How The Other 10% Lives
- Sivaram Srikandath
Story Dated: Thursday, March 22, 2012 11:23 hrs IST
Recently, I read an interesting article in one of the business dailies about income and consumption patterns in our country. No surprises, the top 10% of Indian households accounts for 36% of the total income, and nearly 25% of the total household consumption expenditure in the country. This top 10% translates into roughly 125 million consumers, a magic number upon which is predicated the amazing Indian Growth Story.
An attractive figure that roughly exceeds the population of France and United Kingdom put together, it represents a well heeled cohort, with amazing purchasing power. A cohort that thinks, talks, and conducts its daily life in a manner that is quite alien to the average Indian.
So, who exactly make up this top 10 % of Indian households that accounts for more than a third of the country's wealth? (Incidentally the income share of rich Indian households is projected to reach 45% by the end of the current decade!). And more importantly, how do they live? And how are they different from the average Indian? What are their lifestyles, and what are their daily concerns?
Last fortnight I think, I got some answers to this question. I was in Chennai, and a friend of mine entertained me for lunch at the Park hotel. Now, the Park is a tony place, ritzy and glamorous, with three restaurants, each one special in its own way, and a very fashionable watering hole, The Leather Bar, where the city's chi-chi set hang out in the evenings. My friend had chosen the Thai restaurant, Lotus for our lunch rendezvous.
When we reached the restaurant the place was almost empty There was just one other table that was occupied. Two Pretty Young Things were sitting there and from their impatient manner, one could guess that they were waiting for more friends to join them.
And sure enough, just as soon as we started on our soup, a gaggle of PYTs descended upon the restaurant with a lot of commotion. My friend looked at me and shrugged his shoulders as if in desperation - a full fledged kitty party was about to commence, and we were two unfortunate intruders caught in the middle. Well, we had started on our lunch, and it was too late for an honourable escape. So, we had no option but to grin and bear it !
And what an afternoon it was !
First of all there was considerable squealing and hugging. Then came a round of trendy air-kissing accompanied by a lot of "muahs" and yet more cooing and sighing. The PYTs were dressed in the fashion of the day. Many of them were in capris and spaghetti tops; some were dressed in flowing Laura Ashley sun dresses; the more adventurous in the group wore mini skirts (never mind the ungainly legs !) and cropped tops and a lone outlier sported a pair of jeans and a Fab India kurti.
They all appeared to be in their late twenties, and a few of them, from the way they spoke of their nannies and maids, were married with children. What stood out was their constant gushing; they all seemed to be so happy and content exchanging vacuous pleasantries.
"Oh, Rags," (PYT speak for Ragini, I'm sure), "you look divine. You have not put on an extra ounce since your delivery. How do you manage this?"
"Trust me. You need a personal trainer. I have this wonderful guy. He comes in every day for two hours. He is so good that now Vishal (husband of said Rags) has taken him on as his personal trainer."
"Vishy ! Really ? Good for him. He needs to shed a couple of inches around his waist."
"It's all the cheese and meats he eats. He just loves Blue Cheese; and that too only Roquefort. As for ham, it has be Iberian Jamon. He ensure he travels to Europe once every couple of months so that he can stock up on his favourite brands."
Suddenly, I could hear a very fashionable drawl. It was Ms. jeans and kurti."I swearrr..... the diet coke in India tastes sooo differ..rr..ent from the one you get in the US. I'm surr..rre they sell an infer..rrior var..rriety to us desis.."
"That's so true Arti," someone chirped prettily. "But enough of diet coke. Tell us about the new Beemer that your Dad gave you."
"That was a br..rr...ibe. My Appa did not want me to stay back in the US afte r..rr I finished my Master... rrrr..s at Columbia. So he gifted me this new Seven Ser..rrr..ies Beemer...rrr. Well.... what can I say about the car..rrr. It's pr..rrr..etty okay, I guess."
Thankfully, by now, my friend and I had finished lunch and were ready to leave. The PYTs were just getting warmed up and it looked like it was going to be a long afternoon for the waiters. As we settled the bill, I was reminded of what Scott F Fitzgerald wrote in his short story, The Rich Boy : "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me............. in a way that unless you were born very rich, it is very difficult to understand."
How true indeed ! The other 10% does lead a differ...rrr..ent life.