Sunday, August 4, 2013

London – India’s Summer Palace

Going local
Strolling around London’s posh Mayfair district during the summer months, a dim-witted historian might well be confused into recalling that India once colonized England, not the other way around. As discussed in this Economist article, when the sweltering summer heat settles into India, the wealthy Indians resettle to the cooler climes of London. While other districts such as Knightsbridge have become more associated with Russians and Belgravia with Americans and Italians, Mayfair is an enclave that has taken on a decidedly subcontinent feel. This is not a new trend – well-heeled Indians have been buying property in London for over a century – however, the action has picked up significantly in the past few years. According to the article, one in four flats and houses sold in Mayfair these days are to Indians. Estimates are that 3,000 rich Indians now migrate there every summer.
With a critical mass of Indian movers and shakers present in the district, occasions for social networking have become more than conveniences – they have become necessary and highly competitive obligations. Attending cocktail parties at The Dorchester or 51 Buckingham Gate (owned by the Tata Group), watching the tennis action at Wimbledon, or taking in the Test cricket match at Lord’s Cricket Ground are must-do’s. Opportunities for glad-handing and one-upmanship abound. Given how Indians love a good bling-dripping party, one imagines that there is precious little time for true relaxation.
The article highlights an interesting and unfortunate social consequence - that these elite have begun to take on some of the characteristics of their erstwhile rulers, but now with the wing-tipped shoe on the other foot.  Whereas the British colonials were once accused of shutting themselves off from the local Indian population by holing up in wide-boulevard hill-stations, high class Indians are now accused of maintaining minimal contact with British society (other than through their Eton/Oxbridge/Kings College school networks). This phenomenon has also applied to investments and business deals, whereby few large deals in the past few years have involved Indian buyers. There are undoubtedly several theories – some controversial, others just politically incorrect – why this segregation is occurring. However, one undisputed issue is the confirmation that London is increasingly less characteristic of the UK and more emblematic of a globalized money and consumption flows, led by emerging market cash.

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