Last updated on February 7, 2012
What kind of house does a billionaire build? Well, if you’re Bill Gates, you build a $100 million, high-tech house that’s full of modern amenities, such as a 17-by-60-foot swimming pool that plays music underwater, a reception hall that seats 150 people and an underground shelter in case the maids and gardeners need to hide from immigration.
If you’re Mukesh Ambani, the Indian industrialist, you build a house that has 27 floors, a parking garage for 168 imported cars, and three helipads, so you don’t have to drive any of those cars. At least not until they build special lanes for billionaires.
Ambani’s house, named Antilla and sprouting on Mumbai’s Altamount Road, is costing hundreds of millions of dollars — as much as $1 billion, according to some reports — but that’s no major burden for one of the richest men in the world. How rich is he? He’s rich enough to contribute millions of dollars to Bill and Hillary Clinton, if only politicians weren’t so ethical. He’s rich enough to buy his very own island in the Pacific, if only Australia were for sale. He’s rich enough to immunize and educate millions of Indian children, if only Bill Gates weren’t doing that already.
There are many ways to contribute to society, many ways to help the disadvantaged, and one of the ways Ambani is doing it, his supporters have me convinced, is by building a huge house. So before you judge him, before you label his house an appalling and outrageous display of wealth, you need to look at the positive impact the house will have on thousands, if not millions, of Indians. Indeed, some people are already calling it the Mother Teresa of Houses.
Among the first to benefit, of course, are the people involved in the construction, not just the architects, engineers and other high-skilled workers, but also scores of laborers. Not only have they earned a paycheck for a couple of years, they will always walk past the house with pride, in much the same way that the workers in ancient Egypt walked past the pyramids.
Many have improved their lives by working on the Ambani house. A laborer named Arunath, for example, has managed to move his family from a one-room, ramshackle house in a Mumbai slum to a two-room, ramshackle house in a Mumbai slum. That may not seem like a big improvement, but small steps are important, which is why the Ambanis are making theirs out of marble. It symbolizes the progress that everyone is making.
While the house will be the principal residence for Ambani, his wife, Neeta, their three children and Ambani’s mother, it will also give comfort and shelter to numerous servants and others. And let’s not forget that the house, at a height of 27 stories, will also provide shade to any pavement dwellers nearby. (If they happen to enter the opulent neighborhood.) To the delight of animal activists, the building is also likely to offer a resting spot for pigeons and other weary birds.
The Ambanis are expected to employ 600 people in the house. They have created many of these jobs for the sole purpose of giving people an opportunity to work and gain a sense of self-worth. The indoor swimming pool, for example, is being built largely as a means to employ a lifeguard, pool boy and margarita server. Ambani has collected so many imported cars in order to give work to drivers, mechanics and insurance salesmen. Neeta has been just as benevolent.
Neeta: “I want to find work for two more people, make a difference in two more lives.”
Mukesh: “If you buy a hundred more shoes and handbags, you can hire another wardrobe attendant.”
Neeta: “Good idea. If I have two wardrobe attendants, then I could create another position: supervisor of wardrobe attendants. … Let me call Isha … Isha, let’s go shopping. We need to help more people!”
When your goal is to employ hundreds of people, you have to come up with some ingenious ways to keep them occupied. Hence such creative job titles as “pantry organizer,” “panty organizer,” “pant organizer” and “pan organizer.” And, of course, “paan organizer.”
In the adult bathrooms, they’ll have jobs such as “perfume sprayer,” “teeth polisher” and “grey hair snipper.” In the children’s bathrooms, they’ll have “hair comber,” “face washer” and “pimple cream applier.”
Perhaps the building’s biggest role will be to serve as a source of pride and motivation for millions of Indians, particularly children. Inspired by the Ambani house, many of them will be eager to take advantage of Bill Gates’ educational programs.
Together, the two billionaires are making a huge difference.