Benz cars.
There is a tradition of extreme humility (matched many times by conservative ideas) in Indian Ultra-Rich world. Political leaders, Cinema luminaries, Industrialists - many of them operate in a constellation far above ours.
Well, you think they go to Coffee Day? I bet even their grand children don't. They have no need for validation. They are so damn cool, they can walk into the Taj and order curd rice. They are so damn cool, their women do not go to Nalli. Nalli chettiyaar personally delivers hand-designed sarees to their womenfolk.
Right now, I can count a few of these rich families:
1. M.Karunanidhi, Stalin, Maran family
2. Rajinikanth family
3. Saravana Stores family
4. S.Ve Sekhar family
5. Y.G. Parthasarathy family
6. Kamal Hassan-Charu Hassan-Chandra Hassan family
7. Saravana Bhavan family
8. Nalli family
9. AVM family
10. DK Pattammal (Nithyasree) family
11. Sivaji Ganesan family

There are probably hundreds of them, but not thousands. Most of these men and women are recognized only by the others in this exclusive club.

My Ultra-Rich Fantasy

I have a fantasy about belonging to this club.
In my fantasy, housemaids and gardeners and drivers abound in our home - none of them ever quit. Even if they do, I do not have to personally worry about finding their replacement.
In my fantasy, the hall in the house is enormous; has two staircases going round - like the houses in old Sivaji, MGR movies.
In my fantasy, the driver drives me and my wife upto Vummidi Bangaru Jewellers (VBJ) and parks in the back. Someone goes in and informs the manager. They come running out. My wife gets samples delivered to the car. Meanwhile I am munching fried cashewnuts and contemplating the expansion of my immense business house.
In my fantasy, I don't talk much.
In my fantasy, I buy Barrista and Odyssey.

Ok, the cooker whistle is going like a siren, I got to go.


balaarjunan said...

Too good!
Even i have such a fantasy :)

To become ultra rich we should be a celebrity.
In the increasing order of brains and decreasing order of richness

1. Politician
2. Actor
3. Run a School/College
4. Business man

There was an article in today's Times of India, How to become a millionaire in times of recession?

Answer: Marry a millionaire - But it works only for girls ;)

Pedda said...

This was funny man. It contrasts the new rich and traditional rich in a humorous manner while not failing to show the difference in attitude. In telugu there is a saying 'nada mantram siri' for the wierd show offish attitude of the new rich. I think your strength lies in showing such differences in the things you see in the society.

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zrb said...

Just goes to show that you can earn money... but not self-respect.

What is cool is having Lemon-Salt-Soda at the Ravi Soda Factory near Mount Station... and get there in a Xing (the one that your father-in-law "presented") :-D

Go to a coffee shop for coffee... go to a book shop for books... why expect something else there???