I have no idea how much it cost Mukesh Ambani to build Antilla and I don’t particularly care.
And—I say this because some people think personalizing a debate is the way to get an interesting (or provocative) response—I really don’t know how I would feel about living in a house like that. I suspect I might like it; imagine, I wouldn’t have to step outside to exercise my hyperactive dog Jabba.
I also can’t help but feel sorry for Ambani.
He appears to be paying the price for being a rich man in what is still, largely, a poor country.
The harshest criticism has come from the foreign press and—I can say this safely because readers of this paper have had ample evidence that I do not hold a brief for Mr Ambani or, for that matter, anybody else; Mint (and I) take great pride in being equal opportunity offenders—I really cannot remember any of these international publications criticizing Bill Gates when he moved into his lakefront mansion in Seattle.
To be sure, there is some difference between the individuals and, also, their houses. Gates’ is estimated to have cost $97 million (a decade ago, Rs 432 crore today); and Ambani’s $1 billion according to some media reports (the number is likely an over-estimation).
To be sure, Gates moved into his house when the US was still luxuriating in its most recent gilded age. Maybe a similar happening now—in the wake of the recent depression—would have attracted some harsh reports in the media.
Still, the message I take away from these stories is: It’s alright to be rich in the US; it isn’t in India and if you are, then please wear khadi, live in a two-bedroom apartment in Kalyan, commute by train, and, generally, do everything else you can to hide your wealth (just to clarify, I mean no disrespect to the fine residents of Kalyan, the noble souls who wear khadi, and all those intrepid travellers who commute by train).
What I would like to see Ambani do now is emulate Gates on another front: philanthropy.
Gates (and his wife), who have said their children will not inherit their wealth, have proceeded to give it away and also managed to successfully convince several other people like them to follow suit.
Given Ambani’s considerable wealth and influence, a similar move by him could kick-start the all-but-non-existent corporate philanthropy scene here.
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