In 2010, Mukesh Ambani who is usually the less flamboyant of the two Ambani brothers 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!