The Beautiful and the Damned

The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb Read Free Book Online

Book: The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb Read Free Book Online
Authors: Siddhartha Deb
sounded boring, unlike Arindam, who seemed a little different, with images and contradictions swirling around him:ponytail, controversy, management guru, bloggers, business school, magazines, Bollywood movies.
    ‘I’ve spoken to the boss about you,’ Sutanu said. ‘But the boss said, “Why does he want to meet me?” ’
    Sutanu ran the media division in Arindam’s company. We met at Flames, an ‘Asian Resto-Bar’ up a steep flight of steps with a forlorn statue of Buddha tucked away in the corner, the view from the restaurant opening out to sanitary-goods stores, franchise eating outlets and large cars being squeezed into minuscule spaces by scruffy parking attendants. Sutanu was in his forties, a dark man with thick, clumpy hair parted to one side, a bushy moustache and glasses, his raffish 1960s air complemented by a bright-blue shirt and a red tie patterned with elephants. He was accompanied by Rahul, a studious-looking young man in kurta and jeans who worked at one of the magazines published by the company. Although they couldn’t have been there long, their table gave an impression of a party that had been in progress through the morning and had peaked. It held two packs of Navy Cut cigarettes, a partly empty bottle of Kingfisher beer and a battered smartphone with a black-and-white screen that rang out in insistent drumbeats throughout our conversation.
    ‘The boss is a great man, and sure, his story is interesting,’ Sutanu said. ‘The question is whether he’ll talk to you.’
    From what Sutanu told me that afternoon, Arindam was very much a man of the times. He had started out in 1996 with a lone business school called the Indian Institute of Planning and Management. Founded by Arindam’s father, it had been – Sutanu said dismissively – a small, run-of-the-mill place located on the outskirts of Delhi. But Arindam had expanded it into nine branches in most of the major Indian cities, and he was now going international. He had an institute in Dubai, had tied up with a management school in Belgium with campuses in Brussels and Antwerp, was opening an institute in London by the end of the year, and would have another one in the United States, in an old factory building in Pennsylvania. And that was just the management institute. Arindam’s company, Planman, had a media division that included a newsweekly,
The Sunday Indian
, ‘perhaps theonly magazine in the world with thirteen editions’. There were three business magazines, a software company, a consulting division that managed the ‘HR component of multinationals’, and a small outsourcing company. The outsourcing company was small only because it was new, but it already did the entire online content of the
Guardian
as well as the proofreading and copy-editing of the
Daily Mail
.
    ‘There’s also a film division, and he’s produced a major Bollywood blockbuster,’ Sutanu said.
    ‘It was meant to be a blockbuster,’ Rahul said quietly. ‘But it flopped.’
    ‘Yeah, yeah, no big deal,’ Sutanu said. ‘He’s on other blockbuster projects. He’s a man of ideas. So sometimes they flop.’ He lit a cigarette and waved it around, the rings on his hand flashing. ‘What he’s doing, he’s using intellectual capital to make his money. But people don’t get that and because he’s been bad-mouthed so much, he’s become suspicious. He’s been burned by the media. You know, cynical hacks they are. They make up stories that he’s a fraud. A Johnny-come-lately. Everyone asks, “Yaar, but where does all that money come from?” ’
    There was a moment of silence as we contemplated this question.
    ‘They don’t ask these things of other businessmen,’ Sutanu continued. ‘That’s because when the mainstream media does these negative stories on him, just hatchet jobs you know, they’re serving the interests of the big industrialists. The industrialists don’t like him because our magazines have done critical stories on them. The

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