What the Indian Rich did next

Who knew that writing on the Sheena Bora murder case would lead to a defense of the ‘good rich’?


A file photo of Indrani Mukerjea, the main accused in the Sheena Bora murder case. Photo: Mint
A file photo of Indrani Mukerjea, the main accused in the Sheena Bora murder case. Photo: Mint

My blog on why the Sheena Bora case did not portray societal trends about the rich and powerful, brought some reader fury to my inbox. Voicing disagreement is the flavour of the era we live in. Some readers engagingly disagree thus fueling a writer’s thought process, while others just abuse you. Even so, in the rubble of feedback, usually there lies a provocative thought.

“Why didn’t you list the philanthropic work done by the Indian rich to support your argument?” said a reader over a phone call. “If you had listed those who do enormous amounts of charity, your readers would have understood you better,” he added.

I found myself arguing again. Philanthropy by the rich is indeed a valorous and sturdy idea. Nandan and Rohini Nilekani, Azim Premji, the Tatas or Anu Aga to name a bare few have given away huge amounts of care, goodwill and money to society. But that’s a completely different strand of the debate. Not everyone rich has to be charitable or philanthropic to be enlisted as morally upright and a do-gooder. It would be a valid but lopsided way to counter argue against the alleged moral debasement of “Indian society”. There are many privileged people who create institutions, run organizations, empower teams and lead exemplary businesses. Whether they do active philanthropy or not is not the point.

Some days back, I met Simran Lal, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Good Earth. I have no idea of her personal worth in terms of money but she is clearly one of the heiresses to a large empire, her father being Vikram Lal the owner of the Eicher Group. Simran Lal has been working on Good Earth’s ethos of slow fashion and a quiet but arrestingly sophisticated idea of India with her mother Anita Lal for years now. The biggest sentiment that Good Earth provokes besides prettiness is conviction of the processes that go into making their products. Just last week Simran Lal was in Tokyo to speak at a conference on her company that employs women in all leadership positions.

On the other hand, Kiran Nadar, the wife of HCL Technologies founder Shiv Nadar, is actually listed as a philanthropist. Yet Nadar is known more as an art curator, a competitive bridge player and the founding chairperson of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, a one of its kind private contemporary art museum located in Noida. Nadar too doesn’t need the “rich but good” certificate. Her work has made that obvious.

There are many such people among the Indian rich. Some share wealth, others open out avenues for others to find lives and livelihoods in. Like Meher Pudumjee, the daughter of Anu Aga, social worker and former chairperson of Thermax, one of India’s leading energy and environmental engineering companies. Also a billionaire. Pudumjee who is currently the chairperson of Thermax works closely with The Akanksha Foundation, a non-profit organization (NGO), that works in the field of educating underprivileged children and is also on the board of directors of Teach for India, another NGO that works in the same field.

Diverse examples of the “good rich” abound in engineering, in sports, in channelizing corporate social responsibility to creative work. Not all are privileged as the progeny or spouses of those with old money.

Like the late Steve Jobs, the guiding light of Apple, whose idea of doing good was not a theoretical and direct one like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. These gentlemen gave away huge amounts of their unimaginable wealth. They are examples from a first world country and so may not directly represent how things have evolved in India. But Jobs is a pulsating instance of a privileged man whose moral commitment was to productivity. That if you employ capital productively, you could innovate and create lasting change.

Frankly, I had not planned to defend the rich. But having done so to push my argument against stereotyping and profiling of people into categories, I find myself unexpectedly enriched with a new set of thoughts.

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