Ever since I received a mail about the house of the richest Indian, I have been plagued by the facts and figures of this unthinkable mansion: three helipads, parking space for the owners 200 odd cars, a floor for maintenance of the same, two floor health centre, a movie theater, a ballroom, elevated gardens and 4700 m2 per person. It was built at the whopping cost of one billion dollars, making it one if not the most expensive house in the world! In it will live a family of five who will be cared for by a staff of 600. The monthly electricity bill is a whopping 700 000 Rs. It is all mind boggling and for me it is difficult to begin to understand how a family can call this a home. The building looks ugly and the pictures of the interior remind me of a museum and not a home. It looks more as if its owner is trying to make a statement if one is to beleive McDonald who writes : perhaps he (Mukesh Ambani) has been stung by his portrayal in the media as an introvert. Maybe he is making the point that he is a tycoon in his own right.
I am reminded of a quote by Lisa Edmondson who says : he who is humble is confident and wise. He who brags is insecure and lacking. It seems that the richest are the most insecure. Many of the homes of my richer friends (not in Mr A's league of course) have always seemed empty and soulless to me, even though they are fit for any home and decor magazine. I have found the true meaning of homes at the other end of the spectrum in the dwellings of people one could name the poorest in India: in Utpal's home when he had one, in Babli's home, in Munna's home, in Manisha's home and not to forget in the homes of all my Lohar (gypsy) friends before they were bulldozed to make the city beautiful for foreign guests. The one common factor of all these homes is that they have an open door quite literally so. You do not even need to knock. A simple koi hai (anyone there ) is ample. (Try entering Mr A's home, you will probably land up at the cop station.)
In the homes of the so called poor you are immediately greeted with warm smiles and offered the best place to sit. You are a guest in the true Indian tradition. You are offered the best place to sit, often the sole bed, and before you know it a cool drink or warm cuppa is in your hand. There are smiles on every face and you feel at ease and welcome. You soon forget how dilapidated the surroundings are or how hot or cold it is. True that the first time you encounter such homes you are a little puzzled as they resemble nothing you have seen before, but after some time you get the courage of looking around and you realise the love and care that has gone into making a hole a home. The sole room is a bedroom cum sitting room cum kitchen cum kids room in one and yet you soon see personal touches: a picture hanging, a shelf with some decoration pieces, another one with the few good cups, kitchen ware neatly arranged in one corner and so on and surprisingly in spite of the squalor that surrounds it there is an almost pristine feel around. Once the initial shock over, you realise that the place is filled with warmth and life. And wonders of wonders you feel good and welcome.
What astounded me was the fact that I have never got the feeling that any owner of such homes is embarrassed or ashamed. I remember when I use to visit Utpal in his sordid home, he must have been three at that time, he often walked ahead of me and then climbed on a rickety plastic stool and with is pudgy hands caught hold of two hanging wires and plugged them in a dangling socket to get the sole fan going. At first I was horrified but soon realised that this was the way it was done and like all slum children, Utpal was wise beyond his years. Or can I ever forget how little Ritu the tiny lohar girl use to drag me into her home and make place for me on the bed before she marched on to find her mom and ask her to make me a cup of tea. And believe you me, I never wanted to leave these places as they were filled with all that was good. In learning to survive the poor had mastered the art of living. They were humble true, but confident and wise. They did not need more than the tiny space assigned to them to be who they were.
Entering the intimate world of the poor has been the most uplifting experience of my life. I have learnt many lessons in humility and courage, in fortitude and patience. But what has been the most valuable was the fact that these people were the repository of traditions and mores even though sometimes their tenacious belief in them could be infuriating.
The poor live with dignity and wisdom; maybe there are lessons for all to learn.