The Travails of the Rich

Observed at the Phoenix Mall at Parel during high noon: tween female dressed in a pink, white and lilac floral dress with a matching hat worn nonchalantly indoors, and a middle-aged woman in a floor-length, voluminous anarkali made of floaty multi-layered tissue-material in blue, lime green and gold, and trimmed with pearly tassels.

This is the fierce conversation they had right outside the trial rooms, where I was waiting in line to try on my single measely outfit:
Tween: I still have three more dresses to try! You call Madanji for the Audi if you’re in a hurry.
Older woman: Madanji is having his lunch. If you want to stay you can come home in a taxi. I am taking the Mercedes.
Tween: Dadi said the Mercedes is for me today!
Older woman: It is my car, not Dadi’s. Are you coming or staying?
Tween: [sweeps every outfit at hand into a shopping basket and stomps off towards the payment counter]
Older woman: [raising her voice after her ^] I should’ve left you in London like last year!

The clothes that the girl picked up in the fifteen minutes she spent casually strolling through the aisles, and then swept into her check-out basket without trying on or apparently caring about, cost half my salary at my last job – the one I worked full-time at. I know, because I walked to the shelves after she left, and checked the price tag out of perverse curiosity. But still, had she stayed back, she’d have to go home in an Audi. Imagine the pain.

The other half, eh? How distraughtly they live.



  1. Responses from social media:

    Lali: I used to be routinely left in my HOUSE if I misbehaved while the family went to my mama’s place. Blimey, the standards have changed, haven’t they? Oh no, wait, I am the wrong half.

    Neha: I tell you these rich brats these days. One tight slap and they will all stop misbehaving

    Me: given that their families allowed them to grow up like this, one tight slap will probably land us in jail, with the media (owned by these buggers’ friends) throwing mud at us. Did you know a Ambani kid ran over someone while driving drunk and completely got off despite several witnesses including the police?

    Neha: Yep, yep. Sad state of affairs. what appalls me is the sense of entitlement.

    Indranil: isn’t “one tight slap” also a vestige of our socio-cultural entitlement?

    Gautam: But its exhilarating too in a way, right?

    Indranil: somehow the phase always seems to remind me of ‘ek chutki sindoor’ from OSO… can’t for my life figure why 😛

    Ruma: I have much to say about the leeches…but my phone is not letting me…arrggh

    Ritobroto: I would love to live this life. Really. And have my kid live it too, Rimi, telling you in advance because that would have been your next question in all probability, nailing me about the socio-eco upbringing of your niece. But yes, I would love myself and the missus and the kid to be spoilt rich. And also contemplated on leaving one or both behind in Tampa Bay or the Alps like ‘last year’. *sigh*

    I love rich spoilt brats. They walk and talk and eat and pee with confidence… they are unfettered with pettiness or poverty and are the real visionaries who will drive a capitalist India forward. They are the real ‘big’ risk- takers; they up the ante on aspirational living; they build industries and markets. Not us.

    Me: Ruma, we’ll wait till you’re at a comp. I love to hear what you have to say. Bublada, I’d like to be rich too, except that I don’t know what to do with money except travel and eat well. And even then, I’ve been brought up in such a middle-class way – in terms of lifestyle, not in terms of socio-economic outlook – that I’d probably really not enjoy the rich way of travelling, of experiencing five-star hotels instead of the actual places and staying cocooned in plastic luxury. Eating, well, I do enjoy eating out and that has always been my biggest expense, but if I had money, I’d actually buy a big oven and a powerful whisk, and first-rate ingredients, and then just cook at home. Money like this would be wasted on me. And I think it might be wasted on you too. Would you really swoon over mass-produced things with a designer label stuck on it?

    Indranil: from vivah to viva?

    Ritobroto: I eat Rs.6-er loochi-daal on the pavement to Rs.1500 er personal pizza. I wear Mora Shaheber jama and also shirts of 5k. How does it matter as long as I enjoy?

    Indranil: yes… but what would then happen to “live-and-lets-slap”?

    Ritobroto: Dekh Indra… let us not get into the have-not mentality of middle-class. Which is different from the overall have and have not mentality. Intellectual and mental masturbation pays to satisfy our brains; we feel proud to give alms to the lowers and lambast the REAL high- heeled’s lack of upbringing. A country moves on investment which we will not provide but rather ride pillion. It will be a better future overall if increasing numbers enter the rich club.

    Indranil: wont such ^^^ homogeneity taste bland and boring like… Mother Dairy’s Double toned milk?

    Me: Shobai raja holey keu-e raja thaake na – ekebarey Communism 101 🙂 I do think there should be greater wealth in each social class, so that the “poor” can also actively participate in the economy. If there’s a big group not capable of participating both with labour and money, then the economy gets heavier at the top progressively till it collapses. I do NOT want to live in a collapsed economy. Kintu how does the money reach the poorer people, is my question.

    Ritobroto: I would be comfortable with a lower limit and ecstatic with an unending higher one. There is a difference. I would then buy the best house and the best modular kitchen, whisk up dinner stuff one day of khichuri, and roar into Hyaat to have a coffee after I finish my telebhaja at Karunamoyee. Got the drift sis?
    Most of you guys say the Durga Puja or the Elections are waste of public money, tai na? Grow up and then we will talk. (Hint: check up something called forward and backward linkages in economics). As the rich get richer, the rest in a country do so, too.

    Bevinda: Don’t make fun of them. Racist. Just because they come from a different world, why make fun of their vernacular? You had me from the indoor hat 🙂 You have to write many books and publish them. I swear I will buy every one you write.

    Me: Find me a publisher, Bev, and I promise I will 🙂

    Gautam: I am with Ritobroto here except to say the very rich can be petty too. Witness the mafatlals and Khataus family fights….But apart from that he’s right.

    Indranil: its an issue of scalability, and thus the level of magnification.

    Gautam: This is a very Calcutta post.

    Ritobroto: See pettiness is subjective. The very rich also spit on roads and rush into elevators; the difference being that elevators are held open for them and they push money into the economy which generates increased employment or increments or overall productivity.

    Me: Bublada, just to be clear, I absolutely do NOT say that elections are a waste of money. Neither do I say Durgapujo is, because every culture in my opinion needs an annual no-holds-barred carnivalesque. I object to the super-loud mikes playing the same songs on loop, but I object to that on grounds on extreme personal irritation and discomfort. But I object very strongly to the rich getting richer by bypassing fair wages and escaping taxes, because when that happens, the lower social classes in their employment do not reap the benefits of the labour they provide the rich, and the national economy becomes top-heavy and collapses.

    Indranil: essentially… the freedom to booze without the hangover? Rito you might want to ponder on that… a tip of 20 vs a tip of say 200/- gets different things. I stand by what I said.

    Ritobroto: Indra 2 things. 1. When that tip is given (before or after the meal). 2. If you have engaged with the chef beforehand.

    Me: OK, stop press thankyouverymuch. Bublada, my point is drowning in this conversation, and I want to make it with some emphasis. It’s not just the rich who push money into the national economy (I don’t care if they’re buying real estate and employing staff in other nations, I care about the economy here first, even if it is linked to the global chain). If only the rich were responsible for injecting money, we’d be very poorly off, given how tiny the number of rich people are compared to the middle class and the poor. So we need an economy where every class participates, and every class contributes. Having people sit at home twiddling thumbs hurts not just them, it hurts the middle-class and it hurts the rich folks too… plus, as is well documented, it creates a security risk, and unless taxes are paid, there is no police force to protect one from it.

    Gautam: Come on guys. The elephant in the room. Its obvious. Its fun to have money.

    Indranil: Khyak khyak. Before tax or after tax? Better still no tax! Vote BJP 😀 😀 😀

    Me: Gautam, it is. I’m saying every class should have money to spend. Did I wake up today a really bad communicator? I used to be so good at it…

    Gautam: Every class does have money to spend.Its just not equal. Some have more while some have less. I mean, Rimi, those posts of yours on food might evoke the same indignant sarcastic reaction from many less fortunate. Its all relative.

    Indranil: just like good cooks, the great cooks, the undeniably bad cooks and the indeterminate average ones in between.

    Maayaa: I have been brattish far too many times to be the hypocrite who thunders righteously against the said two women. However, I would like to point out that the bigde-hue-shehzaadaz-shehzaadis are quite the soul sores.

    Me: Gautam, they very well might. I accept this possibility with perfect equanimity and some wicked glee. I’m not a bloody saint. I’m a selfish bastard who would like to live more comfortably in a more stable world system, with greater public facilities and protection. Somehow, this is equated with being a bleeding hearted Robin Hood. The logic of this analogy escapes me, quite possibly because there is none to be found. And no, the working and middle-classes have grown significantly poorer, with lesser amounts of spare cash and fewer things they can afford with it.

    Gautam: I didn’t mention Robin Hood as an analogy, nor did I refer to a bleeding heart. As an analogy, one would look to Aesop’s fables, but that would be most unkind. 😛

    Bevinda: I am now in the enviable position of having ‘unaccountable’ money. Money which I do not have to account to my husband for spending. I pay myself a salary. It’s just 10K a month but spending it is hugely entertaining.

    Me: Of course you didn’t, Gautam. Had you had, I would not have mentioned them in an impersonal, third-person manner. I’m delighted to see you do not wish to be unkind to me. May this state of affairs ever continue.

    Gautam: Maayaa: Look, its just a matter of volume and scale. Replace the audi with some other car, less expensive, and “London” with Borivli station or whatever.

    Me: It sort of is. My mother used to abandon me in the College Street book market to go shop for spices in Burrabazaar. I just didn’t have the spending money to splurge.

    Maayaa: Gautam, funny thing these days is – the poor it appears have the same rigid sense of self righteous entitlement as the rich. Ever been snubbed and looked down upon by a beggar woman? Or refused by a bai for a days of work while you’d offered quite a colorful financial deal for bargain?

    Bevinda: I agree, poverty is relative. It’s starvation that is not relative. If having wealth in some, is directly related to starvation in others, I’m all for unskewing the system. But I see what’s-his-face’s fugly building on Peddar Road – Mukesh Ambani, I don’t envy him his wealth at all. It’s poetic justice that he has all that lucre and everyone laughs at him. My son-in-law says he doesn’t want to buy a car in Mumbai, because then he will lose his freedom, I fully understand.

    Gautam: Antilla is superb inside, I have heard. The outside is bad architecture according to me.

    Indranil: sounds like Khobragade… but on a different scale. A Dalit with an Adaarsh flat. Or madam Maya. I believe these days they call it empowerment, not entitlement 🙂

    Maayaa: As for the spoilt brats. The other day I was waiting to get my coffee. Along comes a designer bag toting mummy with a plucky six year old daughter with her live – in – maid nanny scuttling behind her. The racket! The keening. The throwing around her little gadgets and complete disregard for propriety in a public place. She started howling at a point and when the nanny tried to shush her, the little monster punched and slapped her. Mummy? Well what did the bard say; Caesar’s wife is above reproach?

    Bah. All I wanted was to box the ear of that little devil’s spawn so hard and yell her to go and stand in that corner and not move till I told her it was ok to move again.

    Bevinda: Bevinda, to starvation I’ll add access to education and access to basic healthcare (including daily required nutrition). I don’t think preventing people from merely starving is good enough, I just don’t. That would be like maintaining a pool for slave labour – here, you have this much to eat everyday, and you can then work for less than livable wage till you contract an illness or collapse and die, and you have no tool to bargain for greater price in exchange for your labour, or demand your share of the wealth you help create. Our problem is, we see exploitation as a poor people’s problem, even while the corporations and companies we work for fleece us well and proper. It’s only fitting, I suppose, that a lack of empathy gradually allows Other People’s Problems to come knock on our doors.

    Bevinda: It’s a question of volume and scale as Gautam says. To me, it’s elegance of mind. My maid who earned Rs 6000 working in five houses, had far more elegance of mind than Mukesh Ambani. She has exquisite taste in saris, looks like an aristocrat and walks like a queen.

    Lali: Yup, poverty is relative. Poverty in my world is not getting a single meal a day, whereas in UK, for instance, it is defined as not being able to afford more than 2 pints of lager in a week. Yes, I loved the fact that his disastrous fugly (what an effing wonderful term!) house has made him hte laughing stock of the world. It angers me beyond expression though, when that wealth gets his static-between-thighs son out of the clutches of law despite killing 2 people and some poor sod of a driver with mouths to fill will serve jail for him and all our so called free, idealistic media does bugger all about it.

    Indranil: come on…give the ambani guy a break! it resembles a petro refinery gas cracker plant… at least the guy is true to his roots.

    Bevinda: Maayaa, I would have lit into the mother.

    Maayaa: The mother. Yes perhaps. But at that single moment in time you could not – not hate that little racketeer.

    Rimi: A child in my extended family once took me to task for thanking the staff at a restaurant. “Why do you keep saying thank you?” she demanded, “Are you mad?” The child’s mother giggled at this and didn’t say a word. This made me want to say, with a loving smile, “You’re supposed to thank people who do things for you, darling. It’s called being nice. Didn’t mummy teach you that?” What I said instead was, “It’s a nice thing to do. Why don’t you start thanking uncle when he brings your water or lemonade? He’ll think you’re such a lovely little girl for it”. For all that I rage against uncouth entitled brats of all ages, I find I’m far too well brought-up (mostly) to react in the ways I think they deserve.

    Maayaa: Integrity. The rich need integrity. And a series of thwacks while growing up. I grew up getting my ears boxed and my mummy’s Hawai Chappal. I may have my wretched moments but over all I turned out ok.

    Bevinda: My plimsol line is when I see mothers allowing their little sons to assault their little daughters. Then I step in and reduce the mother to tears, and embarrass the crap out of whoever is accompanying me. I remember hissing at one little boy bully in a restaurant, that if he ever troubled his sister again, I had the power to go through walls and I would come at night and drink his blood. His silly sister also burst into tears, but well I think mum and son got the idea.

    Me: Vis a vis mummy’s hawai chappal, this:…/10-controversial-ways-i…/
    I’m amazed the author considers this controversial. My otherwise “capitalist” dada Ritobroto is as stern a father as he is affectionate, and I think my lovely niece is turning out very well under his and my sister-in-law’s care.

    Me: Bev, you’re a goddamned hero. Also, I love “my plimsoll line”. If you ever see me using it in the future, consider it a tip of the hat to you.

    Maayaa: Bottom line : the key thing is grace. If they possess charming grace, doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor. High fashion designer label wearing show stopper or a simple dress wearing ordinary person. Grace always charms.

    Bevinda: I KNOW right? Now tell my daughters that. (This is apropos the goddamned hero mega compliment. Not the grace one) They have grace. Nay, my goils have elegance. But I used to whack them first and ask questions later when they were growing up.

    Lali: I would happily give the Ambanis a break if they had more class and if they were less crass. But their brazen show of wealth is what gets me. My dad used to use this term ‘vulgar show of wealth’ (a very Bengali mind-set, to diss what one can’t have), and Mukesh Ambani exemplifies that. That is where they are different from the Tatas. I had long back read this in an article in the Statesman decades back, about the very rich Indian wives of London getting together at a party and discussing what cars they came to hte party in. Mercs, Jags, what have you. One lady did not speak and when asked, said, well I find traffic in London a nightmare and it is much simpler to take the tube. It is. The lady was Swaraj Paul’s wife, at that point the richest Indian in London. Now the Mittals, reading the same books regarding what constitutes good breeding, have changed that equation too.

    Lali: I totally agree with what you say, Maayaa. Grace and integrity. Some of the richest people I know are also the nicest human beings I know, so wealth in itself is not a crime and no reason to take umbrage about. My maid is incredibly graceful and hte way she handles my things makes me cringe with god-knows-what sort of guilt that she does not have a house to work on it as she does in mine. Similarly, the maid at my mum’s has the most beautiful eyes one can ever see and we have seen her, several times, stop her cleaning to read and get lost in the reading of some magazine or book lying around. We look away so she doesn’t get embarrassed. Equally, I have an aunt (very close but no relation) whose house has paintings by Jamini Roy 4-5 to a room, totaling many many crores, amongst other things, but she is so good about it, so gentle and so wonderful as a person…

    Ruma: Rimi, you are a better person than I am. I would have said, ‘Didn’t Mummy teach you to say sorry?’ to the child. In the long run that would be more useful to Mummy and Daddy as well possibly. I see so many people around me who had no rules as children because a) the parents thought the kid was God’s gift to womankind and b) because the kid was allowed to adopt the same school of thought. Of course, telling them they are little shits does mean you get excluded from some stuff which would have been boring any way.

    The other thing, and perhaps someone has already said this here..children do not learn simple living by reading about Vivekananda or Harry Potter. They learn from their parents. And little miss floral Parel would have learned it at Dadi and Nani and even Mummy’s knee, because that is to them the way you do things when you are rich. I remember a girl in Kolkata who was in my daughter’s class at MHS who got a mini zoo for her 13th birthday. It was splendid, Dadaji would not even allow a crow to poop on his marble tiled terrace…suddenly there were two goats, chickens, ducks and a bedraggled deer in their Judges Court road backyard! A year later, we found they had all died.

    Gautam: No offence to anyone in this thread but all this is like below stairs jibber jabber while They probably grin with a lot of amusement in between spoonfuls of caviar and slugs of Stolichnaya at the squeaking taking place under their floorboards.

    Like I keep telling Sameer Panje I have a Jurassic view of the universe.

    Gautam: I am in one of those moods.

    Bevinda: If they have non-squeakproof floorboards, they’ve stolen the caviar and Stolichnaya.

    Pathikrit: Big big monkey, long long tail.
    May they have more and more to be unhappy for.
    The prince born at Lumbini lived well.

    Me: Mithun, would you please stop close-reading this thread like it’s a lost new Christie and please make us some tea? I made strawberry cake to say thank you with.

    Gautam: And some chicken sandwiches. And plump up the pillow a bit.

    Me: Don’t listen to him darling. I didn’t make chicken sandwiches. I did get steaks for dinner, though. Would you like one of my fried cheese burgers tonight? With caramelised onions and grilled tomatoes? (Goodness, I do spoil you, don’t I? I suppose your tummy exists as reproach.)

    Gautam: All that drooling spoilt the rug. Go take it to the dry cleaners downstairs. Bad. BAD!

    Doyel Mukherjee: your descriptions are vivid and much fun to read! Just that I’m beginning to think that children get used to the entitlement their parents can afford. I’ve seen (and even judged!) parents whose kids kick up a fuss in the malls – and they were not necessarily rich or poor – just regular folks. And I bet I’ve been judged by others when my kids have just left their dinner plates around for me to pick up after them. It’s what we allow and can afford. The rich – just because of the sheer scale of their entitlement – make it more entertaining for folks like us! 🙂

    And also, parents – moms in particular – have gotta master the art of frightening the living daylights out their children without raising their voices. Especially for use in public. My mom had a beatific smile in her face when she warned us “Eyi muhurtey bodmaashi bondo koro – noyley baarii giye..” 😀

    Bevinda: Talking of sandwiches, I made a zinger today. Lightly buttered large slice of bread, just a hint of Marmite here and there, a thick lashing of potted meat (that’s equal quantities of bacon cooked with and mince, garlic and pepper and minced fine- a great sandwich spread), a sheet of cheese placed over, cos this is winter andit’s only kind that the potted meat should be kept warm, and over the cheese blanket a sprinkle of chopped chillies steeped in coconut vinegar for a month. Then you fold that open sandwich over on itself, stand over a plate, and eat it with small bites. Savour the mix of flavours and feel the follicles on your scalp make your hair rise gently.

    Gautam: I just made an ordinary ham sandwich an hour ago. Put onions in it.

    Dipanjan: Very considerate of the mom to be thinking of Madanji’s lunch break. A lot of self-discipline from the tween daughter to truncate her shopping spree abruptly.

    And they have the option to choose between an Audi and a Mercedes after trying pretty dresses.

    Rich and empathetic. Very envious. Oh well, there is always next life.

    Gautam: You might end up with a Hero cycle in your next life.

    Me: *I* will end up with a BSA Ladybird, thank you.

  2. Somethings never change in Bombay 🙂

    I have listened to such conversations 15 years ago in Phoenix Mall and I still hear them so many years later. Except 15 years ago there was a Mercedes and a BMW.


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