The Unveiled Truth Slumdog Billionaire
New in Ceasefire, The Unveiled Truth - Posted on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 22:00 - 8 Comments
By Shirin Sadeghi
In the old town of Mumbai, festering along the waterway is a place where humans live.
It is one of poor old Asia’s poorest and oldest living quarters: the Dharavi slum. Amidst the oozing sludge that perpetually encircles the corrugated tin huts, you can find children, playing. On the hottest days, they wade in the filth, relieving themselves of the heat which rises above 45 Celsius. Everyday, they walk through it to meander through the pathways between their homes.
One million men, women and children live in this squalor – it really is the only word to describe such conditions. They share what little they have with each other. The children, in stark contrast to their exorbitantly wealthy neighbors in nearby Cumballa Hill, grow up to be rather healthy in the mind, having learned social interaction from a young age and having had an abundance of friends and family to grow with.
The wealthy do grow up, as the isolation naturally instills in them, with a distinct inability to interact normally, happily, with others. Amongst the beautiful things in life – a mother’s affection, a brother’s companionship, and the joys of having playmates – the wealthy suffer great poverty.
And so it is that just beyond the squelching odors of Dharavi, about 6 miles to the south of the city, one can find the new home of Asia’s wealthiest man, the 4th richest man in the world, with a personal fortune of $29 billion: Mukesh Ambani. He made the headlines this week when it was announced that his 27-floor, $1 billion house was due to be completed within days.
His wife and 3 kids will finally have enough room to avoid each other completely while still maintaining the semblance of a family. All 27 floors are for just the 5 of them.
What is extraordinary and yet ordinary, considering the habits and temperaments of the obscenely rich, is not merely the sad tale of a man who felt no shame in living in such unnecessary luxury amidst such dire poverty, but the well-known “relationship” Mukesh has with his brother Anil.
By all accounts (and court records), these 2 billionaires despise each other. They have been quarrelling like mice for the last bit of cheese of the vast amount of wealth they inherited from their father, Dhirubhai Ambani, who made his first million dollars when he was in his fifties.
Their disputes have raged into the court system – for these two brothers there is no limit to the accumulation of wealth, nothing will satisfy them, it seems. So they fight over billions while their neighbors in Dharavi fight to stay alive, from one day to the next. The UN estimates that the average Dharavi resident survives on less than a dollar a day.
It is exquisitely fascinating to imagine how the petty cash an Ambani spends in a single day on unnecessary trinkets, elaborate menus, the latest fashions in clothing and home interiors, or whatever else a billionaire fancies on a day-to-day basis, could literally turn the lives around of every single resident of Dharavi.
The people of Dharavi could eat nutritious food every day. Their slum could be cleaned, paved, fitted with water and sanitary plumbing, rebuilt as sturdy homes rather than perilous huts. Later, schools could be constructed too.
True, unbeknownst to many outsiders, Dharavi, with its illegal housing, and illegal businesses pulls in quite a lot of wealth per year (estimates start at $500 million annually) but obviously that money is not going to the people who are left with no choice to live in this slum, with its open sewers and infestation of vermin.
The Ambanis literally have the means to change the world with their wealth. Instead, they squabble over it amongst themselves. They are so far removed from the basic humanity that all people are born with that these two brothers cannot even be satisfied to share their wealth with each other, let alone with others.
It is impossible to understand from the outside. And from the inside, this mentality is not even seen as a problem of human decency. At play here is that deadly sin through which the deepest poverty of the soul becomes most apparent: greed.
As Mark Twain said, “to be satisfied with what one has; that is wealth. As long as one sorely needs a certain additional amount, that man isn’t rich.” And thus the Ambanis, whose unsatisfied grins seen in newspapers throughout the world grimace for ever more profit, and whose greatest enemies are each other, are anything but rich and certainly not to be idolized as they no doubt wish to be, towering above the suffering people of their land.
Shirin Sadeghi is an Iranian-American writer and Middle East Consultant. She is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and has previously worked as a Producer and Reporter for the BBC and Al Jazeera Television.
Her weekly column, ‘The Unveiled Truth’, appears every Wednesday.
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