Even though we don't have a physical destination like a Billionaires' Row in India, it is interesting as to how many of the top dogs on the Forbes' List, actually live cheek-by-jowl, in fairly close proximity to one another, right here in South Mumbai. The Ambanis, Godrejs and Birlas, for example. The senior biz journo who compiles the Forbes' list happens to be good friend. I know the amount of painstaking research that goes into the creation of this list. Since the latest one is just out, and everybody is talking about how many billions less these guys are worth, thanks to the economic meltdown, it is amusing to monitor the figures in the context of the aam janata's perception of the billionaire phenomenon in India. Wealthy people in the past were called Crorepatis,and before that, Lakhpatis. Raj Kapoor's version of how the rich live in India was the version the common man bought into. Those mansions with hideous stairways in the middle of the drawing room.... the heavy drapes and gigantic arm chairs.... Pran in a velvet smoking jacket chomping on a pipe, women in elaborate sarees perpetually yelling at a Ramu Kaka or a Bahadur, teenagers in pig tails off to play badminton at the club in Cadillac Impalas, breakfast tables laden with plump fruit.... aaaah.... all of this was so very naive appealing and innocent.
Today's aamirlog (Mukesh Ambani has dethroned L.N. Mittal as the richest desi), are poorer by a mere $200 billion!!! So saaaadddd! And the Billionaire Club has shrunk to just 27 from 54 last year. Try telling that to the maali in the garden. Or even the kiraana walla down the road. Why.... try telling that to virtually anyone. Who cares?? Nobody. The mood is different. We are happy the super rich in India have pots of lucre. And may they make much more. But in real terms, whether Mukesh cuts back by not buying the next private jet or yacht, does not directly impact anybody's life. But we sure miss Raj Kapoor's version of indecent wealth in a poor country.