Friday, June 1, 2007

Mammon in Mumbai

"In Xanadu, did Mr. Mukesh Ambani a stately pleasure dome decree..."

[Rendering first appeared in May 30 edition of the Mubai Mirror]

Last December, the world's 14th richest man, Mukesh Ambani, broke ground on a mansion rising 60-stories into the air above the Western Indian city of Mumbai. Once it's complete in September 2008, husband, wife and three kids will share the top floors with mother-in-law, where, according to a story in today's Mumbai Mirror, they expect to have "a superb view of the Arabian Sea and surrounding city skyline."

The Ambani family's guests will occuppy spacious apartments on floors just above the tennis courts, swimming pool and health club. There will be terraces and hanging gardens with tropical plants including rare ferns and flowers throughout, though Mr. Ambani hasn't said whether he'll go forward with plans for a world-class aviary and zoo. The bottom six floors will contain parking spaces for Ambani's several hundred personal automobiles. There will be a "modest" opera house and movie theater occupying the floor immediately above that, a restaurant and billiard room above that, and finally, on the very top, space for three helipads.

One prominent Mumbai observer says he welcomes the new, layer-cake-like building, citing the several hundred temporary construction jobs it will add to the local economy -- "and that's not including the family's 600 full-time servants."

Over half of Mumbai's 13 million inhabitants are said to be living in temporary housing on streets and in slums. Ambani's "Residence Antilia" -- the name of an ancient mythical island far off the coast of Portugal -- promises to give them all something to look up to.