Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nouveau riche in exurban India flying high

This very popular story in yesterday's New York Times 0ffers an at-times comical portrait of the largess displayed by some of India's newly rich--in this case farmers. It is also a reminder of India's rapid development, as cities sprawl outward, consuming what had been farm land.

The story's attention-getting angle is the tale of a 19-year-old groom whose father has hired a helicopter to transport him to his wife's village, 2 miles away, for their wedding. But other aspects of the wedding party aren't going so well, and these reflect the intersection of rural with urban, traditional with modern:
[The father of the groom's] rented Lexus got stuck behind a bullock cart. He has hired a truck to blast Hindi pop, but it is too big to maneuver through his village.
The groom's father is clearly hoping to make a statement about the family's wealth: he has just sold 3 acres of his ancestral land for $109,000--a windfall in the context of India's economy. The story notes that, "[o]ver the years, farmers and others have sold more than 50,000 acres of farmland as Noida has evolved into a suburb of 300,000 people with shopping malls and office parks."

A professor at an Indian university comments on the conspicuous consumption of these newly rich, calling it "bad financial planning by farmers who have little education or experience with the seductive heat of cold cash." He notes that, in addition to spending on weddings, they also buy Land Rovers and other expensive vehicles, televisions, and expensive vacations. As for the father of the groom, in addition to the $13,000 he spent on his son's wedding, he bought three additional acres of agricultural land, farther out.

More than 24 hours after it was first posted, this story by Jim Yardley is number 4 on's most emailed list.

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