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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 40, New Delhi, Sept 18, 2021

Miseries of Poverty, Not Pleasures | T J S George

Friday 17 September 2021, by T J S George



Prince Charles has a special valet to squeeze one inch of toothpaste on to his brush every night. There is also a valet to iron his shoe laces every morning.

What a worthless life! You need some flunkey even to put tooth paste on your brush? Does he also brush your teeth while you contemplate how to rule the world? Shoe laces that are ironed everyday are essential for your self-respect?

I didn’t even know that shoe laces could be ironed. No wonder I never became a prince. Charles got it for nothing. He just happened to be born in a royal family though his conduct was anything but royal. He abandoned his lovely wife and went after a woman who could just as well be his mother. These things were never mentioned in public because he was royal and people were not expected to make remarks disrespectful to royals. But this man’s conduct was anything but royal.

Charles had twin advantages. He was royal and he was rich. Neither was acquired on merit. They came to him through the accident of birth. But he was not intelligent enough to know the difference between the privileges birth endows upon one and the distinction one acquires through one’s own merit. He just enjoyed what he got.

To a great extent, that culture continues — privileges being accorded on the basis of birth, not achievements. The filthy rich have their own ways of showing off. Smoking cigars was a mark of distinction for them. Once Cuban cigars made you special. Then Cuba became politically unacceptable to America — and off went Cuban cigars. It was precious space that could not be left vacant, so in came Russian cigarettes. This was no ordinary cigarette. This was black in appearance and its holder filter was curved in gold lace. For a while it was the ultimate symbol of status and class.

If you belong to this class you will throw away the phone you are using. You will get instead a gold-plated phone which has ringtones in the form of classical music specially arranged by the London Symphony Orchestra.

This kind of sophisticated vanity is important to those in this class because the ability to throw big money for the sake of small personal pleasures is the mark of their class. Smart companies used this fact to improve their profits. In the 1980s American Airlines thought up the idea of a first class ticket that would be valid for life. That appealed to a good many egos who paid up $ 250,000 for the privilege. In 2004 the price was raised to $ 3 million, an indication of American Airlines understanding the cash equivalent of ego.

Meaningless things, if they tickle the ego of the ultrarich, become meaningful. How else can we explain the entry of under-water sports cars into their lives? They would buy these cars and drive on the ocean floor as they pleased since there were no traffic lights there. The grandest flight of imagination in this area was staged by G-Spirits, an alcohol brand that bottled popular drinks like whisky and vodka after "pouring them over the bosoms of models." This gave the drink a unique flavour, they said. If indeed there was any special flavour, it could only have been a tribute to the public relations experts who handled the drinks as well as the models. They made breast drinks the best drinks.

There is apparently no limit to what a public relations genius can do. This was brought out yet again in Australia recently. People who bought paintings by famous artists were told that they could not hang the art as they pleased. The spot where the nail had to be driven in must be chosen with expertise; the nail had to be studied; at which angle it must be put in must be assessed; how the hammer should be used was for professionals to determine. And so on. Special "art hangers" were available to do these jobs with proficiency. This was reminiscent of the saying "You don’t have to be extra rich to have a secretary. But you have to be if you want a secretary who has a secretary."

It is one of the pastimes of the rich to see poverty as romantic. The poor will see nothing romantic in misery. Filmstar Sharukh Khan, who rose from hardship, knew what he was saying when he said: "There is nothing romantic about being poor." To pretend otherwise is to cheat everyone.

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