ANGST IN MY PANTS
(Published in Hardnews in Dec 2009 or Jan 2010. Can't remember which.)
Over the last few years, I’ve spotted more grimy cement mixers than posh Mercs and BMWs on the streets of Mumbai. The majority of the advertisements in leading dailies are from builders, promising ridiculously extravagant, never-experienced-before luxury and flamboyant amenities not just in metros but in small town India as well. Realty professionals seem to have completely lost touch with reality.
I thought I’d talk to a few builders to find out what the near future would be like for real estate in India. Excerpts from a few meetings are given below – I could not reproduce them in entirety because Hardnews is a respectable family magazine. Incidentally, the names of the builders have not been revealed to protect myself from brutal murder. I’m not taking chances - hello, I have a fair idea who their real partners and/or promoters are!
Prediction No. 1: 5-star hotels are going to look like shabby municipal playgrounds compared to Mumbai’s plush new building complexes.
(In conversation with Mr. A)
Me: These days a lot of builders, including you, are offering private swimming pools in every apartment.
Mr. A nodded, looking smug. I caught him admiring his reflection on his laptop screen.
Me: Why swimming pools? There’s a desperate water shortage in the city, with 15 to 30% cuts. Even 5-star hotels and malls haven’t been spared anymore.
Mr A: (Impatiently) So what’s your point, Madam?
Me: Those people who buy apartments with swimming pools, well, what on earth are they going to fill them with? Champagne?
Mr. A: (Bristling). Well, if they can afford to buy my fancy flats they can afford to splurge on truckloads of champagne as well!
Suddenly, Mr. A’s frown vanished. He broke into a wide grin and whacked an old-fashioned bell on his desk. A tie-clad flunky appeared within seconds.
Mr. A: Rao, tell the advertising agency to add ‘Private plunge pools filled with wildly expensive champagne’ in the advertisements. Not Indian made sparkling vinegar mind you, but the real thing from France, got it? Tell those lazy copywriters to browse the Internet and put the name of some expensive brand like Dom Perignon or something equally swanky.
The flunky let out a low whistle. His eyes were filled with admiration for Mr. A. ‘Sir,’ he gushed, ‘that will give us such a wonderful edge over the competition!’
Mr. A nodded, and rubbed his hands with glee. He turned to me with softer, gentler eyes, this time.
Mr. A: Next question, Madam?
Me: (Gasping) Do you have any idea how much one bottle, just one bottle of Dom Perignon costs? You’ll need about a trillion bottles to fill each darn pool. This is ridiculous! If I know anything about you builders, you’ll probably get some cheap white wine produced by some big shot politician who owns acres of vineyards. That way, he’ll be eternally grateful to you and you’ll get away with murder!
Mr. A didn’t bother to reply. He was enthusiastically summoning the tie-clad flunky by whacking the old-fashioned bell with great force again. His eyes were gleaming. I’m certain now that even if his children recklessly kill policemen while driving under the influence, they will spend more time partying out on bail than repenting in jail!
Prediction No. 2: The sales of Roget’s Thesaurus will go through the roof in India.
(In conversation with Mr. B)
Me: India’s builders have already pinched all the lovely words 5-star hotels and resorts use like serene, tranquil, plush, refined, sophisticated, distinguished, indulgent, luxurious, extravagant, well-appointed - (I paused here to catch my breath).
Mr. B: (Stifling a yawn). You’ve left out under-stated, ambience, privileged, senses, opulence, gold-standard, platinum-standard, world-class, regal, royal et cetera et cetera.
Me: Gosh, thanks. Okay, look, these words have been so shamelessly overused we don’t react to them anymore; they’re like a blind spot. How are you going to make us sit up and gasp with wonder in 2010?
Mr. B: (Stifling another yawn) Arrey, no problem, Madam. What is Rajat’s Thesaurus there for?
Me: (Thinking to myself: should I tell him all the synonyms have been used? Or should I let Dr. Peter Mark Roget’s royalty-receiving descendants enter the Forbes list of the richest people in the world?) Indeed. What is Rajat’s Thesaurus there for!
Prediction No. 3: Indian brides will be reduced to wearing imitation jewellery on the most special day of their lives – the price of gold will hit scary, inaccessible new heights.
In conversation with Mr. C, the most polished builder I’ve met so far. I mean, never once did he say, ‘Chad yaar,’ or utter crude alphabets like M,C,B & C during the interview.
Me: (Eyeing the brochure of Mr. C’s latest residential project, Silver Acres, with reverential awe. Heck, the cover is made of sterling silver – I can melt it and wear it!). So do you have any new projects coming up?
Mr. C: (Genially) Of course, of course. Six more in the pipeline, to begin with.
Me: (Suppressing a groan) Will they be for normal people like me or for the really, really, obscenely wealthy lot?
Mr. C: (Dismissing me as an eejit) For the really, really, really, really, really, obscenely wealthy lot, of course! I don’t believe in resting on my laurels. After Silver Acres, I have to attain new heights, right?
Me: You mean, like, Gold Acres and so on and so forth?
Mr. C: Absolutely!
Me: (Sarcastically) So your brochure cover for Gold Acres will be made of gold, I assume?
Mr. C: (Without blinking) 24-carat, sweetheart!
Me: (Not giving in without a fight) Correct me if I’m wrong, but after you’re done with gold and platinum, you still have 4 projects left to name?
Mr. C: That’s right.
Me: I hate to give you sleepless nights, but what astronomically priced metals are you going to name the remaining four projects with? After platinum, what?
Mr C: (Without blinking an eyelid) No problem, sweetheart. Faux French and Italian words are as up-market as expensive metals. Add a ‘la’ or a ‘beau’ or some fancy –sounding rubbish and you’ve got the public salivating.
Me: (Resolutely unconvinced) Give me an example.
Mr. C: (Doing a great imitation of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau) How about this: Le Beau Laitue.
Me: Wow! What was that?
Mr. C: (Looking excessively pleased with himself) The Good Lettuce. Sounds a little more posh than Platinum Acres, right? And who knows and who cares what it really means in English.
Me: (Challenging him) Okay, so what will your brochure cover be made of, then? Lettuce leaves?
Mr. C: Now then, don’t be silly. I’d go with the colour, of course. Emerald or jade, perhaps.
Prediction No. 4: Skyscrapers will be old hat. Master plans will be on the anvil to create colossal Sky Impalers instead.
(In conversation with Mr. D.)
Me: (Trying hard not to giggle) I believe you’ve got a tiny, handkerchief-sized plot of land for your new project.
Mr. D: (Taking offence) It’s not tiny at all, Madam. Each apartment will be 3000 square feet.
Me: (Incredulously) How is that possible? According to the report, with the tiny space you’ve got, you can just about accommodate one 1000 square foot flat on each floor.
Mr. D: (Sniffily) So what? We must learn to be creative about space. First of all, I’m not selling down-market apartments - I’m selling villas! And each villa in my building will be an exclusive 3000 square foot triplex.
Me: (Silent, because I’ve got my comeuppance)
Mr. D: (Warming up to his triplex villa scheme) My building is going to be at least 400 storeys tall. It’s going to make Burj Dubai and Taipei 101 look like Snow White’s dwarfs!
Me: (Horrified) You can’t do that – what about planes?
Mr. D: (Disinterestedly) Planes can jolly well fly higher.
Me: What if they can’t fly higher – physics has to come into this, isn’t it?
Mr. D: (Playing a game on a hideous ivory and gold cellphone) Then people will just have to travel by spaceship.
Prediction No. 5: IT organisations will have branches in practically every building complex in India.
(In conversation with Mr. E)
Me: Your ad says IT professionals who buy apartments in your project can walk to work in about 5 minutes.
Mr. E: Yes, they can.
Me: (Scoffing) Are you telling me that all the IT companies on Planet Earth are a hop, skip and jump away from your 12 acre building complex?
Mr. E: (Icily) Most of them, yes.
Me: (With a hint of a sneer) Name them!
Mr. E: Infosys and TCS.
Mr. E: (Defiantly) And Infosys and TCS.
Me: Thought as much! So people who work at Wipro, Cognizant, Accenture, Satyam, HCL or Polaris, will have to live elsewhere then, I guess.
Mr. E: (Stubbornly) They could always join Infosys or TCS instead, if they know what’s good for them!