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India’s Richest Man

Nov
5
2007

India has many superlatives to its name, and recently, it added another one – it is home, for the time being at least, to the world’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, thanks to a recent, sharp surge in the Indian stock market. Mr. Ambani – who owns India’s largest private company, Reliance Industries – is now richer, by about half a billion dollars, than Bill Gates, a fact that has made quite a few headlines in the past week.

What has also been in the news lately, is Mr. Ambani’s billion dollar house, which is still under construction. Once finished, it will be a bit like the opulent mansion Gates built for himself – only with the rooms and features stacked, not sprawling along the shores of Lake Washington. Ambani’s home will rise to a height of sixty floors into the Mumbai skyline – although only twenty-seven floors are supposed to be livable.

Named Antila, some guess after the mythical Atlantic island, it has been designed by Chicago-based architecture firm, Perkins + Will and apart from the usual helipads, swimming pools and health clubs, it will have six floors of parking, enough it is believed, for some hundred and sixty-eight cars; an entertainment center with a mini-theatre; and six hundred full time staff to take care of it.

The building is said said to be square, in keeping with the Indian concept of Vaastu – something like Chinese Feng Shui – that many Indians believe in and follow religiously when they build houses. The mansion has, not surprisingly, been a subject of much debate in India. Many argue that in a country where eighty percent of the country lives on half dollar a day, such ostentatious luxury is something of a sin.

Yesterday, however, Mr. Ambani gave the media yet another topic to talk about – he gifted his wife a sixty million dollar jet for her forty-fourth birthday. The luxury airbus comes custom fitted with everything from a master bedroom, entertainment rooms, and bathrooms with mood lighting, to state-of-the art music systems, satellite television and wireless communication.

Mr. Ambani is the older son of the late Dhirubhai Ambani, who started his business career as a clerk in Yemen and is said to have earned his first small fortune by cornering the market on Yemeni currency. He returned to India to become the most celebrated rags-to-riches stories in the country ever, founding its biggest industrial empire. Today Reliance is a sprawling group of companies managed by Mukesh or his brother Anil (the two have separate interests and businesses) and includes petroleum and food retailing, as well as telecommunications and textiles outfits among its subsidiaries.

Most Indians, the house and jet notwithstanding, respect Mr. Mukesh Ambani, who may have inherited his father’s empire, but he is responsible for taking it to new heights and applying world-class standards to the company and has helped India enter the world stage.

India, as I have pointed out before, is a land of utter dichotomies and this is yet another example of it. Mumbai, where Mr. Ambani’s castle in the air, as its being called, is being constructed, is India’s financial capital, but it is also home to Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum, where more than a million people live in make-shift shacks in unhygienic conditions without running water or the basics of indoor plumbing.

But that too is India, an India that Mr.Ambani would probably be able to see from his glittering glass castle window.

Share  Posted by Gopika Kaul at 10:34 PM | Permalink

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