The First Elite‐Fest of India

It was a last minute decision due to both, money and time, constraints. Moreover, I have never been a big fan of speed. But still, the prospect of becoming a part of history was overwhelming. Then I met a few racing enthusiasts at my MBA coaching. Their group of 8 was going together and still had 1 ticket left. Call it peer pressure but caved in and shelled out Rs. 6500 for the 3-day affair.

The experience started as we stepped on to the Yamuna Expressway. I have never been to that side of the city but have heard rumours about its development. To an extent, the rumours were true. The road didn’t look like it was situated in India. A road without pot- holes and bullock carts blocking your movement is a rarity in India. Without such distractions and the cars doing 120-130 kph easily, the expressway surely depicted the story of “fast” and “modern” India. We didn’t see any villages or small towns or signs of the Third-world India. The average car price on the road was atleast Rs 10 lakhs. Porsches and Jaguar’s showed up at will and the smallest car I saw was a Rs 4.5 lakh worth Maruti Wagon R. One could easily judge the mood, the first F1 race in India was meant for Elite not the “common” man of India.

My amazement continued as I read the number plates on these already expensive cars. Coming from states like Maharashtra to Chandigarh to Punjab to West Bengal, the numbers were VIP as well like 0001, 0007, etc etc. If expensive cars were not enough to flaunt the money, some people came in convoys. Generally, one sees the convoys like these with Country Diplomats or Ministers or Politicians, which all were there. But some rich men of India had brought their own private security. A Mahindra Scorpio with atleast 7 uniform- dressed security guards with walky-talkies were clearing road for a Land Rover behind it.

Once near the Buddha Circuit, the road signs were clear and there were many policemen and guides of F1 to direct traffic to their correct destinations. All in all, it was a smooth drive until we parked at our W6 parking spot.

With our entry from Gate 17, we stepped in for mandatory security checks. It was thoroughly done. But surprising was the concept of no “outside” food or beverages. Really, we couldn’t even take water bottles inside. Fair enough, they didn’t want to take any risks. We enter the circuit and come the first shocker. I thought once inside, it won’t look all that “elitist”. But what do I know. Let alone a rich setup, it looked a scene direct from a Royal Garden Party or Chelsea Flower Show. All dressed in western wear and almost customary Hats. All of types of headgear could be seen, not the kind you see in an IPL match, but the exotic stuff like Boaters, Fedoras, Somberas, Panams etc. etc. Women in sarees and suits were a rarity. Men in capris and Hawaii t-shirts bathing in sun looked like a scene from summer times in London.

It was a hot winter day and sun was above our heads. First thing we did was bought two mineral water bottles. Unlike Multiplex cinemas, they weren’t “specially” designed for the
event and were sold at Rs. 15 alone. But that’s where the dissimilarity stopped between the foods stalls. Only Soft Drinks and Water bottles were fairly priced, everything else was again “exclusive”. Rs 100 will get you 2 samosas and Rs. 150 for a veg sandwich or a veg Panini. Even a cup of Tea or Coffee was priced at Rs. 50 each. Of course we didn’t buy it as we weren’t that rich!

Unfortunately. we weren’t actually allowed to carry water or beverages or eatables to our seats. We had to involuntarily finish our both water bottles so it doesn’t go to waste – Middle Class mentality I guess. But most of the people were just leaving them as it is. Only explanation I could imagine for these restrictions might have been the past experience with Indian audience. Throwing of empty bottles towards stage or ground is normal. Just yesterday it was seen at the cancelled Metallica concert. And an empty bottle on the track in the middle of the race can be deadly. So, in all fairness they didn’t want to take chances.

The extravaganza started with Driver’s Parade around the circuit. Old vintage cars of Maharajas were used to carry the F1 drivers around the circuit. Drivers could be seen waving to the crowds and the audience cheered back. Naturally, Vettel and Schumacher received maximum applause. But the cars on which they were driving were exquisite. From 1925 Phantom to Lagonda M45 to Triumph TR-3 to 1968 Mustang, all the cars were vintage. And to my surprise, one of them was actually driven by an old lady in saree. These cars were so expensive that even renting them for a day cost around Rs. 35000. Showcase of money at its best.

During the race, people were quite excited and enjoyed the race to fullest. But no one skipped any chance to flaunt their class and money. Audience was flaunting expensive binoculars, chatting loudly about VIP tickets, and talking just in English, trying ever so hard to not to give the event any feel of India. The ironic thing was that the National Anthem was sang patriotically and the Tri-Color could be seen everywhere, even the seats were painted in Flag pattern.

Once race had finished and Vettel had completed his victory lap, we didn’t wait for the Presentation Ceremony, thinking we could avoid the jam. But boy were we proven wrong big time. The numbers of cars coming out, or actually trying to come of out, might have been easily 30,000. With this number and average price being Rs. 10lakh, the total worth of cars parked outside Buddh Circuit was atleast Rs. 300 crores !!!

And just when we thought we have seen it all, came the private helicopters. In our naivety, we had assumed that people like Vijay Mallya and Mayawati would have come in cars. But instead they had got a temporary helipad built outside the circuit with atleast 5 choppers parked there. There we saw the stark contrast of Modern India – an enclosed helipad catering to VIPs and some 20 labour class Indians trying to peek in to see a glimpse of money. That image got stamped into my memory, more than Vettel’s winning finger or Buemi’s burning car.

Here is an India, advised to try and live on Rs. 32 a day. And in just 4 hours time, some 1 lakh Indians must have spent together atleast Rs. 20 crores in a day. It raises an evergreen question; do we need such blatant display of money? Is it moral for some Indians to spend such money on pleasure when their fellow citizens are dying of starvation?

In my opinion, both sides have their arguments. The rich and the new-rich will say, they have earned that money. They also do philanthropy and pay taxes. So they have a right to enjoy themselves as well. Just because the Government of India is inefficient in caring for its citizens, rich people can’t be blamed for it. Moreover, discrediting the rich by saying that all of them avoid taxes and have become rich from illegal means would be wrong on our part. There are live examples of people who were born in poverty but have gone big now. Dalit Millionaire’s Club is the biggest example of such growth.

The F1 circuit had costed $ 400 million. But that money was not sent to waste. It came into circulation in India only. Moreover, it created tremendous employment opportunities; after all you need people to make things happen. Also, if Indian GP didn’t happen, the rich-club of India would actually spend this money abroad, watching racing in other countries. That certainly will drain the money out of India. It should also get fair appreciation to have not become another embarrassing event like Commonwealth Games. For once, India can be seen as a country able to host world-class events.

Even though all this is true, it still doesn’t justifies the ugly display by the super-rich of India. Private security convoys and VIP attitude hurts much more than their expense rounds. Their “Do you know who I am” attitude just degrades whatever they have earned so far. The act of Humility and Modesty could have given them some moral high-ground. But as usual, they missed the trick and only ended up extending the ever increasing divide between

20th Century India and the 22nd Century India.

Abhay Nidhi Sharma