Aravinda Adiga’s builder—Dharmen Shah—is super-rich. And fat. He goes about his workday with a passion the reader would expect of him, and he coughs blood into his handkerchief which, too, is in keeping with that reading of big businessmen as sinners forced soon enough to balance their sins. When a project gathers heat Adiga’s builder cools off with a mistress who calls him uncle in almost every sentence. He listens to Kishore Kumar—the book doesn’t tell if he has the reading habit. But the builder means to be a good, more-than-fair businessman. He is ambitious and his restless competitor drives the builder to expend himself more than he should in his mirthless existence. Shah throws extravagant parties; but they are not for fun, they’re for extending his greasy business. His right hand men whom he employs a man at a time are dispensable, and they are dispensed with, because the builder’s right hand men are in truth “left hand men”, and the dirty work that they must perform soils them so much, their time with Shah must soon end.
I’ve seen only a few builders, and they differ from Adiga’s Shah. I’ve seen Nitesh of Nitesh Estates, and another Bangalorean builder whom I saw in Bombay, while I vied with him to pay courtesies to a harried Principal Secretary of the Karnataka Government. And the scion of a Bangalorean builder at a seminar in the Taj Residency Hotel. Nitesh I saw at the Vidhana Soudha, he was at the door of the conference hall waiting to be called in. The Governor was presiding over the meeting of the Single Window Agency, and Nitesh was going to get 400 acres somewhere for an evolved, higher-end development. Nitesh wore a dark suit, and black slip-on shoes with butterfly ornamentation on their top. At a point the Chief Secretary stepped out for a quick trip to his chambers and he and Nitesh walked together a short distance and exhanged a few words. The Secretary walked on, and Nitesh turned, and smartly scuffed his heels, and returned to his team near the door. Envy rose up in me, and I was helpless as it sped about my system. The young man was as sleek as some of his buildings.
The builder I got to see in Mumbai was Mantri, at The Taj, in Nariman Point, where the Karnataka Government—led by the Chief Minister—were meeting Bombay’s businessmen to draw them to an upcoming Global Investors Meet in Bangalore. A biggie introduced Mantri to Baligar, the Principal Secretary. “Mr. Mantri’s mall in Bangalore is the biggest in Asia, sir.” Baligar registered that, somewhat absently, hugging files and a fat laptop and struggling to manage that slipping load. But it was Mantri who held my eyes. Erect, clean and bright, dapper and proud and yet beaming and respectful and focused on Baligar. Mantri didn’t speak, but only smiled for the seconds the meeting lasted before others crowded into Baligar and Baligar sought to fly from a situation getting dire. I was envious before this builder too, as much as I’d been before Nitesh in Bangalore.
In a seminar that an American conducted at The Taj Residency in Bangalore, the most enthusiastic participant was the scion of Vakil Housing. The seminar was about growth. The youth from Vakil’s had many questions, made plenty of notes, and was quick to raise his hand to answer a question—or to ask one. That was some years ago. I wonder at which height Vakil’s vector flies today, and I’m sure it is lofty. To tell you of that day at the Taj, I was a mere spectator in thrall to that young performer from a blazing industry.
Dharmen Shah is a fine creation and his character works quite well in Adiga’s story, but the rich I see are more like the men I’ve noted here. I must admit that when I look at the very rich I cannot help but think for a moment if there’s in them a Richard Cory, concealing a surprise as in the song, but a Cory is rare in these parts. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but to me the rich look very good, and they last.
The Richard Cory song
The Richard Cory Song