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Zero sum game

Joel Rai 

Some days ago, a friend called me "Richie Highlander", all because I had bought a car, an act that so utterly defied fiscal prudence that it left me wondering who would henceforth pay my monthly rent. The 'Highlander' was an allusion to my belonging to a mountain community, but he did not realise that it is a tribe that does not have a word for 'money' in the vocabulary. Yes, I have even checked the lexicons … nope, the accepted word for money, even in hifalutin' literature, is "paisa". There are words for 'amount', 'fund', 'wealth', but money? You are back to those nickel-aluminium roundels.

An actual Richie would be a billionaire. Billionaires are heroes with zeroes, you know, them, for whom the definition of wealth begins with a digit and ends after a mile of zeroes. I have to Google such numbers to know how much they mean in terms of kharabs, arabs, billions and millions of rupees and paise. Then after all the trouble and despite Google's stalwart efforts, I only understand the paise bit of them.

I guess being a billionaire would be fun. Imagine not having a rush of adrenaline coursing through your body on sighting a "Flat 30 per cent discount" sign at the factory-seconds shop! Or not having your blood freeze as solid as the frozen rack of lamb ribs from New Zealand at Nature's Basket when you espy its Rs 2,700 price tag.

Don't forget, a billionaire can buy 30,000 PS4s or 800 Mahindra XUV5OOs any hour he pleases! And why, billionaires would casually pick up 10 gm of truffles for Rs 3,000 and never ever moan over the next 20 days, like I do, why a self-destructive impetuosity hung around their neck. I remember my first glimpse into luxe living decades ago when as a rookie journalist I was talking to a rich trader in his office at Connaught Place. His wife, all Christian Diory and Louis Vuittony, stomped in and said, "Can you give me some money, I am going shopping?" Being an era when platinum cards hadn't made an appearance, the man reached into his crossgrain calf leather wallet, coolly pulled out two months of my rent and advanced it to his wife for a postprandial hour of retail therapy. Huh! And he wouldn't even have made it past the parking gate at the real billionaires' club.

One other thing I know, your average billionaire would not be heard boasting about how he beat the vendor in Lajpat Nagar into giving him a bargain price for Adibos shoes. To the billionaire, a real bargain is when he moves up the rich list from number 76 to number 52. Why would a couple of lakhs matter to him when, with a disinterested "dat one", he settles all indecisions between quaffing off a Rs 23,000 bottle of Jack Daniel Sinatra Select and a Rs 22,600 bottle of Glenlivet 25 Year Old Single Malt?

But being a billionaire has its drawbacks, I imagine. For one, you have to persuade your driver to say he was driving the car when your sports car got into an accident with you at the wheel. And this calls for a compensation of Rs 40 lakh at the miserly worst. And here I am thinking of how Rs 40 lakh would do splendidly for a retirement fund.

But not being a billionaire means I don't have to worry about paying off police and politicians, or as some people allege, the media. Nor would I have to walk miles and miles to simply reach my bedroom on the seventh floor from the living room on the first floor. And I wouldn't have bulging biceps from squeezing more billions out of the billions I already had. And no agonising decisions on what I should add to the already-full basement - the Mercedes M Class or the BMW X Series or both? Oh yes, on balance, being a billionaire is only a whole lot of trouble.

Free Run is a fortnightly look at alternate realities

First Published: Fri, February 28 2014. 21:09 IST