View: Being stealthily wealthy and wise is the style statement of the new rich

There’s a new rich that’s raising their head in India. Or rather, not raising their head, since they don’t give a flying Ferrero Rocher whether they’re seen or not. Don’t be fooled by that chap at the table next to yours in China Garden in GK2. He goes once in a while to The Spice Route at The Imperial, sure. But he won’t be caught dead as a posh spice nut who goes only to poncey places.

The new rich are made from new wealth. This new entrepreneurial class finds the show ponies of old wealth eyeroll-worthy. And this is interesting for a society that still ogles at the visual displays of very, very conspicuous consumption.

New wealth doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch – although that helps one’s street cred. They can be young members of old money using good money to seriously upgrade, or even supplant, the old family banyan tree. They understand the value of scaling up, making the right investments, getting out of the wrong ones. Essentially, they’re far better at making money work than their older peers.

The rules of what constitutes ‘being rich’ don’t apply to this lot who intrinsically believe in Samuel Johnson’s uncannily modern words, ‘It is better to live rich than to die rich.’ Yes, they don’t give a toss about the pros and cons of any inheritance tax, and are far more interested – and clued in – about finding newer, nicer tax havens across the world.

The role model of the new rich is the old geek – counterintuitively, perhaps, less Steve Jobs, more Bill Gates. As John Kampener writes in his 2014 book, The Rich: From Slaves to Super Yachts: A 2000-Year History, quoting Microsoft Man, ‘I remember going home one night and telling my wife Melinda that I was going to buy a notebook; she didn’t think that was a very big deal. I said, no, this is a pretty special notebook.’ This use of studied understatement is fashionable among some of the contemporary super-rich. A sign of having really made it is not to have to try too hard. That, in itself, takes some effort.’

A decade later, India’s self-made, or self-remade, dauphins and dauphines are picking up this new style of being stealthily wealthy and wise.For the new rich, heritage and tradition are useful only when they are of use. Old wealth may look down on the ways of these arrivistes, some considering these upstarts as that old-as-Versailles put-down: ‘nouveau riche’. But like ‘Rai Bahadur’ Bishwambar Roy, the ageing zamindar in terminal financial decline because of his inability to create new wealth and stuck in his old ways of high culture and music in Satyajit Ray’s 1958 film Jalsaghar (The Music Room), based on a Tarashankar Bandopadhyay short story, the old rich are the has-beens.It is the usurper, the self-made businessman, Mahim Ganguly with his motor car (instead of horse carriage) and electric generator (instead of candle-lit chandeliers) who is the future. (Ironically, Bengal, much like Bishwambar Ray, didn’t seem to follow Mahim’s avant-garde ways.) When Roy visibly disapproves of Ganguly’s inability and unwillingness to appreciate the tehzeeb of the old ways, the movie-watcher may romanticise the lost world of the old rich. But it’s the new rich that he or she knows will thrive.

Instead of flash and pomp, and over-the-top OTT displays, the new rich are spending more time and money on finding time. They acquire financial assets, invest in tech, follow AI trends far more closely than their seniors follow any racecourse horse or car. And they have the smarts – valuing knowledge and education.

As Kampener points out, ‘There is something about this breed that sets them apart from those who have made their money by other means – through inheritance, expropriation, or financial transfers…. Their eccentric revolutionary zeal is reminiscent of some of the adventurers who took to the high seas in search of new lands.’

In a twist of better geographical accuracy, we can call this new rich not raising their head from our end of the table, the New East India Company.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.