I am signing copies of my book in Mumbai. The store manager and I are sitting in an alcove and doing the signing ceremony, where he hands me the book and I sign while he cracks open the next one before handing it over. Two native European (for want of a better term in trying not to say “white”) customers are watching from the other end of the shop and begin taking pictures of this book gig. We get chatting and I learn that they are colleagues from a North European country and are in Mumbai as consultants to some infrastructure project. Three minutes into a conversation with a stranger, an Indian in Mumbai, and they are shaking their heads and tut-tutting over the Indian bureaucracy and general state of things. Back from a longish visit to their part of the world and having seen their super slothful bureaucracy, weird processes and long waiting periods for service, I am in no mood to hear this. I retort. Maybe a little too loudly. Or a little too harshly. They seem to melt away into the interior of the shop. Then I notice choking noises coming from my neighbour, the book store manager. He saw the exchange and my pushback, and then just cracked up. He was recovering, he said, from an episode where a British guest of an author made racially degrading comments because one book was not in the store, but the Indian author just stood by and allowed the colonial rant to continue.
The manager does not come from that closed club of elite Indians who boast of correct English pronunciation, the right accent, similar higher education institutions, the correct home address, a common reading list, non-Bollywood movies, similar music playlists and foreign brands, but is a newly emerged middle-class Indian.
The amount spent on the wedding of the daughter of India’s richest man, how much the bride’s clothes cost, what the invitation boxes contained have been the subject of almost every conversation for the last few weeks. This is a carry-over from the same talk about the two big Bollywood 70mm weddings just a few days earlier. Why they are spending so much, how vulgar such spending is and how this money could have been better spent elsewhere is the one thread that runs through most of these social media forwards, office café talks, metro gossip and drawing room debates. The gasp of middle India horror at this vulgarity is loud and clear.
How much should the very rich spend on themselves? This seems to be the issue at stake. Let’s stay with first principals. Media reports say that India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani spent on his daughter’s wedding anything between ₹100 crore and ₹700 crore. Mukesh Ambani’s net worth, according to Forbes, is $47.3 billion, or ₹3.4 trillion at current exchange rates. This makes his spend between 0.03% to 0.21% of his net worth. The 2018 combined earning of the two movie stars, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, who got married to each other, according to Forbes is almost ₹200 crore. Though estimates vary, a conservative number of ₹4 crore spent on their wedding is about 2% of their annual earning. Or they just had to work for slightly over a week to pay for the wedding.
Around this time every year, for the last few years, Mint does a special edition tracking the uber rich in India. Conceptualised and edited by my colleague Vivina Vishwanathan, the edition looks at the lives of the super rich Indians through the lens of money. Economic liberalisation allowed new categories of people an entrance into the uber rich club. Doctors, lawyers, professionals, first-generation entrepreneurs, actors and sportsmen joined the high table of the super rich where the already rich through inheritance sat.
Year 2014 kicked off the edition idea with an issue that mapped the new Indian rich. You can read the edition here: bit.ly/2xsiOjF. Year 2015 mapped the Rich Professional. You can read the edition here: bit.ly/2wAF1be. In 2016, Mint Rich Stars mapped the money lives of India’s movie and sports stars. You can see the edition here: bit.ly/2hapZaf. We found behind the glitter and the high living was an uncertain future, sporadic income and a short tinsel earnings lifespan. This year, we mapped the lives of the young inheritors of some of the biggest business houses in India. You can read the edition here: bit.ly/2xfj6tY.
The reactions to the editions have always been a mirror to our difficulty in dealing with money. The basic question asked is: why do we map the lives of the rich? Why feature their lives in a poor country? I can only answer with a counter-question: why not? Mint aims to be an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian dream. A lot of young Indians dream to be rich. Surely it is better to dream to be rich than dream to be poor. Chronicling the lives of the rich in one edition a year doesn’t make Mint an apologist for the rich.
The stories you hear are romantic only in hindsight. A young man starting with just Rs50 in his pocket sets out into the world. Thirty years later, he is the king of a large multinational empire. The stories of deprivation and lack of food in the early years make for good copy today, but only somebody who has been through it can even begin to imagine what it was like.
When you are struggling to get out of a bad place, you don’t know how it will end. Whether you will break through or get sucked in. In that struggle, however, comes the transformation. It is that fire in the belly to change, to transform, to win that pushes some people to do superhuman things. And once you make the breakthrough, it is a very human desire to promise that your children will never go through the bleak and seemingly bottomless darkness you have lived through.
You remember what the cold felt like without the money for an overcoat. Or the smell of hot food when all you had was a hole in the pocket. Not your children. Never.
he chaos has begun. The phone calls, email, smses, whatsapp have all begun to ping and ring – average people calling to ask if their currency is useless now.
Rumours are beginning to spread. The reason for the panic is the move by the Narendra Modi government to demonetise the Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes. What this means is that starting midnight 8 November all the currency notes you hold in Rs500 and Rs1000 are worth nothing. But remember that all the currency notes you hold in your bank area still worth the money they denote.
Just that you wont get Rs500 notes from the ATM, but Rs100 and Rs50 notes.
“Yet he was not content. At first he could not say why. He and Akun….could look back upon great achievements: he had led his family on their epic journey from the tundra: he had found warm lands. They hunted well and raised fine families. Both of them were now treated with honour and respect—surely he had done all that it was possible to do. But with each passing season, the feeling of unease and disquiet grew.”Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd. This is a book based on Salisbury that begins from prehistoric times.
The much anticipated inheritance tax gave the country a miss one more year. And neither did the dreaded capital gains tax raise its head. The big changes for your money are at the fringes— both at the lower and the upper ends. The very rich in a very poor country will pay for their affluence. People earning more than Rs.1 crore will now see the surcharge on tax go up to 15% from 12% in the current financial year. For incomes over Rs.1.1 crore, the marginal rate of tax is now 35.54%. The dreaded dividend distribution tax (DDT) sees a return. For an annual dividend income ofRs.10 lakh or more, the investor will pay a DDT of 10%. This means that at an assumed dividend of 2-3%, an investor will need to have a portfolio of Rs.3.5-4 crore, to begin paying this tax. This is in addition to the 15% tax already applicable. An additional cess on vehicles will cost more—1% on small petrol, LPG and CNG cars; 2.5% on diesel cars of certain capacity; and 4% on other higher engine capacity vehicles and SUVs. Get ready to pay tax at the point of purchase for luxury cars. Such cars costing more than Rs.10 lakh will cost you 1% of the car value. Buying stuff in cash that costs more than Rs.2 lakh? Pay 1% of your spend as tax at the point of sale. Worry if this cash was out of the tax net, for the government looks serious in identifying who you are.
Expense Account, Mint
There is a problem in being good. Or as Gurcharan Das asks in his book, The Difficulty of Being Good, On the Subtle Art of Dharma—“why be good?” The first time I questioned this basic premise that has been drilled into most “service class” people as we call ourselves was many years ago when the kid came back from school all beaten and scratched. She’d been hit. So why did you not complain? There was nobody around. Hit back? But you said good kids don’t hit others. The problem of being good.