Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mukesh Ambani's "peacock's tail"?

Some days ago I saw a news report about Mukesh Ambani's 27 floor house with, among other amenities, a 50 seat theatre where, I suppose he will enjoy watching Slumdog Millionaire. What makes a person build a house so far in excess of his needs?

One of the interesting questions in biology is: Why does a peacock have such a heavy, gaudy tail? It costs energy to make - energy that can be used elsewhere, attracts predators and makes it difficult to escape from them. William Hamilton proposed a theory that is widely accepted: the peacock's tail is a signal of genetic fitness.

So is "Antilla" the name of Mukesh Ambani's version of the peacock's tail, a potlatch-style display of "I can"? Another peacock's tail (this one not belonging to any particular individual but was the brainchild of a group of of movers and shakers) was the recent Commonwealth Games.

In a podcast, P.Sainath, the rural affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper, talked about a grand party thrown by Emperor Nero for the creme de la creme of Rome, as narrated by Tacitus. A problem was that the light was not enough. Nero solved it in typical fashion: he had criminals brought from the dungeons and burned at the stake to provide the lighting. What bothered Sainath was not the cruelty involved but the question: who were Nero's guests? What sort of mindset is required to silently eat the best foods and quaff the finest wines in the midst of all that cruelty? I also have a similar thought: what sort of mindset is required in order to build a billion dollar house at spitting distance from some of the largest slums in Asia?


  1. Very puzzling indeed,but I have stopped being surprised at the fact that human beings are capable of ignoring the reality around us and withdraw into the little big ME. Have often wondered why we run after the material things which vanish in a blink.
    It is all a big show for the WOW effect, we pay a very big price for that small "WOW" in the big scheme of things. Well that is for all of us, little people, Mukesh Ambani does it because "he can" and " don't care"
    take care

  2. What a disappointing post! I read a similar article in today's TOI as well and here are my views.

    First the obvious point: IT IS HIS MONEY! Who are you, me and the bleeding heart media to comment on what he NEEDS?

    Second, the "intellectuals" quoted in the TOI article (or for that matter, on any article where the idea is to load guilt on someone for spending HIS OWN MONEY in ways that we do not approve) are usually the same ones taking vacations to Italy, France and other spots. So, the part that nauseates them is not the spending (they do it too) but the conspicuous nature of the spending. They just pretend to be bleeding hearts.

    Third, the Nero example does not fit because Nero's was a criminal act - unless you are saying that someone spending HIS OWN MONEY on something YOU don't like, is a criminal act.

    Fourth, the NEEDS argument can be used against all of us who are fortunate enough to be above the poverty line. Using your own logic, how are you sure that you, me and people like us NEED two or three bedroom apts with running water and electricity? Surely, that is a NERO-like (using your logic) act in a country where most people cannot afford the basics. This is the kind of guilt-loading that led to socialistic policies that in turn led to the economic ruin of a country with such a great history and culture.

    This is not intended to be a pro-Ambani statement. I don't really care what he is up to, so long as he does not violate the laws of the land, people's property rights, etc. I would have written the same type of comments if you had posted on the Mittal wedding or any other act of conspicuous consumption. The fact that I personally do not get a kick out of such consumption does not give me the right to pass value judgement on those who do. I might feel amused, irritated or bored, but that's about it.

    Now, if you are questioning whether he earned his money fair and square - that is an entirely different, valid line of questioning. But that's a different topic altogether, not to be mixed up what you are attempting to say here.

  3. Kesu, just to clarify - no personal attack intended....

  4. hmm....To each his own....(especially after reading the comments...)

  5. Kailash,
    Criticism is fine. I am opposed to some of your views but it will take too much time to respond.

  6. Perhaps a future post on this topic, then? I have a lot more to say too!

  7. Hi Kilash,

    I doubt if I will be able to motivate myself to write about such things. My interests currently are very different. Even this post was because it had some biology.