Sweet Smell of Success: Arindam Chaudhari
This is a google cache copy of the article in The Caravan that appeared a few months ago. Our man Arindam has now sued Caravan and Google for over 50 crores in damange. Read below and make up your mind.
How Arindam Chaudhuri made a fortune off the aspirationsâ€”and insecuritiesâ€”of Indiaâ€™s middle classes
A PHENOMENALLY WEALTHY INDIAN who excites hostility and suspicion is an unusual creature, a fish that has managed to muddy the waters it swims in. The glow of admiration lighting up the rich and the successful disperses before it reaches him, hinting that things have gone wrong somewhere. It suggests that beneath the sleek coating of luxury, deep under the sheen of power, there is a failure barely sensed by the man who owns that failure along with his expensive accoutrements. This was Arindam Chaudhuriâ€™s situation when I first met him in 2007. He had achieved great wealth and prominence, partly by projecting an image of himself as wealthy and prominent. Yet somewhere along the way he had also created the opposite effect, whichâ€”in spite of his best effortsâ€”had given him a reputation as a fraud, scamster and Johnny-come-lately.
Once I became aware of Arindam Chaudhuriâ€™s existence, I began to find him everywhere: in the magazines his media division published, flashing their bright colours and inane headlines from little newsstands made of bricks and plastic sheets; in buildings fronted by dark glass, behind which earnest young men imbibed Arindamâ€™s ideas of leadership; and on the tiny screen during a flight from Delhi to Chicago, when the film I chose for viewing turned out to have been produced by him. It was a low-budget Bombay gangster film with a cast of unknown, modestly paid actors and actresses: was it an accident that the film was called Mithya? The word means falsehood, appearances, a lieâ€”things I would have much opportunity to contemplate in my study of Arindam.
Every newspaper I came across carried a full-page advertisement for Arindamâ€™s private business school, the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), with Arindamâ€™s photograph displayed prominently. It was the face of the new India, in closeup. His hair was swept back in a ponytail, dark and gleaming against a pale, smooth face, his designer glasses accentuating his youthfulness. He wore a blue suit, and his teeth were exposed in the kind of bright white smile I associate with American businessmen and evangelists. But instead of looking directly at the reader, as businessmen and evangelists do to assure people of their trustworthiness, Arindam gazed off at a distant horizon, as if pondering some elusive goal.
There were few details about the academic programme or admission requirements in these advertisements, but many small, inviting photographs of the Delhi campus: a swimming pool, a computer lab, a library, a snooker table, Indian men in suits, a blonde woman. A fireworks display of italics, exclamation marks and capital letters described the perks given to students: â€œfree study tour to Europe etc. for twenty-one days,â€ â€œworld placements,â€ â€œFree Laptops for all.â€ Stitching these disparate elements together was a slogan: â€œDare to Think Beyond the IIMsâ€â€”referring to the elite, state-subsidised business schools, and managing to sound promising, admonishing and mysterious at the same time. The new India needed a new kind of university, and a new kind of attitude, and Arindam, said the ads, was the man who could teach you how to find it.
“I ‘VE SPOKEN TO THE BOSS about you,â€ Sutanu said. â€œHe said, â€˜Why does he want to meet me?â€™â€
Sutanu ran the media division of Arindamâ€™s company from a basement office where there was no cellphone reception, and it took many calls and text messages to get in touch with him. When I finally reached him, he sounded affable enough, suggesting that we have lunch in south Delhi. We met at Flames, an â€œAsian Resto-Barâ€ in Greater Kailash-II with a forlorn statue of the Buddha tucked away in the corner.
Sutanu was in his 40s, a dark man with a bushy moustache and glasses, his raffish 1960s air complemented by a bright blue shirt and a red tie patterned with elephants. He was accompanied by Rahul, a journalist who worked at one of the magazines published by Arindam. Although they couldnâ€™t have been there long, their table held two packs of Navy Cut cigarettes, a partly empty bottle of Kingfisher, and a battered smartphone that thrummed insistently throughout our conversation.
â€œThe boss is a great man, and sure, his story is interesting,â€ Sutanu said. â€œThe question is whether heâ€™ll talk to you.â€
SAURABH DAS / AP PHOTO
Chaudhuri poses with the stars of Faltu, the third film that he produced, at a press conference in 2006.
Arindam Chaudhuri had started out in 1996 as the proprietor of a lone business school. Founded by Arindamâ€™s father, it had beenâ€”Sutanu said dismissivelyâ€”a small, run-of-the-mill place located on the outskirts of Delhi. But Arindam expanded it to nine branches in major Indian metros, and now he was going international. He had an institute in Dubai and had allied with a Belgian management school with campuses in Brussels and Antwerp. He was about to open an institute in London, and was planning another in an old factory building in Pennsylvania. And that was just the management institute. Arindamâ€™s company, Planman, had a media division that included a newsweekly, The Sunday Indianâ€”â€œperhaps the only magazine in the world with 13 editionsâ€â€”and three business magazines. He also owned a software company, a consulting division that managed the â€œHR component of multinationals,â€ and a new outsourcing company, which claimed to produce the entire content of The Guardian online, as well as proofreading and copyediting the Daily Mail.
â€œThereâ€™s also a film division, and heâ€™s produced a major Bollywood blockbuster,â€ Sutanu said.
â€œIt was meant to be a blockbuster,â€ Rahul said quietly. â€œBut it flopped.â€
â€œYeah, yeah, no big deal,â€ Sutanu said. â€œHeâ€™s on other blockbuster projects. Heâ€™s a man of ideas. So sometimes they flop.â€ He lit a cigarette and waved it around, the rings on his hand flashing. â€œWhat heâ€™s doing, heâ€™s using intellectual capital to make his money. But people donâ€™t get that and because heâ€™s been badmouthed so much, heâ€™s become suspicious. Heâ€™s been burned by the media. You know, cynical hacks they are. They make up stories that heâ€™s a fraud. A Johnny-come-lately. Everyone asks, â€˜Yaar, but where does all that money come from?â€™â€
There was a moment of silence as we contemplated this question.
â€œThey donâ€™t ask these things of other businessmen,â€ Sutanu said. â€œThatâ€™s because when the mainstream media does these negative stories on him, just hatchet jobs, you know, theyâ€™re serving the interests of the big industrialists. The industrialists donâ€™t like him because our magazines have done critical stories on them. The government doesnâ€™t like him and harasses him all the time. They say, â€˜You canâ€™t use the word â€œIndianâ€ in the name of your management school because we donâ€™t recognise your school.â€™ They send us a letter every six months about this. Then, the elite types are after him. The Doon School, St Stephenâ€™s, Indian Institute of Management people. There were these bloggers writing silly stuff about him, saying that the institute doesnâ€™t give every student a laptop as promised in the advertisements. You want to know how he makes money? Itâ€™s simple. There are 2,000 students who pay seven lakhs each. The operating costs are low. You know how much teachers get paid in India. So the money gets spun off into other businesses.â€
We ate hot-and-sour soup and drank more beer, our conversation widening out to include our careers and lives, and the unforgiving city of Delhi. Rahul told us a story about covering the war in Iraq and being arrested by Saddam Husseinâ€™s Republican Guard while crossing over the border from Jordan. When it was time to depart, I felt reluctant to break up the drunken afternoon bonhomie but nevertheless asked, â€œWhen do I get to meet Arindam Chaudhuri?â€
â€œThe good thing about the boss is that heâ€™s a yes or no sort of person,â€ Sutanu said. â€œYouâ€™ll find out in a couple of days whether he wants to meet you.â€
A COUPLE OF DAYS stretched to a week. I kept pestering Sutanu with calls and text messages. Then it was done, an appointment made, and I entered the wonderland to meet Arindam Chaudhuri, the management guru, the media magnate, the
business school entrepreneur, the film producer, the owner of IT and outsourcing companies, to which we should add his claims of being a noted economist and the author of two â€œall-time best sellers,â€ The Great Indian Dream and Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch.
The drive from Delhi to IIPMâ€™s main campus, which is located on the cityâ€™s outskirts in an area called Satbari, is a fairly quick one. First come the temples of Chattarpur, modern structures with crenellated, fluted walls, where memories of old Hindu architecture have been transformed into a simple idea of excess. A gargantuan statue of Hanuman stands with a mace on his shoulder, looking down dismissively at the traffic.
The road is dusty, and the clusters of shops and houses soon give way to large stretches of land partitioned off for the very rich. A few boutique hotels crop up, looking empty, but the land is mostly colonised by the farmhouses of Delhiâ€™s newly affluent. All I saw on my first drive were walls edged with broken glass, the occasional flash of green from a well-tended lawn, and a young peasant woman with a suitcase sitting in front of a farmhouse.
The high-walled Delhi campus of IIPM squatted amid these hotels and farmhouses. Compared to the sprawling campuses of the IIMs, it is tinyâ€”five acres instead of a hundredâ€” and thus seems more like a miniature, model school than a real one. The gates were kept shut, and the campus appeared sleepy until just before Arindamâ€™s arrival. Then the security guards hovered around the guardhouse, looking at their watches and fingering their walkie-talkies. The scruffy management students, who, in their odd assortment of blazers and flashy shirts, had the air of men just coming off an all-night wedding party, tried not to look as if they were loitering.
The gates were hurriedly opened for Arindamâ€™s metallic blue luxury car, a million-pound Bentley Continental, as it coasted down the driveway and parked in front of the building lobby. Arindam, dressed in blue, passed through a knot of sycophants and disappeared inside the building, leaving behind nothing but the frisson of his arrival and the Bentley gleaming in the fierce Delhi sun. The power and the glory! A million pounds! Custom-made in the mother country of England! A Bentley was the ultimate status symbol of the Indian rich, expensive and relatively uncommon. A business journalist had told me the probably apocryphal story that Arindam had ordered the special paint scraped off when his car arrived from England and then had it repainted to match the blue of one of his favourite shirts.
The campus building was split along two levels. Most of the classrooms were on the basement floor, and were filled with the chatter of students, some of them dressed in suits to attend a class in â€œExecutive Communications.â€ The ground floor contained a computer lab, a tiny library and some classrooms, but it was dominated by a boardroom in the center. On the other side of this was an open-plan office. The employees sitting in front of computers and phones were mostly in their 20s and 30s, and although they looked busy, they didnâ€™t give the impression that they were running a global megabusiness. Arindam referred to them as â€œmanagerial staff,â€ but when I introduced myself to one of the managers, a balding, middle-aged man, he seemed to be making cold calls, dialing numbers from a database and asking people if they were interested in taking management seminars.
Up close, Arindam was a few shades darker than his picture, though with the same glossy hair tied back in a ponytail. Beneath his blue pinstriped suit he wore a white shirt open to show his smooth, hairless chest. There were rings on his fingers and bright sparkling stones on the frame of his designer glasses, silver cufflinks on his sleeves and argyle socks and shiny pump shoes on his feet. All these harsh, glittering surfaces were accompanied by a youthfulness that softened the effect. He was in his late 30s, a year younger than me, with a boyish air that took over when he became sarcastic about his critics and rivals and said, â€œWow!â€
Our first meeting took place in the boardroom. There were about 50 chairs in the room, most of them pushed to one side, and Arindam and I sat at one end of a long table. The air-conditioning was fierce, and after a couple of hours, I began to feel cold in my summer garb of short-sleeved shirt and cotton trousers, but Arindam went on speaking, slowing slightly only when a worker brought us chicken sandwiches and cups of Coca-Cola.
Like most of the new rich in India, Arindam hadnâ€™t started from scratch. He inherited the management institute from his father, Malay Chaudhuri, who began it in 1973. But the original institute had hardly been cutting-edge. The admissions and administrative office in a house in south Delhi doubled as a family bedroom at night. As for Gurgaon, where the instituteâ€™s students convened, â€œit was the least developed place on earth.â€ I understood why Arindam wanted to emphasise this: before the office parks, condominiums and shopping malls sprouted, Gurgaon was little more than an assortment of unpaved roads meandering through fields of wheat, with electricity and phone lines in short supply, a no-manâ€™s-land between Delhi and the vast rural hinterland of India, where a management school must have seemed like just one more of those strange, minor cults that crop up in this country from time to time.
Arindam wanted to go to college in the United States, but his father convinced him to enroll in the family institute. Before he had even graduated, he was teaching a course. â€œI took advantage of being the directorâ€™s son,â€ Arindam said, laughing but making it clear that he had been perfectly qualified to teach his fellow students. Three years after finishing his degree, he started a recruitment consulting firm. By getting into a position where he was hiring people for other companies, he intended to find jobs for IIPM graduates. The placement of IIPM graduates was a pressing problem at the time, and although Arindam would disagree, it remains a problem now, even after all his success.
During those early years, Arindamâ€™s ambitions were disproportionate to his abilities and experience. He started a magazine and a research division, but the magazine closed quickly and his recruitment firm failed to take off. He had nothing to sell except himself. â€œIn 1997, I announced my first leadership workshop for senior executives under the banner, â€˜Become a great leader.â€™ My thinking was that if they can take leadership lessons from me, they will give me business. So they came, not realising from the photos how young this guy was. And then it didnâ€™t matter, because that first workshop was a rocking interactive super-success.â€ His voice rose, his chin lifted with pride, and he looked me in the eyes. â€œThat is how we built a brand.â€
AT THE IIPM CAMPUS, I had picked up a brochure that featured a two-page spread of the articles that appeared when Arindam first made his mark as â€œThe Guru with a Ponytail.â€ Indistinguishable from press releases, these articles reproduced Arindamâ€™s thoughts on everything from â€œhow not to create more Osamasâ€ (the key, apparently, was
â€œwholesome educationâ€) to the negative influence of â€œthe MBA mafia,â€ as he called the IIMs. But if Arindam was â€œGuru Coolâ€ in these articles, he was also combative, attacking the IIMs and pushing his â€œTheory i Managementâ€ (the lower case â€œiâ€ stood for â€œIndiaâ€) as part of a compassionate form of capitalism that took into account the countryâ€™s overwhelming poverty. He talked about â€œtrickle-down economicsâ€ and â€œsurvival of the weakest,â€ and although it was never clear from these extracts how such concepts could be put into practice, they showed Arindamâ€™s desire to project himself as a thinker as well as an entrepreneur.
In June 2005, nearly a decade after his first failed attempt to start a magazine, Arindam began publishing a magazine called Business & Economy. This led to a newsweekly, The Sunday Indian, and a marketing magazine called 4Ps. Each was printed on glossy paper, heavy on graphics and syndicated material, thin on original content and, to judge by the misspelled names on Sunday Indian covers (â€œPamela Andresonâ€), short of copy editors. In 2007, Arindam began bringing out an Indian edition of PC Magazine under licence from Ziff Davis Media. At the same time, he began discussions with Foreign Affairs in New York to bring out an Indian edition, and when that fell through, he began negotiations with Foreign Policy in Washington DC. â€œIn the school, I have an audience of only 6,000 students,â€ he had said to me (the actual enrolment, according to Sutanu, was closer to 2,000). â€œNow, every week, I reach one lakh people.â€ The business schools also produced â€œacademicâ€ journals with names like Indian Economy Review, Human Factor, Strategical Innovators, and Need the Dough? But the most significant arena of influence seemed to be his film business, which had turned Arindam into something approaching a household name.
In 2002, Arindam decided to enter the movie business. A few days before his first Bollywood film was to be shot, he told me, the director walked out on him. Arindam, naturally, decided to direct the film himself. He admitted to me that he had not been entirely qualified. â€œBut I hope, some day, when I have more experience, to make a truly revolutionary film.â€ With a plot lifted from the American comic strip Archie, that first film flopped commercially and was panned by critics. Even the DVD stores in the Palika Bazaar underground market were unable to procure a copy for me. But Arindam learnt quickly. Before long, he had developed a careful corporate approach to filmmaking that differed from the older Bollywood model of massive budgets, dubious financing (often from underworld sources) and a hit-or-miss approach to success. Arindamâ€™s films, by contrast, focused on the bottom line, keeping the budget small and aiming not for huge audiences but for as much presence as possible in the multiplexes proliferating in the new India, places where a number of films ran simultaneously in theatres far smaller than their predecessors. He also sought out prestige; some more recent ventures of Arindam Chaudhuri Productions have been directed by the Kolkata-based Rituparno Ghosh, who has something of a reputation as an auteur.
Within IIPM, meanwhile, Arindam was surrounded by fierce loyalists. Former students and classmates became employees and continued to refer to him in the nice, middle-class Indian way as â€œArindam sir.â€ They were so enamored of Arindam that when I visited him at the IIPM campus or stood too near him, some of them displayed a barely disguised hostility. Upset at the proximity I had stolen, sensing perhaps that I did not entirely share their faith in their guru, they seethed with the desire to protect Arindam from me.
Almost all of Planmanâ€™s employeesâ€”90 percent, according to Arindamâ€”were former IIPM students. The same was true of the faculty members, who tended to morph from students to teachers as soon as they had finished their courses. Rohit Manchanda, a short, dapper man who would have been shorter without the unusually high heels of his shoes, taught advertising and headed Planmanâ€™s small advertising agency. The dean of IIPM, Prasoon Majumdar, was also economics editor for the magazines published by Planman. Other employees were family members as well as former students. Arindamâ€™s wife, Rajita, a petite woman who drove a Porsche, had been a student of Arindamâ€™s before they got married and now taught Executive Communications. Arindamâ€™s sisterâ€™s husband, a young man with shoulder-length hair and a shirt left unbuttoned to reveal a generous expanse of chest, was a former student, a faculty member and the features and lifestyle editor of the magazines.
When Arindam met with his division heads, all of whom had been his classmates at IIPM, they joked and chatted for an hour before turning to their work. They seemed to derive immense pleasure from showing me just how closeknit they were. â€œWeâ€™re like the mafia,â€ Arindam said. It was a comparison that had occurred to me, although other metaphors also came to mind. They were like the mafia in their suspicion of outsiders, like a dot-com in their emphasis on collegiality, and like a cult in their belief in a mythology made up of Arindamâ€™s personal history, management theories and the strange ways in which the company functioned. But perhaps this is simply another way of saying that they were a business, operating through an unquestioning adherence to what their owner said and believed.
During our first meeting, Arindam explained to me in a five-hour monologue that his business was built around the â€œbrandâ€ of Planman Consulting, the group that includes the business school and numerous other ventures from media and motion pictures to a charitable foundation. To an outsider, however, the brand is Arindam. Even if his role is disguised under the description of â€œhonorary deanâ€ of IIPM, the image of the business school and Planman is in most ways the image of Arindam Chaudhuri. With his quirky combination of energy, flamboyance, ambition, canniness and even vulnerability, he is the promise of the age, his traits gathering force from their expression at a time in India when all that is solid melts into air.
ONE EVENING IN SEPTEMBER, I went to the Grand Ballroom auditorium of the Park Royal Hotel to hear Arindam speak. I had heard him address a crowd before, but that had been a familiar audience, made up of graduating IIPM students herded into
a hotel auditorium near the Satbari campus. The students seemed awestruck but restless, their attention wandering whenever the talk veered away from the question of their future to trickle-down theory; no doubt they were more concerned with trickle-up. Arindam hectored them a little, and he had been worried enough about this to send me a text message a few hours later, asking me to â€œdiscount some of the harsh words i said to students.â€
The event at the Grand Ballroom was different. It was the final performance of a daylong â€œleadershipâ€ seminar for which people had paid 4,000 rupees, the previous speakers having included Arindamâ€™s wife and several IIPM professors. Over 100 people, quite a few women among them, sat under the chandeliers as a laptop was set up on stage. They looked like aspirational rather than polished corporate types, the men with red sacred threads around their wrists, the women in saris and salwar kameezes, a gathering of middle-class, middle-rung, white-collar individuals whose interest in leadership skills had a dutiful air. After a number of childrenâ€”it was unclear to whom they belongedâ€” clustered around Arindam to get copies of the all-time best-seller Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch signed, Arindam took the stage. He wore a shiny black corduroy suit, the jacket displaying embroidery on the shoulders, and loafers that appeared to be made of snake skin.
Chaudhuri and his wife, Rajita, a former student of his at IIPM who now teaches at the school.
Arindam wasnâ€™t a natural speaker. In prolonged one-to-one conversations, he had the tendency to look away, not meeting the listenerâ€™s gaze. This was less of a problem in a public gathering, but he also had a high-pitched voice and a tendency to fumble his lines. He started by asking people what leadership meant to them. As his listeners spewed out answers, using phrases (â€œdream believer,â€ â€œreach the objective,â€ â€œmaking decisions,â€ â€œsimplifying thingsâ€) that seemed to have been lifted from some ur-text of self-help and management, they seemed both eager and slightly combative, as if not entirely convinced of his ability to teach them about leadership. â€œHereâ€™s the great Arindam Chaudhuri,â€ a man next to me muttered, using great in the Indian way to mean someone fraudulent. Arindam seemed aware of the hostility: his responses were hesitant, and his English was uncertain and pronouncedly Delhi middle-class in its inflection.
As the session went on, however, it became evident that these qualities werenâ€™t drawbacks, not among the people he was addressing. The mannerisms gave Arindam an everyday appeal, and it was the juxtaposition of this homeliness with his wealth, success and glamour that created a hold over the leadership aspirants in the audience. By themselves, the Bentley Continental, the ponytail and the designer glasses, or the familiar way Arindam had of dropping names like Harvard, McKinsey and Lee Iacocca would have made him too remote. But the glamour was irresistible when combined with his middlebrow manner. He was one of the audience, even if he represented the final stage in the evolution of the petit bourgeoisie.
Arindam was well aware of this. If he wasnâ€™t a natural speaker, he nevertheless had a performerâ€™s ability to gather strength the longer he stayed on stage. Thirty minutes into the leadership session, as I began to be drawn into his patter, I realised that Arindam was telling the Indian middle class a story about itself, offering his audience an answer to the question of who they were. â€œI am trying to be a mirror,â€ he said, a comment remarkably attuned to the way he represented a larger-than-life version of the people he addressed.
His listeners had come to the session with a rough sense of who they were supposed to be. They received instruction about this from the culture at large, especially the proliferating media outlets that obsessed about them as members of â€œIndia Shining.â€ The Western media characterised them in a similar manner. Arindamâ€™s audience knew that as middleclass, well-to-do Indians, they were supposed to be modern and managerial. They were a people devoted to efficiency, given to the making of money and the enjoyment of consumer goods while retaining a touch of traditional spice, which meant, for instance, that they used the internet to arrange marriages along caste and class lines.
Still, they needed further affirmation of their role, and this is what Arindam provided, mixing that cocktail of spurious tradition and manufactured modernity, while adding his signature flavor to the combination. He told his listeners stories about traveling to America, Europe and Japanâ€”the ultramodern places that middle-class India had been emulating and suddenly found within its reach. Yet few people in the audience had been to these countries, and if they did go, they would not encounter them with any degree of intimacy. The very places they were most drawn toâ€”the business centres, the shopping plazas, the franchise restaurantsâ€” would remain slightly unreal in spite of the photographs taken, the souvenirs bought, the money spent.
In the Grand Ballroom, though, these places were conjured anecdotally and made to resemble the India the audience knew, or thought they knew. So there were jokes about national stereotypes, comments about the different strengths and weaknesses of the Americans, the Japanese, the French and the Indians. There were no individuals in these stories, only nameless businessmen met by Arindam in anonymous boardrooms, and the world itself seemed no more than a string of Grand Ballrooms, each dominated by a different ethnic group of capitalists.
After Arindam had given the audience this touch of the foreign, he returned to more familiar territory. He made fun of regional Indian identities, something done rather easily among a largely Hindi-speaking Delhi crowd that tends to see itself as national. He pandered to their middleclass prejudices, attacking the government as inefficient and corrupt, and then satisfied their nationalism by speaking of the Indian Army as the most efficient and disciplined wing of the state.
As Arindam became more comfortable, he slipped into Hindi, segueing into the story of the Mahabharata. This was his way of approaching the â€œTheory i Managementâ€ concept of leadership. Like many contemporary Hindus who have tried to cut from their sprawling beliefs the hard lines of a modern faith, Arindam wasnâ€™t interested in the complex ethical questions or sophisticated narrative strategies of the Mahabharata. Instead, his focus was on the Bhagavad Gita.
The Gita emerged as a foundational religious text only in modern times, when Hindu revivalists reeling from colonialism sought something more definitive than the amorphous set of practices and ideas that had characterised Vedic religion until then. Then in the early 1990s, the Gita again received new life, when the Indian elites simultaneously embraced free-market economics and a hardened Hindu chauvinism. They discovered in the Gita an old, civilisational argument for maintaining the contemporary hierarchies of caste, wealth and power, while in the story of Arjuna throwing aside his moral dilemmas and entering wholeheartedly into the slaughter of the battlefield, they read an endorsement of a militant, aggressive Hinduism that did not shrink from violence, especially against minorities and the poor. Given this appeal of the Gita among the Indian middle and upper classes, Arindamâ€™s use of it was a canny choice. He was extending into the realm of management theory a story that his audience would be both familiar with and respectful toward, so that to challenge Arindamâ€™s ideas would be tantamount to questioning a sacred text.
Arindam began the elaboration of his Indian theories, naturally enough, by pulling a red Gita out of a pocket. A Planman photographer ran forward to capture the moment and, for the first time in the session, the audience began scribbling notes. Arindam turned to the laptop as if he were going to boot Krishna into existence, but the laptop refused to comply. As one, two, three, and then four people hurried to help, Arindam gave up, turned away from the computer, and faced the audience.
He began a performance that was part television soap and part stand-up comedy, hamming the roles of housewives, husbands returned from work, fathers and babies, management trainees and their bosses. The audience burst into laughter as each little cameo played out. The laptop was finally made to work, and on the screen appeared a matrix of character types Arindam had extracted from the Hindu scriptures. There was the tamas or pleasure-loving type, who could be led only by domination; the rajas, ambitious but greedy, who needed a combination of encouragement and control; and the sattva, who was brilliant and talented and needed to be left alone. â€œLeadership is about changing your colors like a chameleon to suit the situation,â€ Arindam said, citing Krishna, the androgynous, slippery god, as the role model for the ideal CEO. Laborers and blue-collar workers were tamasic, young management trainees rajasic, and highly skilled professionals like research scientists were sattvic. He had reinvented the caste system in two hours.
Arindam finished to all-round applause, and as he came down the stage, he was mobbed by his listeners. I went outside to the passageway, where tamasic workers in overalls were installing gates decorated with marigold garlands for a wedding reception that would take place later in the evening. I sat down beside a disheveled-looking man in a suit who was holding a plastic shopping bag that said â€œMore Word Power.â€
He had attended the entire dayâ€™s session, and when I asked him what he thought, he replied that it had been interesting. He had enjoyed some of the earlier speakers, especially A Sandip, the editor-in-chief of all of Planmanâ€™s magazines.
â€œAnd what did you think of Arindam Chaudhuriâ€™s talk?â€ I asked. â€œRubbish. It made no sense at all,â€ he said. He fell silent, avoiding my gaze, and when he looked at me again, it was with embarrassment. â€œYou are a friend? You work for the company?â€ He cheered up as soon as he found out that I was writing about Arindam. â€œThe man is a fraud,â€ he said, â€œbut a very successful one.â€ He was a small publisher who churned out language education books. He would be publishing a management book during the World Book Fair in Delhi in February, a work written by a Canadian living in Beijing.
â€œIt is mostly China-focused. You are aware that there is great interest in China these days? So I wanted to have an event like this for the Canadian during the book fair, and I decided to come and see this. You are writing about Arindam Chaudhuri?â€ He handed me his business card, leaned toward me, chuckled and said, â€œYou must find out how he makes his money.â€
I knew by now how Arindam made his money, or much of itâ€”through IIPMâ€™s tuition and (as in his movie business) by keeping costs low. But what was mysterious was the air of disrepute that clung to him; his wealth, oddly, had not bought him a free pass. People like this publisher seemed to see in Arindam a more successful version of themselves: far enough away to be envied, yet close enough to be resented.
ARINDAM HAD TOLD ME A STORY about his childhood that involved a strike at his fatherâ€™s management school in Gurgaon. He described the strikers as â€œrowdy elements,â€ students who had failed their courses and objected to the academic demands made of them. The strike climaxed in a telephone call late one night to his father. An anonymous
man, speaking hurriedly, said that a student had been stabbed on campus. Arindamâ€™s father took a taxi, accompanied by one of his employees, a canteen manager. Two hundred metres from the campus, he saw a group of students armed with iron rods waiting for him. He told the driver to turn around, went home and took his family to a hotel. The stabbing had been a ruse to bring him to the campus, and even the canteen manager had been part of the conspiracy.
The strike continued for four months. When the Chaudhuri family moved back home from the hotel, they were greeted by protesting students. â€œThey were carrying horrible placards calling us thieves and murderers,â€ Arindam said. â€œThe neighbours, who talked to the students, began calling my father â€˜Bada Chorâ€™ [Big Thief] and me â€˜Chota Chorâ€™ [Little Thief].â€ But what was most distressing, Arindam said, was that they eventually discovered that members of the faculty were behind the strike. â€œAll the people we trusted were involved, and I decided that I would not let this happen ever again.â€
Chaudhuri launched The Sunday Indian (â€œperhaps the only magazine in the world with 13 editionsâ€) in 2006.
It was a touching story, a young boy seeing his father threatened by enemies and deciding to take them on. â€œMy father named me Arindam,â€ the grown-up man in front of me said. â€œThat means â€˜destroyer of enemies.â€™â€ Since Arindam had been named a decade and a half before the incident, his father must have possessed either a remarkable ability to foresee the future or a pronounced sense of enemies lurking everywhere. But the rowdy students, the traitorous canteen manager, and the conspiratorial faculty members had no discernible motives in the story Arindam told me. They were there to provide Arindam a motive for his success, and to demonstrate that people couldnâ€™t be trusted. It was as if Arindam were explaining to me why his business was so close-knit; why outsiders were viewed with suspicion; why his public relations person had demanded, unsuccessfully, that I show him everything I wrote; and why this same person refused to respond to the most elementary queries about the companyâ€™s business practices and revenues. There was more than the usual organisational secrecy at work here. Instead, a fundamental vision of life was involved, and underneath all the expansive theories of management, below all the chatter of a world brought closer by corporate globalisation, there was, ultimately, only this Manichean idea of people divided into the loyal and the disloyal, of Arindam at odds with the world.
Arindam started, he said, by competing for students with the â€œmafiaâ€ of management education in the country, but it was when he started a media division that his troubles began. â€œThe elite now saw that I was challenging them directly, in the realm of ideas.â€ He was no longer operating merely within the confines of business schools; he was breaking down â€œthe establishment hold on thought.â€ Arindamâ€™s voice dropped low. â€œThat is the reason why I am hated by a lot of people.â€
He was referring in part to a harsh piece about IIPM by an alumna of the elite IIM Ahmedabad business school. â€œIt was the worldâ€™s most stupid article,â€ Arindam said, adding that he couldnâ€™t remember the name of the journalist. But the ensuing public imbroglio (â€œwe had no clue what is the blogger world,â€ he told me ruefully) put a dent in Arindamâ€™s reputation, even as it solidified, at least for a while, his tenuous alliance with his own student body.
The woman whose name Arindam couldnâ€™t remember was Rashmi Bansal. Responding in part to an especially frenzied media blitz from IIPM (it was reported that theyâ€™d spent more than 1 million dollars to advertise in a number of prominent Indian newspapers and magazines), she wrote an article, â€˜The Truth Behind IIPMâ€™s Tall Claims,â€™ for JAM (Just Another Magazineâ€”â€œIndiaâ€™s Most Loved Youth Magazine Since 1995â€), a small periodical that she published herself for a young, English-speaking audience. Bansalâ€™s article claimed that IIPMâ€™s advertising was misleading: only the Delhi campus had the facilities prominently displayed in the pictures, from swimming pool to library, while campuses in other cities were housed in crowded office buildings; the scholars from institutions like Wharton, New York University, Columbia and Harvard claimed as â€œvisiting facultyâ€ were people who had merely passed through, delivering one-time lectures; the degrees IIPM awarded were not recognised by the Indian government; the company fudged data from media surveys to claim top rankings; and, contrary to its claims, it did not place its graduates in multinational corporations like McKinsey.
The story was linked to by a young blogger and IBM salesman in Mumbai named Gaurav Sabnis. His post, â€˜The fraud that is IIPM,â€™ was vicious. IIPM responded immediately, and clumsily: it wrote to Sabnis, threatening to sue him, and obtained a court injunction against the original article in JAM, which was temporarily taken offline. It also contacted IBM, from whom it purchases the free laptops that it gives to students, asking them to pressure Sabnis to take down his post, and threatening that the students would march to the IBM headquarters in Delhi and burn their laptops in protest.
IBM claimed that it did not pressure Sabnis, but Sabnis resigned anyway to spare his employerâ€™s embarrassment. Thisâ€”in addition to abusive comments left by IIPM students on various blogs where criticisms of IIPM appearedâ€” inflamed an already excited blogosphere, which decided that Sabnis was a martyr to truth and freedom of expression. They set about challenging IIPMâ€™s claims with ever greater energy, discovering, among other things, that its â€œcampusesâ€ in Antwerp and Brussels consisted of a loose affiliation with a rather questionable institute not recognised by the Belgian government.
Soon the mainstream press took notice. The large weekly Businessworldâ€”for which Bansal was a columnistâ€”reported that it had accepted Arindamâ€™s request to look into the case for and against his institute, but was fobbed off with generalities about IIPM and its â€œenemiesâ€ when it asked for specific information. The resulting article, â€˜When the Chickens Come Homeâ€¦,â€™ while more moderate in tone than Bansalâ€™s, was skeptical of IIPMâ€™s claims, especially regarding the placement of graduates and the consultancy work done by Planman. Most of the multinational corporations named in IIPM advertisements, when contacted by Businessworld, said that they had few if any dealings with Arindamâ€™s organisation. It was unquestionably a public relations disaster for Arindam, though his students stood by him. If anything, their commitment to the school was redoubled.
In sifting through the long, labyrinthine posts on the anti-Arindam blogs, it is hard to avoid the impression of a virtual world being torn apart by virtual tools. Most often, the claims made by IIPM and Planman depended on a careful selection of pictures, comments and data, and the creation of numerous websites. This approach had worked well because it was part of a larger narrative of corporate success in India. Most mainstream journalists were too lazy and untrained, and too enamored of wealth, to subject these claims to the most basic scrutiny. But this was not true of the bloggers, who relentlessly probed the web, emailed people listed by IIPM as contacts, checked IP addresses, and conducted background research. The most interesting investigation the bloggers carried out involved IIPMâ€™s history, focusing not merely on Arindam and his faculty but also on Arindamâ€™s father, the man who had started it all by beginning a management school in Gurgaon.
In F Scott Fitzgeraldâ€™s classic novel of Jazz Age America, The Great Gatsby, there are two questions asked of the mysteriously wealthy title character: Where did he get his money? And, where did he go to college? These are necessary questions in a time when money is being made too quickly and in too many ways for established social networks to keep track. In the gap between old networks and rapidly changing times lies opportunity. Gatsby hopes to make good the promise of capitalism that ambitious people can have second acts to their lives. So when he tells people in a voice laced with British affectations (â€œold sportâ€) that he went to Oxford, he is trying to transform his new money, procured by questionable means, into old money. And because assuming the persona of a blue-blooded heir leads naturally to questions about why he hasnâ€™t attended one of the Ivy League colleges where wealthy young men like Tom Buchanan are sent for a final polish, he adopts Oxford as his alma mater, a place so far away that it is difficult for people to check up on him.
Arindam, unlike Gatsby, wasnâ€™t a working-class upstart from the interior of the country. He was a middle-class man who grew up in Delhi, alert from the very beginning to the opportunities provided by the capital city, and who thus demonstrates that the mobility provided by the new India is significantly more limited than that of America at the turn of the 20th century. As for the degrees claimed by Arindam, they came not from some exotic overseas institution but from the business school set up by his father. The question of pedigree, the bloggers realised, could be transferred back one generation to Arindamâ€™s father, â€œDoctorâ€ Malay Chaudhuri, and his claim to have a doctorate from the Berlin School of Economics.
The bloggers discovered that it was hard to pinpoint any such school with certainty. Dr. Chaudhuri had once contested elections to the Indian Parliamentâ€”he received so few votes that he lost his depositâ€”and in his application to the Election Commission, he credited his doctorate to an institute in the other Berlin, in the former East Germany. What records could one possibly locate when the country itself no longer existed? The bloggers concluded that there had never, in all likelihood, been a Berlin School of Economics, and that Malay Chaudhuriâ€™s doctorate was simply the first of many fictitious degrees handed out by the Chaudhuri clan.
COULD SEE THE RATIONALE of the bloggers, just as I saw how the Delhi publisherâ€™s question about how Arindam made his money was important. In spite of the friendliness with which Arindam treated me, he was always on his guard. My questions about
revenues and the size of the company continued to go unanswered, which seemed even more interesting when I discovered that the Indian tax authorities were investigating the company. Although it spent roughly 8 million dollars on advertising in 2006, it paid no income tax that year or the previous. There was also the companyâ€™s social responsibility campaign, directed through its charitable Great Indian Dream Foundation. Arindam claimed that the foundation was building schools in slums and villages, setting up a hospital in a rural area of West Bengal, and giving â€œexperimentalâ€ seeds to farmers. â€œWe will have 52 schools in seven metros by the end of the year. Sixty thousand villages will be covered in the future. Eventually, I hope to fulfill my fatherâ€™s dream of doing something for the downtrodden in Africa.â€ Within the glittering capitalist lived a closet radical, someone who admired ChÃ© Guevara so much that he had named his only son ChÃ©. But I found it impossible to verify any of these claims, and Arindamâ€™s promise to take me to a school for the poor in a Delhi slum never materialised.
Other things remained beyond my scrutiny. I realised I had met Arindam only in hotels and at the main IIPM campus in Satbari, where he spoke, in expansive terms, of expanding to America. â€œLet Harvard fume, â€˜We are 200 years old,â€™â€ Arindam had said, lopping two centuries off Harvardâ€™s past. â€œEventually they will recognise how good we are.â€ It was astonishing, this equation of America, through Harvard, with the old, while the India he represented was new, young and modern. And perhaps he was right. His institute was a fluid, virtual business school of the future, one that had done away with the arduous task of institution building.
Arindam had first moved the school from Gurgaon to the Qutab Institutional Area, on the southern fringe of Delhi, where it occupied a leased building that finally ran afoul of the cityâ€™s zoning laws. Now they were operating from Satbari, somewhere between Gurgaon and Qutab, but even this building, its bright colors and abstract designs done to Arindamâ€™s specifications, its small gym and swimming pool throwing out a challenge to the well-funded IIMs, might not be the final stop. It was a leased space, and Arindam told me that negotiations were already in progress to set the campus up somewhere else.
If the school was mobile, Arindam was even more so. After our meeting at the campus, I had wanted to meet him in his office. â€œI donâ€™t really operate from a fixed space,â€ he said. â€œI am so much on the move.â€ One day in September, after heâ€™d missed an appointment with me, he sent me a text message at 7 am. â€œGood morning!â€ it said. â€œTotally totally forgot that day. However in the airport right now. And free. Can call. Do let me know if you ve woken up! Sorry about this early morning missive!â€ He was going on a long business trip to Toronto and London, and I called him back hurriedly, trying not to sound sleepy. He would be attending the Toronto Film Festival, where one of his films, the Rituparno Ghosh directed The Last Lear, was being screened. At London, he would be joined on the plane by the stars of his film, Preity Zinta and Amitabh Bachchan. After the festival, Arindam would stop by his London office for a couple of days.
I remembered an article in the Financial Times that said he would be opening his London institute at Chancery Lane, and so I asked him, â€œWhere exactly is your London office?â€
There was a pause. â€œThatâ€™s a good question,â€ he said. â€œWhere is it?â€ He sounded boyish and vulnerable, and I found myself wanting to respond kindly, as if speaking to a child I didnâ€™t want to embarrass about an insignificant lie.
â€œItâ€™s hard for you to keep track of all the offices you have,â€ I suggested.
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ he replied, seemingly relieved that I had offered him a way out.
One day at the Satbari campus I asked Arindam about the criticism that his institute didnâ€™t really offer careers. It was undoubtedly successful in attracting students, but the students, on graduating, seemed to end up in the very organisation that had given them their expensive degrees, teaching at the institute and working for Planman. Arindam told me that his organisation was a â€œfamily,â€ one that offered a continuation of the camaraderie experienced by the students. He also pointed out that, unlike the IIMs, he was not using public money to produce a small number of MBAs who then received extravagant salaries from multinational corporations. â€œTheyâ€™ve cornered 100-acre campuses in India. The six IIMs, taken together, teach 1,000 students. And because they have so few students, the average pay package [for graduates] is eight to nine lakhs. That is aura! Wow!â€
He was right in pointing out how higher education for the Indian elite, from the engineering colleges to the IIM business schools, was funded by the state, producing technocrats and corporate executives who then went on to attack the state for being inefficient and wasteful. â€œEvery American president should start by thanking the Indian taxpayer,â€ he said, noting that US multinationals benefited most from the training given to Indian Institute of Technology and IIM graduates. By contrast, he had privatised management education, applying to it the genuine rules of the marketplace. His graduates might get smaller starting salaries. They might be working, he said sarcastically, for distinctly unglamorous companies like â€˜Raju Underwearâ€™ and â€˜Relaxo Hawaii Chappals.â€™ But they were not coasting on the taxpayerâ€™s money. He was training people who would work in Indian organisations that needed their skills. â€œOur placements are improving. Foreign companies are also coming,â€ he added defensively.
The bulk of IIPM students still ended up working for Arindam. It was hard to find out how much they were paid, but I had a rough idea because Arindam had, in a different context, divided his organisationâ€™s salary structure into three groups: those making up to 25,000 rupees a month; up to 75,000 rupees a month; and more than 75,000 rupees a month. It seemed reasonable to assume that a starting IIPM graduate fell into the first category; at 6,000 dollars a year, he or she earned a third of what an IIM graduate did, which doesnâ€™t seem bad. On the other hand, this is only twice what a call centre worker with a basicâ€”and cheapâ€” college degree can earn, even if managerial work offers better hours and prospects for advancement.
The problem with Arindamâ€™s approach lay deeper than the salaries his graduates made. Even in the world of closed Indian companies, Arindamâ€™s organisation is unusual. It is not publicly traded, and was incorporated only very recently. The success and failure of IIPM students depends largely upon what happens to Planman, and what happens to Planman depends on what happens to Arindam. As for what happens to Arindam, that depends on whether the students keep coming. If the business school produces the greater part of the companyâ€™s revenues and employs most of the graduating students, this model can keep functioning only as long as a growing body of students remains willing to put up substantial sums of money for their degrees.
Chaudhuri launched The Sunday Indian (â€œperhaps the only magazine in the world with 13 editionsâ€) in 2006.
Although the bloggers were right about many things, they seemed unable to comprehend that Arindam wasnâ€™t so much a rogue management guru as a particularly blatant, though uncredentialed, manifestation of standard management principles. Arindam tended to invoke the elite IIM mafia as a way to evade questions, but it was true that the initial criticism had been levelled by Bansal, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate, and then picked up by Sabnis, who studied at IIM Lucknow. It was equally true that the bloggers were remarkable snobs. Alongside more substantive criticism of IIPM and Planman, they posted many comments about the way Arindam and his acolytes dressed and spoke, with an element of distaste and surprise that such pretenders could claim to belong to the corporate world from which most of the bloggers came.
None of the bloggers seemed willing to consider that their cherished corporate practices would necessarily spawn imitators. IIPM has the same relationship to IIM as knockoff goods do to branded products; there is always a market for the knockoff version among the aspirational crowd. In other ways too, the cult of Arindamâ€”the bloggers were puzzled by the vehemence with which IIPM students, the people apparently being defrauded, defended himâ€”is only part of the larger cult that is contemporary India.
Arindamâ€™s management factory produces something less tangible, but more resonant than durables or consumer products. It takes people who have a fair bit of money but little cultural or intellectual capital and promises to turn them into fully fledged partners in the corporate globalised world. The students at IIPM are not from impoverished backgrounds. They canâ€™t be because the courses are expensive. Many come from provincial towns, from small-business families that have accumulated wealth and now feel the need to upgrade themselves so they can compete in the realm of globalisation. Arindam gives youth from these backgrounds a chance to tap at IBM laptops, wear shiny suits and polished shoes, and go on foreign trips to Geneva or New York. All this involves a considerable degree of play-acting, and the students spend the most impressionable years of their lives in what is in essence a toy management schoolâ€”mini golf course, mini gym, mini library. But play-acting is what the Indian middle and upper classes are doing anyway, wandering about the malls checking out the products purveyed by more established, easeful play-actors like Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton.
ARINDAM’S FORTUNE, ultimately, was built on the aspiration and ressentiment of the Indian petite bourgeoisie. Without the aspirers emulating, admiring, and parting with their cash, moguls like Arindam would not exist. He had made a business out of their aspirations, calibrating the brashness and insecurity that had come to them on the wings of the
market economy and its political partner, right-wing Hinduism. Arindam understood well how these aspirers had been given a language of assertion by the times in which they lived, and how they had also been handed a vocabulary of rage that is quite disproportionate to their perceived provocations. It is one of the triumphs of our age that aspirers can be made to feel both empowered and excluded; all over the world, one sees a new lumpenbourgeoisie quick to express a sense of victimisation, voicing their anger about being excluded from the elite while remaining callously indifferent to the truly impoverished.
I had begun feeling some of this aspiration myself. One afternoon, I ate lunch with a former IIPM student who was one of Arindamâ€™s prized employees. His name was Siddharth Nambiar. Wearing a suit and designer sunglasses, his head shaven, he appeared in front of me with long strides, car keys dangling from his right hand. He was late because he had rammed his car into the back of a bus, but he was unfazed by this â€œfender bender,â€ as he put it.
We met at a shopping plaza just across the street from where I lived at the time, an odd mix of multinational franchises, rundown shops and a multiplex that often seemed to be showing one or the other of Arindamâ€™s films. Nambiar led me up the stairs to an Italian restaurant called Azzurro. It was quite empty: the call centre workers preferred the kathi roll stand around the corner or the TGIF outlet across the square and it was too early for Western expats and upper-class Indians. The waitstaff knew Nambiar, as did the woman who ran the restaurant. He took off his sunglasses, ordered with a flourish, and began telling me about his career with Planman. He had been a student at IIPM Delhi, joined the company upon graduating, and had soon taken charge of the media division. He was 23 years old.
Arindam had put considerable thought into sending Nambiar to meet me. If his primary business was churning out management graduates, he had sent me his finest product, glistening and confident, someone who could compete effortlessly with the MBAs from IIM. Nambiarâ€™s shaven head shone in the bright afternoon light as he spoke about how he had negotiated with Foreign Affairs about publishing an Indian edition (although the effort was unsuccessful, he impressed Foreign Affairs with his presentation, according to a friend of mine who worked there). He had travelled around the world with Arindam, and in a few weeks he would be leaving for Oxford, where he would earn an MBA. When he returned, he expected to work at Planman again.
I asked about Arindamâ€™s conspicuous consumption, and he was delighted to give me the details. â€œThe car?â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s a Bentley Continental four-door. Actually, he got it because of me. We were in London, near Lincolnâ€™s Inn Fields, and I saw a Bentley parked outside this restaurant where I was having lunch with friends. I had one of them take a picture of me leaning on the hood of the Bentley with a glass of champagne in my hand.â€ He laughed, waiting for the image to be fully processed in my brain. â€œIt looked so cool, you know? Then, I went to see Arindam at the Ritz, where he was staying. I was showing someone else the picture on my laptop, and he grabbed the laptop from me, looked at the picture, and said, â€˜What kind of car is that? Iâ€™m going to get one.â€™â€
I asked him if he could describe Arindamâ€™s Delhi office for me.
â€œLet me think,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™d say it has a nightclub in the daytime look.â€
We laughed at this. Nambiarâ€™s laughter had a doubleness to itâ€”it conveyed the knowledge that he himself was too sophisticated to make such a mistake but also revealed his admiration for a man who had the money to flaunt his taste, however questionable. He described the long, curved, red leather couch, the shelves filled with management books and magazines. An anteroom contained a treadmill, a television, and a pullout sofa where Arindamâ€™s son ChÃ© sometimes slept in the afternoon. The office floor had blue granite tiling, and the buildingâ€™s exterior was of tinted blue glass. From the windows of Arindamâ€™s office, Nambiar said, it was possible to see the Ernst & Young building.
What gave Nambiarâ€™s description a touch of virtual reality was the fact that Arindamâ€™s Delhi office no longer existed. It had been closed down for violating zoning laws and survived only in the images that Nambiar so expertly created.
When I asked for the bill, the waiter said that it had been taken care of by the manager. â€œSheâ€™s my girlfriendâ€™s mother,â€ Nambiar said. â€œThatâ€™s really too bad, because I was hoping to treat you.â€ I insisted that the waiter bring me the bill. The waiter smiled and disappeared, while Nambiar looked surprised. I said something about journalistic ethics, but I could see that this made no sense to him. I was beginning to lose my temper, and I wondered why. Who would really care if I let Nambiarâ€™s girlfriendâ€™s mother pay for lunch? Who would think that my honesty as a writer had been compromised?
As I cornered the waiter again and forced him to bring the bill, I found myself wondering why I didnâ€™t have a suit, designer sunglasses, and car keys. I wondered why I wasnâ€™t making money at a time in India when moneymaking opportunities seemed everywhere for the asking. Like Arindamâ€™s students, I was an aspirer, finally, oblivious to anything but my own inchoate desires, filled with a sense of anger that I had no wealth to flaunt, as well as a trembling awareness of opportunities that it was perhaps not too late to capitalise. â€œI donâ€™t like an image of me that isnâ€™t me,â€ Arindam had told me, anxious to clarify his essential self. And here was I, not liking the image of me that was me. I felt that I was beginning to lose myself in this world of appearances and aspirations, and that paying the bill was the only way to return to steady ground.
Adapted from The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India, forthcoming from Viking Penguin in June.