Fat and fatter:The rich are different, even in India; Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi

Fat and fatterThe rich are different, even in India

Mar 1st 2014 | From the print edition

image001-17Indian sons: greedy then, greedy now

Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi. By Rana Dasgupta.Canongate Books; 455 pages; £25. To be published in America by Penguin Press in May; $27.95. Buy from Amazon.com,Amazon.co.uk

DELHI’S uppity youth wield their influence with one bullying question: “Do you know who my father is?” Every low-level bureaucrat knows that the only acceptable response is meek surrender. Indeed, power by association is written into the law. The long list of people exempt from airport-security screening in India includes, by name, the son-in-law of the current chief of the ruling Congress party.

It is this world of sons and sons-in-law (women rarely get a look in) that Rana Dasgupta, a novelist, explores in his first book of non-fiction, “Capital”. Like John Lanchester’s London novel of the same name, the title refers both to the political status of the city it chronicles and to the torrents of money changing its character. It is crammed with the boasts and insecurities of the children of some of Delhi’s richest and best-connected business families.

A British national of Bengali origin, Mr Dasgupta moved from New York to Delhi in 2000. Delhi was a different place then, with few bars or malls and a middle class that was “frugal and suspicious of the outside”. By the end of the decade, Delhiites could “scarcely move in the city on weekend evenings for the traffic jams of fervent bar-goers”. Many of those bars and malls were built through political connections and run by the second or third generations of already rich Delhi business families.

“Capital” is formed largely of interviews with these twenty-something young men. They invite Mr Dasgupta in to their inner sanctums—their deliberately inconspicuous city homes, their mansions on the outskirts of Delhi that are politely called “farmhouses”—and they tell him their secrets. These prematurely balding and paunchy men talk of their years partying in London before family duty brought them back. They boast of wanting to double the size of their companies, or just to do something to prove that they are not coasting on their parents’ success. As one mall-builder explains: “You can’t sit in beach resorts for 365 days a year.”

Mr Dasgupta also meets some of those around them: a young divorcee who talks of her rich but feckless former husband, as well as a drug-dealer to the wealthy and a small-time, big-talking pretender who hopes to facilitate $300 billion deals. He lets them all talk; half of nearly every chapter is made up of conversation. Asked how the world would be different if it were run by Indians, one young mogul with a dislike of Westerners, declares that it would be “more spiritual.” A moment later he reconsiders: “No. It will be exactly the same.”

“Capital” is just the latest book to examine the effects of globalisation on South Asia. Like those before it, it takes a dim view of Western capitalism’s seductive appeal. But the book should have been taken more firmly in hand by its editor. “Capital” shouts rather than persuades. The discerning reader would do better to read two slimmer, but more substantial works: “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo or “How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” by Mohsin Hamid.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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