Making money,flaunting money

Though the south is generally discreet about wealth,Bangalore is getting more comfortable with big spending

Written by Saritha Rai | Published: January 23, 2012 3:41 am

Bangalore’s uber-rich are known to favour modest India-built cars to super luxurious imported machines,and live in stately bungalows in elegant neighbourhoods rather than splashy homes. Its well-off prefer quaffing beer to sipping expensive wines and single malts. But maybe that is changing.

Bangalore-based Rajesh Mehta of Rajesh Exports,who makes his fortune from the jewellery chain Shubh Jewellers and jewellery export,has just forked out a neat sum on a property of about an acre in the heart of the city on Mahatma Gandhi Road. The deal has reportedly set him back by Rs 100 crore. Mehta plans to build a snazzy and palatial family home on the spot where the unpretentious Brindavan Hotel stood for decades and served idli-dosa breakfast and banana leaf meals.

That development comes close on the heels of the news that liquor billionaire Vijay Mallya’s sky mansion will come up in the posh Lavelle Road vicinity. The home is to be a two-level extravaganza aloft a one-acre tray on the 33rd floor of Kingfisher Towers,on the street named after his father Vittal Mallya and where his parents’ home stood. Mallya’s sky abode will have an infinity pool,a helipad and a wine cellar.

Such ostentation is quite unusual in Bangalore,a city where the mining millionaires,the Reddy Brothers,hit the headlines until recently with their helicopter-hopping lunch rendezvous and their flashy accessories. Indeed,it is quite atypical for south India where those on the moneyed list shun talking about their personal lives — a tractor empire heiress in Chennai and an airport billionaire in Bangalore being illustrations. After all,this is a part of India where a rich ruler buried his mindboggling treasures (some estimates valued the riches at Rs 60,000 crore) in the vaults of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple,Thiruvananthapuram. Meanwhile,his current heir,Marthanda Varma,led a simple life,visiting the same temple daily while remaining unaware of the hidden treasure all through.

Recently,a total of 13 Bangalore residents featured in Forbes magazine’s annual roll of India’s 100 richest. Of these,besides Mallya who inherited his father’s brewing business and fortune,all others are self-made,mostly first-generation entrepreneurs. They are all about their reverse ostentation,whether driving a battered Ford Escort or an inconspicuous Maruti Swift,cleaning their own toilets or starting soup kitchens without going to town about it.

Bangalore’s rich mostly play it down. In the absence of a landmark address in this city that equals the vast Lutyens in New Delhi or the seafront in Mumbai,most of the city’s rich live in Sadashivanagar or Koramangala-Sarjapur neighbourhoods. Sadashivnagar,home to the older wealthy set,was carved out of the Mysore rulers’ fruit orchards and gardens. Today,a sprinkling of the city’s film stars,businessmen and top politicians live there.

Koramangala,on the other hand,is a yuppie playground,fancied by the city’s billionaires as well as the city’s newly-arrived,whether from Austin or London. Two of Infosys’s founders live there and so do several other software industry founders.

But Bangalore is flooded with hot new money. The roar of a luxury sports coupe is rare but not unknown. A “barber” who styles hair in a salon in one of the city’s elite clubs,started a high-end luxury car rental because of his passion for cars. He made it big and now drives to work in a white Rolls Royce Ghost.

Not just in Bangalore,the rich in the south are building mansions — a surefire way of displaying wealth and power — in upscale addresses in their home cities. Last year,some stunning photos of 2G-scam-accused A. Raja’s home went viral on the web. The pictures of the ultra-luxurious home turned out to be an elaborate hoax. It looked entirely believable,though.

The rich are finding other ways to show off their wealth. In Hyderabad,a lavish wedding of the kind not witnessed before in the south,was hailed the society event of 2011. It was the nuptials of infrastructure baron G.V.K. Reddy’s granddaughter Mallika Reddy where top Bollywood stars were paid astounding sums to dance and entertain guests.

Certainly the rich in Bangalore,or even south India,are no longer shy about flaunting their money. But maybe it is more level-headed than it seems. The “barber” with the Rolls Royce still styles hair for his regulars at the club,and charges Rs 65 for a haircut. He told a local tabloid,“If I don’t give somebody a haircut on a particular day,I don’t sleep well that night.”

saritha.rai@expressindia.com

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