Births, deaths, weddings and funerals are all a part of life's myriad experiences. But given the law of disparities, some make more news than others. The most recent example of a wedding that hogged the limelight was that of Vanisha, daughter of British-based steel tycoon, Lakshmi Mittal. Last year Mittal caught the media's attention when he bought a hugely expensive house (akin to a palace) in the real-estate agent's dream-city, London. It is needless to say that whenever Mittal is in the news, it is more often than not connected with his wealth. Even when there was talk about Tony Blair's New Labour favoring his industries, it was linked up to the huge funding that Lakshmi Mittal had provided the party.
Last week Mittal held a fairy-tale wedding for his one and only daughter, Vanisha. Not satisfied with living in a house as big as a palace, the doting father decided to hire a true-to-life palace in Paris for the occasion. Everything to do with the wedding was lapped up by the media; from the 50-page wedding invitation, bound in silver, to the run-up festivities that took five days, culminating in the actual ceremony, including all the celebrities who attended and the Hindi film-stars who went over to dance on the occasion. (This is a new trend that has been introduced in India of getting film stars to attend and dance at wedding ceremonies for which the above-mentioned are compensated handsomely). Much was written about the food that was served at the festivities including the flying down of a Maharaj (a local term for an expert cook in Bengal) from Kolkata, the city that Mittal grew up in. The cook had earlier rendered his services at the wedding of Mittal's son, which had taken place in Kolkata.
This piece now shifts to another story that hardly attracted any media attention for want of the glamour that was a part of Vanisha's glitzy wedding. This one deals with the death of a carpenter, Bangaru Ramachari of Mukundapuram village in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh. Ramachari and his family subsisted on the income that he was able to generate from making farming implements for the farmers who lived around him in the village. During good times, this carpenter was compensated in kind with each farmer giving him 70 kilograms of paddy in a year that amounted to about 2800 kilograms, every year. After keeping aside what he needed for his family, Ramachari sold the rest and was able to eke out an existence without having to face the spectre of hunger.
In the last three years, there were no orders for farming equipment as farming failed on account of drought and the vagaries of the agricultural business. While most farmers and others in the village took loans from money- lenders and village banks, Ramachari was too proud to do so. After five days of starving, Ramachari collapsed and dropped dead. Heaven knows who paid for his funeral. While this hapless man's death resulted from starvation, many others opted for the easy way out. In the last six weeks, 300 farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh have resorted to suicide to get out of the debt trap. The steady erosion of local democracy and extreme outside interference from agencies like McKinsey, World Bank, the IMF and DFID who insisted on their blueprints (highly-paid 'consultants' were hired to implement the same), have been cited as the reasons for this horrific state of affairs.
In the midst of all this, there is a man of Indian origins like Lakshmi Mittal, choosing to flaunt his wealth in this blatant manner. Perhaps his preoccupations with the wedding have kept him unaware of these people who probably worship a lesser God than Lakshmi, judging by what has happened to them. Or maybe Mittal, if questioned, might justify the wedding and the amount spent like Clinton in his memoirs: I did it just because I could.
There is no harm in celebrating your daughter's wedding grandly but should there also not be some sense of balance in the spending? If Mittal had thought of having the wedding in India, at least there would have been some income generated for local enterprises. Or else, he could have had the wedding in the U.K., the country, which has made him rich and helped the people there. There is a term called spreading the wealth, which has become of even more significance in a country like India, with the huge disparities in living standards between the haves and the have-nots. One can only hope that the latter won't revolt and turn on the rest of us like it happened in France and Russia.
Perhaps Lakshmi Mittal and others of his ilk can take a leaf out of the book of the Big B, Amitabh Bacchhan, who, troubled after reading about farmers' suicides in Andhra Pradesh, while on a visit on Tirupati, has pledged Rs. 11 lakhs through the Rotary Club of Mumbai to ease the burdens of some of them. 16 farmers have benefited from his munificence. While 11 lakhs is just a drop in the ocean, yet little drops can make up an ocean as much as each one of us can make a difference in this world of births, weddings, deaths and funerals.