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The Rich Get Richer..


If I told you that an Indian man recently paid almost $40,000 for a cell phone number- not including the actual phone- and that the town in which this person lives has the maximum number of Mercedes Benz cars per capita in his country, you’d think I was talking about some if-you-have-it-flaunt-it sort of New Yorker. Not quite.

No, this gentleman lives in the city of Ludhiana, India, in the northwestern state of Punjab. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t know where that is – it’s not exactly the name the springs to mind when you think of India. But the gentleman who coughed up that amount lives in this, relatively small, Indian city which houses a large number of millionaires, some of them nouveau riche, who are only too keen to show off their immense wealth.

A leading national daily published a front-page story about this businessman who’d won the cell phone number in auction of VIP numbers (special numbers given out by service providers, usually those that are easy to remember). He proudly declared that obtaining the number had been so important to him that he’d borrowed money from family and friends. His father affirmed the story, casually adding that his son liked to collect VIP numbers, so this was nothing new for him.

Barely had the country digested the idea of such appalling extravagance that the next day another gentleman, not wishing to be outdone, made public his favorite hobby – that of collecting cellular phone numbers. Living in another city in the same state, he claims to have spent a whopping $400,000 on a collection of eighty-six numbers, some of which have been specially bought at auctions, again, for VIP numbers. His aim, however, is to own up to a hundred such phone numbers, something that he hopes will gain him entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Indians are getting richer and the rich don’t only live in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai, but are sprinkled all over the country, living it up in the smaller cities, in their lavish bungalows complete with swimming pools, Jacuzzis and fleets of the latest cars lined up in the driveways. They wear the latest designer clothes, flaunt their snazzy videophones, spend millions on weddings and think nothing of getting on a plane and taking a vacation abroad – a face of the new India where luxury brands are excitedly setting up shop to cater to this class.

As the Indian economy continues its upward surge, the wealth, in what are called second-tier cities like Ludhiana is rising substantially – especially that of entrepreneurs and business families who are benefiting the most from this growth. It’s a spill-over effect as larger cities reach a saturation point. So there’s been a rise in the populations of these smaller cities, spurred on also by state governments who offer incentives for large corporations to set up shop in their small and medium-size cities. The central government too, in an effort to take some pressure off the larger cities, has been encouraging many information technology and outsourcing businesses to move to these cities. This, in turn, has raised real estate prices as conglomerates step in and the demand for land grows.

Take, for instance, the city of Nagpur in the central state of Maharashtra – the state is also home to the harbor and capital city of Mumbai. Nagpur is one of the faster growing smaller towns in India and houses over four hundred billionaires. Just about ten years ago, the city had only a handful.It’s yet another sign of the new, prosperous India where even the smaller towns are seeing exceptional growth and pushing people up the money scale.

But India, after all, is a land of utter disparities. Nagpur lies in the Vidarbha region where villages have been devastated due to crop failure year after year, and where desperate farmers have killed themselves at an alarming rate. But that, sadly, is also India – the ugly side of a soaring economy that has failed to lift millions out of wretched poverty. The wealth has seeped into the smaller cities, but it needs to spread to the lower classes and to the villages.

India cannot afford to leave out the masses, since such an imbalance is bound to have dangerous repercussions. On the one hand you have people bidding obscene amounts of money for additional cell phone numbers, and on the other, you have farmers selling their kidneys to get out of debt. It’s an unfortunate example of the ultimate Indian dichotomy.

Share  Posted by Gopika Kaul at 2:50 PM | Permalink

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