Rich, Richer, Richest

I say this without risk of being disproved: I am not the richest man in Asia, India or this cloistered street in Kerala’s capital. My claim covers the present, the past and the future. No one was in doubt that I ever belonged to the wealth club of Ambani or Adani. No one ever thought it worth his while to tip off Fortune hunters about my pecuniary position. It turns out that I am way away from Gautam Singhania whose net worth is $1.4 b billion, and even Bharat Jain, world’s richest beggar, with his $1 million. 

Though not locked in a rich race with Gautam Adani, I was mortified when his richness rank fell to fourth globally. Like a Basheer character, I could never count correctly, one plus one making never two, but only a big one. That being so, it made no sense to me when I read that Gautam Adani lost Rs 4 trillion in the last six months. How much is a trillion?  

Let me go off on a tangent. Siddhartha, Gautama, the Buddha, had no use for worldly wealth. Like the savior, who followed him carrying his own cross, Gautama had a biblical inkling of a rich man’s ordeal while clambering on to the kingdom of heaven, an ordeal harder than a camel’s to pass through the eye of a needle. But it is good to be known as Gautam, Adani or Singhania, partaking of the glory of the prophet of the golden mean, though not his penury. Go go for the best of both the worlds! 

Both Gautams are younger than me by ten years. If I produced nothing more than a trough of verbal flatulence in a prolonged lifetime, they, as inheritors of an unremarkable legacy, became owners of remarkable assets. Singhania’s possessions had soared a few decades earlier than Adani or Ambani. One suspects, going by wealth reports, that there is a literal oneupmanship raging between Ambani and Singhania. The house of the latter is a mere 37 floors, estimated at Rs6000. The trillion-dollar question is who is taller, Ambani or Singhania. 

What a fool I am, one of my own making! I was in Ottawa, meeting a Canadian tycoon who had some business going on in India. He regaled me with stories of his pursuits, his house in Greater Kailash, his dealings with a Singhania whom he introduced as “publisher of your esteemed journal.” The complete fool that I am, I had no clue what or who she was. Did I feel uncomfortable, not being in the league of the affluent society? 

I felt like that lower primary school teacher, who taught his students to calculate the profit from a deal of a cart and an ox, bought for Rs5000 and sold for Rs5800. He lost his game of numbers when he found that he didn’t have money to buy the week’s ration rice. It was fun comparing me with him: he taught arithmetic in which he failed, I ran a financial journal with no interest in profit and loss.

Singhania is CMD of Raymond Group, world’s largest manufacturer of suiting fabric. What Gautam did to it was to give away its non-crore engagements like cement and synthetics and concentrate on textiles and garments. Singhania-watchers credit him with an overwhelming aeronautical passion. He likes speed on the road, speed in the sky, speed on the sea. His personal jet has a price tag of Rs150 crore. One of his many speedboats is named after James Bond. His motorcade consists of super expensive cars like Lamborghini and Ferrari, not to mention Tesla. Ownership of the last-named Elon Musk product does not intimidate me. I know someone close who drives around his Tesla.

What it all adds up a perennial question that haunts me. How was all that money made, what kind of cheer has it brought to its possessor? How much money does it take to keep a man happy? Professor Richard Layard of Cambridge has long been studying the nexus between wealth and happiness, in an effort to measure misery or, if you like, happiness in a broad-spectrum subject called happinomics. Perhaps the most reliable guide in this area may be Bharat Jain of Mumbai. Arguably, Bharat has been ranked as the world’s wealthiest beggar with a worth of Rs7.5 crores. Monthly earning from beggary is Rs 70000.excluding the rent of a shop he has let out. His two-bedroom apartment in an expensive Mumbai complex is commodious for his family. All that sounds good music but Bharat Jain punctiliously goes round lucrative localities begging for his day’s remuneration. 

But make no mistake about it, the world’s richest beggar may not be happier or more miserable than Gautam Adani or Gautam Singhania. Beyond a point, Adani and Jain may insist, money starts yielding diminishing returns in terms of happiness. Multiplying consumption and possession of idle money may be no answer to the great old question: who is happy with what?. Quite possibly, the feeling of being rich is its own return. For instance, Pope Alexander VI, rated as one of the world’s richest men in the last millennium, enjoyed making money whichever way he could, one way being forcing his nine illegitimate daughters into lucrative trade. The great shepherd knew what it took for him to buy papacy. 

Some people like to make money. Some like to spend it. One of these days our specialists in neuroeconomics will come up with a theory on the causes and concomitants of the wealth of nations as Adam Smith called it. No one may ever dispute the universally valid theory that it is good to have money. To be rich is to be wise, to be learned …Yasya asti vittam, sa: nara: kuleena: sa: eva pandita ...


More by :  K Govindan Kutty

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