Friday, January 7, 2011

Live and let live

In 2010, Mukesh Ambani who is usually the less flamboyant of the two Ambani Antiliabrothers provided a lot of newspaper and news-channel fodder when he and his family of five moved into his newly constructed 27 storey house named ‘Antilia’ that apparently took more than a billion dollars to build. He went on to make some more headlines by inviting almost all of the city’s celebrities to the housewarming party and then paying Mumbai’s largest residential electricity bill of Rs. 70 lakhs (Rs. 7,00,00,00) a month later. Many months later, trivia and rumours about the house and its amenities continue to circulate from email forwards as well as idle chitchat over chai.

While constructing such an extravagant home in the heart of the city was bound to make headlines, what surprised me was the fact that the Ambanis faced heavy criticism for being too extravagant and insensitive. Most of the criticism  revolved around how it is an obscene display of wealth because there are millions who are homeless and many more who cant get a square meal a day in India. This is so absurd that I would not have believed that there exist people who actually believe this ludicrous argument had I not personally heard it being said.

I believe that it is absolutely ok for Mukesh Ambani or anyone else to build for himself a house as extravagant as his heart desires. The rich do not have an obligation to alleviate poverty. Mukesh Ambani should not be held responsible for abject poverty that exists in India or Mumbai today nor should he be expected to give away his wealth towards poverty alleviation efforts. The philanthropists who do so rightly deserve the compliments that they receive but its unreasonable to expect all the wealthy to join their ranks.
Secondly, poverty is a problem more complex than most and money is not always the solution. There is no guarantee of even the slightest change in poverty levels in India, even if Mukesh Ambani gave away all of his wealth.

Any money, earned in whatever way, be it legal or illegal does a lot more good when used for consumption rather than when it is locked away in swiss bank vaults or complex financial instruments. The billion dollars spent on the mansion will now be spread out over all the contractors and workers who toiled to build it. Furthermore, the newspapers report that the 27 storey home is staffed by 600 staff members who have now gained employment and who thus shall definitely benefit. It is a given that most of this household staff will be from the poorer section of the society and not sons or daughters of fellow industrialists. Some of the millions paid in utility bills shall also be used to pay the salaries of the utility’s employees. So the house is infact helping a lot of people earn money.

Lastly, the Ambani’s have money and how they spend it is none of anyone else’s business be it politicians or social workers. While it is true that someone might fell disinclined to work hard knowing that even his entire year’s salary cant get him a home like Antilia, it is just as likely that looking at the Ambanis’ display of opulence might encourage others to work harder and inspire some to take up the daunting mantle of being entrepreneurs.

P.S. – This post does not mean that this is what I would do if one fine day I  have as much money as Mukesh Ambani does. Frankly speaking, I would consider it a massive problem if every morning, I had to select a vehicle to travel to work, from over a hundred cars parked over 4 floors of parking space…

P.P.S. – Happy New Year to all the (very few) readers of this blog!!! Hope you have a great year ahead!


  1. hi sagar...well this is a good entry and I especially like your argument about how the money is better consumed than preserved in Swiss banks: insightful and (at least theoretically) accurate. However, I am inclined to disagree with your view on the 27 storeyed mansion. While it is true that the house is "none of anyone else’s business," it is difficult to argue that the money would not have been better spent otherwise. Philanthropy is a culture which is yet to make its way into Indian society (on a large scale) which unfortunately values luxury, money and flamboyance. We need a Bill Gates or Zuckerberg to pioneer philanthropy in India, that is to bring it in vogue, and the Antilia is a perfect example of how someone who had the means to support a great cause chose not to do so. In Ambani's defence, he has been involved in charity initiatives like Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital at Lodhivali and Sir Hurkisondas Nurrotumdas Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai, which is commendable but these seem pallid in comparison to the Antilia. Ambani is not expected to donate, and by no means am I criticising the man I idolise for his entrepreneurial skills, but I would have respected him more had he done a Gates and not just given away the money but also used his business acumen to utilise it well to make the maximum impact (which as you would agree is not equivalent to emplying 600 workers).
    Happy new year!!

  2. If you ever find a problem choosing a vehicle to drive to work in the morning, i have an easy solution for you. Call me and send over all your other vehicles to me. You'll have one left and no problems with choosing every morning..

    Nice post. I agree with you to the fact that he can do what he likes. Its his money, however earned.

    @ Sanchita: He is not a Gates yet, coz he does not have as much as him. He is still in the 'gathering' mode, and will definitely come to a 'giving' mode at some stage in life, and we will definitely appreciate him more then.

    @ Sagar: Cheers, and go learn driving now !!

  3. @Deepen: Ha ha ha ... Why just send? I'll gift them to you! :P

    Thanks for the new year wishes and I am glad that you liked the entry.
    While I agree with you that philanthropy is not in vogue in India as of now, I do not see how constructing a 'house' for one's family to reside in is an indictment of not doing enough to promote a philanthrophic culture. Every person whether rich or poor tries to make his home the best possible. Hence, I feel that it is rather unreasonable for one to expect him to use his "business acumen" to promote a philanthropic culture instead of building a home for his family to live in. Like you said, he is already doing some charitable work and I don't think that he is going to reduce or stop it because he spent a lot of money on 'Antalia'. So like Deepen says, more likely than not, his philanthrophic activities shall continue and I think building the mansion wont affect his attitude to philanthrophy in anyway. That said, I too would like to see him do more for the community but I am not the one to object if he does that while living in style...

  4. Few months back, Sachin's Bat or T-shirt was auctioned and money raised was used for some social cause. Someone said why he needs to sell his Bat and raise money, can't he just donate the money. My question to these type of People, when you expect rich people to donate thousands, have you yourself ever donated 100 Rupees?

  5. I second every point mentioned here. Nicely written.


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