The Spread of Affluenza
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Indians," as a luxury brand representative observes, "are eager to cross the road even when the light is red." The reference was to the current economic climate where, despite an obvious slowdown, the affluent still seem to exist in a gilded cage. In many ways, how much we spend and how we want to spend is now inscribed on the Indian landscape — urban restaurants that serve the most expensive liquors in the world, penthouses that cost crores, luxury cars which cost as much as a mansion in an exclusive neighbourhood, limited edition watches, destination weddings that boggle the mind, furniture and lamps that wear exclusive designer logos, unbridled teenage spending on clubs, pubs, phones, clothes, computers. In 2010, when the economy was barely bouncing back after the last recession, a limited edition LVMH watch worth Rs 12,00,000 sold in India as did two watches from the Sharon Stone limited edition line priced above Rs 9,00,000.
Over the years, as consumption and more consumption outwitted every other social trend, Indian affluenza acquired its own characters, milestones and addresses. The yacht parties of Vijay Mallya, till recently the king of good times; the setting up of DLF Emporio in Delhi, UB City Mall in Bangalore and Palladium in Mumbai as venues of indulgent spending; the wedding of Sajan and Sangita Jindal at the Ferragamo family villa in Florence; Mukesh Ambani's 27-storeyed residence Antilla which cost USD 2 billion. Affluenza also has Mannerisms — we recognise a rich housewife from North India by the brands she favours; Mechanisms — Ludhiana has more Mercedes Benz cars than any other city; Politics — a recent episode of Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate revealed how lakhs are given in "cash" as dowries by seemingly middle-class families. If there are the obvious big spenders, CEOs earning big salaries and NRIs coming back to settle at home, there are closet spenders like politicians and bureaucrats who lavish extraordinary amounts on luxury goods but never announce it publicly.
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