Saturday, 10 March 2018

The many different rich

Just felt like writing about three kinds of rich that I met, all within the space of a single day, in a town in Upper Assam recently.

The first kind were the ones that I was most comfortable with – the khandani rich who are rich, have been rich for a very long time, so long that they do not feel the need to show their wealth off. Their huge sprawling mansion is very comfortable and well appointed but is worn out, has lost its dazzle, looks outdated, old fashioned. The outer walls are covered with ivy, hence have not been painted in a while. My friends speak softly and listen to others, still wear simple clothes – clean, ironed, subdued, starched cotton -- nothing fancy, they don’t feel the need to brag about where they have been and what they have done, they are not ashamed to drive around (sometimes even without a chauffeur) in ancient Marutis, every shelf in their house is full of books – both in Assamese and in English, and they still read those books and talk about them, there is a harmonium and a table in one corner of the living room and an old record player in another, they still have a music system which can play CDs as well as cassettes; they still go to public events, cultural events – they like classical music and the theatre, have children who are not spoilt, who help at home, and are polite with servants and guests. They can speak English beautifully but do not feel the need to do so. They came to pick me up from the rail station and were seen munching hot spicy pakoras from the station tea-stall when I arrived. We chatted for long about many different things licking our fingers over lunch which included illish masor sorsori and kumura-hahor curry. That was such a treat! I came away humbled by their warmth and hospitality.

The second set belonged to the nouveau rich, having recently come into a lot of money and hence having the desperate need to get everything they have ever wished for all at once. They are brash, will tell you about their last holiday in Europe, how much money they exchanged for the trip; they can’t speak English very well but feel that they need to speak it; they have shiny new homes, with the latest interiors and accessories, have huge cars, everything very modern, high tech, imported, branded, extremely expensive…; they have expensive smart phones and prefer to listen to music with their earphones; as for books besides the school text books there were only a couple of home-shopping catalogues and a few copies of Femina; their children are both spoilt brats who are rude, even with their parents.  They had put in a lot of thought to do up their new home -- very tastefully furnished, no expenses spared -- it took my breath away to see their new lavish glittering penthouse home, their huge green terrace garden, but after a few minutes I realized this brand of luxury is not for me… there was everything I could have ever wished for, but still it did feel rather cold and over the top. We had been invited for tea and it was really a very large spread – from sandwiches to baked samosas, with assorted cakes and puddings thrown in at the end. I was worried I would dirty their spotless floor or break one of their beautiful porcelain plates. I wished I was someplace else where I could tuck my feet up and be comfortable… also I was not sure what I should be talking to them about, and didn’t want them to get started on the standard ‘Isn’t it wonderful to live in Europe? What do you eat in Germany?’- category of questions.

And finally, my third stop was at the stately home of an affluent ‘Brown Sahib’, owner of the large tea garden just outside town. The man did not seem to know much about tea at all, spending his time playing golf, going to the local derby when there was one, drinking himself silly every evening, speaking only in British English, trying to cling on to the last vestiges of the culture of the white sahibs who have long departed. Everything they have is either inherited or bought with their inheritance. The old tea bungalows are very large and very regal, with authentic period furniture and with lush gardens around; there are many servants at their beck and call, they have dogs and motorcycles; there are many copies of Vogue and Vanity Fair to be seen in the shelves; the old gramophone could play old country music, but they prefer the drunken singing of Hindi songs after 1 p.m. Their children are away in the public schools of England and will perhaps never come back; they have a lot of money and try to live like in the good old days of the Raj, but a few things have changed I guess – these brown sahibs do not know how to hold their drinks, they do not know how to treat their servants well, they can only feel secure by keeping everyone else a few steps below them; they have no contact with the real world, live alone by themselves in a make-believe world they have created, socializing only with other tea-garden owners or businessmen who they consider their equal…I could see why tea garden owners and managers are so disliked by the rest of the people in the gardens… and they drink till the wee hours of the morning and sleep most of the morning, as a result of which you can’t get them to do anything before 3 or so in the afternoon. They are tea garden owners but drink only imported Earl Grey. I was missing my coffee but then when one night, I realized that it was past midnight but they had not even begun to think about what they might want to eat for dinner, I gave up – ate what was left of a pizza that had been ordered for the evening tea and went to bed. Being a morning person I decided there was no point in my hanging around, talking to everyone else but the actual people who I had come to meet.

I left early and asked to be driven straight to my childhood friend’s home in town -- they were not as rich as the others I had visited the day before, but there had all that I could wish for. There would be no surprises. I could finally get started with work…

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