War of the rich

By Neena Badhwar

Ambani brothers’ stories have always floated around amongst us Indians – that Mukesh Ambani has built for his residence a 64-story building in Mumbai with own carpark, helipad, health and spa centre and that it cost more than 1 billion dollars. Pictures of his lavish house also float through emails. Then Tina Munim as Anil Ambani’s wife has always aroused curiosity because of the Bollywood angle. Stories about Dhirubhai Ambani that he was a ‘rehriwala’ and his rags to riches journey have been the topic of dinner discussions. While the Ambanis acquired dizzying wealth we also flaunted their riches to our contacts here .   Mukesh’s gift of a plane to his wife for her birthday etc etc.

The Ambani saga is now the subject of a recently published book titled ‘Mahabharata in Polyester’ by the Sydney Morning Herald journalist Hamish McDonald.

The book was launched in Sydney on September 15   with invited guests where Gujarat NRE’s chairman Arun Jagatramka said, ”The Indian businessman creates favourable environments for his venture, and when he is unable to do so he converts the unfavourable into a challenging opportunity,” he explained at the launch of a book on India’s richest brothers, ”The global financial crisis was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Jagatramka said. The miner businessman helped launch the Herald journalist Hamish McDonald’s book on the billionaire Ambani brothers.

Hamish’s book tries to understand modern India as he himself worked in India as a journalist for the Herald for some years as its Asia-Pacific editor and also as the bureau chief of Far Eastern Economic Review in New Delhi. Hamish tried earlier to write about the Ambanis in a book titled ‘The Polyester Prince’ which received thorough opposition from the Ambanis through court injunctions.

Hamish has finally been able to come up with a 400-page account of the Ambanis, their indomitable business spirit, behind the scenes squabbles, risks and diversification for the Reliance to become an economic giant, the feud between the brothers after their fathers’ death, Hamish has spent   years of research through contacts, trips to India and sheer engagement   with India in trying to understand how the sleeping giant that was India of the nineties woke up to become the economic giant in the world as the country’s economy was liberalized. Hamish witnessed India’s rise with his own eyes and also how people like the Ambanis whose unfathomable riches was amassed in a duration of less than few decades. Hamish compares the Ambani brothers’ journey to that of the characters of the great Indian epic ‘Mahabharata’. He starts the book talking about the movie ‘Guru’ that depicted similarities to Dhirubhai Ambani’s   life.

The rise of Ambanis’ Reliance Textiles saw an almost similar rise as the celluloid character who pushed through the loopholes of Indian bureaucratic red tape to the limits and challenged the strong foothold of Parsis and built a super corporation bigger even than government itself.

Now when the world eyes India and many companies vie to start business there Hamish’s book describes how India functions.

It is an essential read with a pacy curiosity as chapters titled ‘Catching live serapnts’ ‘Corporate Kurukshetra’ ‘Good Bye Gandhi’ unfold the Ambani brother’s story.

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