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Preetam Kaushik

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The Great Gatsbys of India

Posted: 09/05/2013 00:23

The Great Gatsby is not necessarily a gripping tale of the rise and fall of Jay alone. The story portrays the travails of what Ernest Hemingway famously described as the "Lost Generation". The term itself was used by a garage owner for the mechanic who did a lousy job of fixing Gertrude Stein's car. Stein shared the profound observation with Hemingway. The term encapsulated the trauma of an entire generation of American youth returning home, bruised and batter, after World War 1. They had no skills except to shoot and kill.

The War pushed America to the edge of the Wild West era when any means for acquiring financial security was considered legitimate. New money inevitably in all societies spawns the culture of vulgar ostentation. When we give this culture a flesh and blood identity it begins to resemble Jay Gatsby. It was the post-War economic deprivation that spawned the get-rich-quick culture in America.

If we study the Gatsby phenomenon in detail, we would realise that every society has its Jay. But the factors that produce a Gatsby can be amazingly different. For instance, in the case of India it was not war, but economic reforms which gave birth to this culture. Here I shall discuss the strange case of three Indian tycoons who had shades of Jay, and like him met violent deaths.

Take for instance the case of Mukesh Aggarwal. Gatsby at least had military training. Mukesh was a typical small town boy from a family with modest means. He honed his business management skills by selling trinkets at bus stops Soon he set up a roadside stall to supplement the family's meagre income. He soon graduated to selling home appliances. The next step saw him set up his modest factory that produced affordable home appliances. By 1990 he was rich enough to be called a tycoon.

Like Gatsby he began leading a lavish lifestyle, throwing extravagant parties that helped him gain entry into the charmed circle of celebrities. At one such party he ran into actress Rekha, who was then at the peak of her career in Bollywood. How and when they got married is a bit of a mystery. Gatsby would have turned green with envy like the many eligible Bollywood male actors. It took some time for the fraternity to accept that the silver screen diva had indeed married a small town newly rich lad called Mukesh. Gatsby was shot dead. Mukesh ended his life by hanging himself with Rekha's dupatta (a longish scarf) while she was in the US. His Daisy had evidently pulled him out of his comfort zone and so he decided to cut short his agony.

In the novel James Gatz became Jay Gatsby to hide his small town identity. In real life Gurdeep Singh Chadha became Ponty Chadha whose accomplishments would make Gatsby look ordinary. His family had migrated from Pakistan to Moradabad in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He helped his father run a modest snacks business outside the local court. Their fortunes began to look up after they managed to get a contract for selling liquor.

Ponty was a fast learner. A deprived childhood had taught him important lessons. One of them was the art of making political leaders and bureaucrats eat out of his hands. What they got to eat out of his hands were not ordinary morsels. Within a few years he gained controlled of both the retail and wholesale distribution of liquor in most of North India. He came to be known as the liquor king.

In most Gatsby tales greed has no limits. A well-oiled network of political and bureaucratic contacts helped him create a business empire that would have made Gatsby look small. He literally created a Wave of diverse business portfolios.

In November last year his brother Hardeep shot him dead at the farmhouse on the border of Delhi. There was a long running dispute between the brothers over the ownership of the farmhouse. Hardeep decided to settle the dispute by eliminating Pont. However, he too was gunned down by Ponty's bodyguards. To make the story juicy the rumour mills introduced a mystery woman as another reason for Ponty's bloody end.

Shrewd businessmen cultivate politicians of all hues to promote and protect their business interests. However, Deepak Bhardwaj bucked the trend. After his Gatsby destiny had placed him in the category of business tycoon Deepak decided to try his luck in electoral politics. Although he was an upper caste Hindu he manipulated a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha (Lower Houses of Parliament) election in 2009 as the candidate of the party that seeks to represent the country's vast under-privileged population. His declared wealth, an essential requirement for contesting elections in India, placed him among the richest politicians in the country.
Deepak had started his career as a clerk but over a period of time became a successful realtor.

He was a small Gatsby compared to Ponty and Mukesh. However, his story was more colourful. After he was shot dead by hired killers in his own hotel complex in March the police has been issuing regular updates on the case. To borrow an expression from Livemint his was indeed an intriguing tale of a "wealthy businessman shot in his own hotel complex; a father and son competing for love and money; an opportunistic lawyer with political ambitions; a power-hungry Swami on the run from the law..."

On May 10 Gatsby will once again walk out of the pages of F Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece on the America of the 1920s. Baz Luhrmann, the celebrated Australian film director, through the deft handling of a complex tale has succeeded in putting the spotlight on the futility of the mere pursuit of wealth as the only goal in life. In India the film is sure to draw larger crowds because of Amitabh Bachchan. He plays the role of a Jewish gangster. In his own words it is a "blink and miss role". But Baz knows that even a passing glimpse of the Bollywood icon is enough to ensure box office success.

 

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