The NY Times just ran…

The NY Times just ran this piece on nouveau riche farmers in India.

Some of the attitudes in the write-up was just mean. Like this -- why was this description necessary, if not in an attempt to mock this woman? On her son's wedding day too -- how is she going to feel when she reads this article in the paper?

"The corpulent mother of the groom, her flesh spilling out of her sari, giggled as she barreled toward the arriving aircraft. Oh my God! she exclaimed. We are so happy!"

How is it relevant that she's overweight? Are they trying to underline some sort of message of excess? Given that the money acquisition was recent, it wasn't as if it had anything at all to do with her food consumption.

That just infuriates me. It's so awful, in fact, that I keep checking to see if it's some kind of parody or satire of this kind of article that I'm missing somehow?

Also, the example they pick, which I gather is supposed to illustrate how these people are blowing their money on ridiculous things like fancy helicopters and going broke, doesn't do so at all. They say the father of the groom had earned about $109,000 selling three acres of land. "He banked some of the money, renovated his house, bought a small Hyundai and purchased three more acres farther out to continue farming." Then he spent $13,000 on his son's wedding. Is it out of line to spend 10% of a windfall on a fancy family party? That seems entirely reasonable to me, especially given how sensible he was about the rest of the money. This article just doesn't make any sense.

What was this writer (Jim Yardley, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist) thinking? He's apparently their India specialist too, although mostly politics / economic topics, not cultural.

2 thoughts on “The NY Times just ran…”

  1. Assuming your questions weren’t rhetorical, I can explain the other POV: Selling your main source of income (land) is not a windfall, and 8 years of an average person’s income on a 5 minute helicopter ride is not a “fancy family party” In US terms, if a farmer outside Chicago sold his house for $3 million, does that make sense to spend 300K on a 5 minute trip in the space shuttle? This is not true discretionary income, it’s the wealth of ancestors. When you sell your house, you have to roll over that money into your next house (which makes me wonder how he was able to trade his 3 acres for a different 3 acres), and then maybe on: better education, better equipment for your farm, emergency savings for a rainy day… How far would that go in a hospital for their town?

    Her corpulence does seem significant within the framework of how American assume all Indians (farmers esp) are stick-thin, and the excess food consumption arrives with middle-class incomes. I’m not sure what “recent” means- think freshman 15 multiplied by wedding parties, and the weight could easily be as new as the wealth.

    The bit about “buying a small Hyundai” is about the contrast; a middle-income American might spend the money on a brief helicopter ride over Hawaii on their vacation, but those rides are cheaper and the more in line with our discretionary income (plus you get to see Hawaii).

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I disagree with a bunch of your points, I think. But briefly — the article notes that land values in certain areas have risen sharply, hence his ability to essentially move his farming. That certainly seems like a windfall to me — no loss to your business, just a big pot of cash landing unexpectedly.

    And it’s not as if they were destitute to begin with — they had a house, and probably an older car. So they used some of the money to fix things up, some to invest (hence the rainy day savings). When I got my book advance, I spent the bulk of it on paying off the last of my student loans, and a chunk on writing-related business investments, but I spent about 10% on pure indulgence, which feels about right to me. You never know when you’ll be hit by a bus, so take some pleasure while you can.

    The helicopter thing is especially where I think they missed the boat, not understanding the cultural context. Weddings are a big deal in India, and it’s expected that the groom will ride in on a horse — or, if he can afford it, an elephant. It’s sort of funny that an elephant is now a helicopter, but this middle-class farmer who got lucky with his land value rising sharply got to throw an upper-class wedding. How is that even a story?

    The weight thing I still think is both mean and off-topic.

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