Good capitalism, bad capitalism

Amit Sengupta

It's a sleazy game played with eyes wide shut, this new perversity of backward capitalism in poverty-stricken India, and the rich man's god is enjoying himself in heaven and everything is alright with the world because these are 'reforms with a human face'. You can see everything but you have your eyes open wide shut because nothing must happen to break this hallucinatory stupor of suspended disbelief, this neo-liberal farce of free market-packaged entertainment camouflaged as enlightenment: buy two empty minds and shallow souls, get three free. 

This is where big, dirty money moves in hyperbolic and vicious circles of millions, while the government debates if 78 per cent Indians live on just about Rs 20, and if the 'BPL people' are 37.8 per cent (or 50 plus) of the Indian population, and if people really need 25 kg of PDS rice or 35 kg for basic survival. How much does it take to starve to death, which historical levels of malnourishment, what nutrition threshold of acquired immune deficiencies? And what the hell is this mythical line of actual control of human consumption called below the poverty line? Is it a Vedic construct? Is it science fiction?

And what is the APL of all our tycoons who seem to have effectively overthrown the Great Indian State? From Dantewada to BCCI. What is their calorie intake? Their accumulative capital costs of inner life, outer life, rows of swanky cars, private jets,  helicopters, luxury yachts, penthouses, palaces and pads, basic shelter, health, food, drinking water, domestic bliss, non-domestic bliss, healthcare, love, happiness, insatiable desires, clinical desires, friendships, heartbreaks, extra-curricular activities, ambitions, foreign trips and holidays, shopping, eating out, lobbying, five star hotels, fashion shows, casinos and bars, post-IPL parties?

A super-rich industrialist builds a gigantic house so brazenly opulent that the clock stops. This is anti-clockwise history in non-stop perverse rewind, written with unprecedented wealth for all to see from the voyeuristic distances of our new capitalist democracy of licensed hedonism with restricted permits. If the pictures of this monstrosity of allegedly a billion dollar home in a city with half the population in slums can be seen to be believed, you wonder where the wealthy man will finally sleep  his peaceful sleep: in which of the many lounges, traditional or modern, the stairways and elevators, the roof with a panoramic view, the massive tsarist era ballroom, highly ornamental bathrooms and bedrooms, yoga halls, theatre halls, with state-of-the-art, post-modern architecture and design? Pray, where? Like the obscene, monotonous luxuries of erstwhile medieval monarchies during famines. From the many parking floors, perhaps one day he might like to take one of those swanky vehicles out on a post-midnight drive and crash out at Marine Drive, chilled beer in hand, inhaling the wind and smell of the sea, which doesn't cost a dime. Will it mark a revelation, a moment of deep enlightenment, a paradigm shift from this perversely excessively excess materialism? 

Remember the old, nocturnal, haunting, homeless Raj Kapoor song written by Sahir on Bombay's Gateway of India, in black and white? Chino Arab Hamara...

The socialist secular democracy of the Constitution of India is going places, and what a titillating, sensex-sexy, seductive, anti-catharsis divide it is: the more richer you get, the more richer you want to get, the more you have, the less you are, the faster you run the more stationary you are. In this rich man's club, you flaunt your mindless wealth, and let everyone watch it, like they watch the white-skinned cheer girls and their armpit-bombing. Eyes wide shut.

Like most of us. Especially prosperous cricketers, prosperous politicians, prosperous BCCI mandarins, prosperous ex-cricketers. Like the three monkeys, they just refused to see or hear the ringmaster monkey move up and down the money laundering and dubious finance snake-and-ladder circus, even  while middle-aged, failed Bollywood females, and an addicted-to-money actor, with acting talent not even worth a squeeze of a dot on celluloid, kept hugging cricketers and jumping up and down, as if god himself brainwashed their little, one-dimensional, chattering, cluttered,  richie-rich brains with all the hollow stuff made of auctioned smiles and artificial make-up. 

How come such a gigantic fraud went on undetected day after day for three years even while the entire corporate and political establishment could see the corporate and political links in this dubious pie of crass commercial morbidity, with sleaze, sex, dirty money, fixing, gambling, entertainment all packaged in a perverse magic potion?

And if this is good capitalism, what is bad capitalism?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2010