In recent years the media has depicted India as a booming economic powerhouse. In 2011, its GDP grew at seven percent–more than four times the rate of the U.S. economy. India’s growth is symbolic of opportunities, modernization and development, with a fast-growing middle class. Yet the country’s economic success is rarely depicted beyond the business section. India is often labeled a land of contradiction—the poverty of many contrasted with the wealth of few—and traditional media outlets dramatically highlight its underdevelopment. But what about the stories of the successful and affluent, the individuals riding the economic upswing?
This discrepancy gave rise to The Seven Percent, a series of portraits, still lifes, and interviews focusing on the affluent, including those who have inherited fortunes–and those who have built their own success. The portraits show each subject in his or her comfort zone: home, office or car. Because lifestyles are symbolized by the ritual and etiquette of eating, each portrait is accompanied by a still life of the subject’s finished dinner plate.
The subjects are businessmen, professionals, and ex-nobility, all with different lifestyle, values, and political beliefs. But they all look ahead, with great optimism, to the opportunities India’s continued progress will afford them. Text and captions by Annalisa Merelli.
Above: Gaj Singh is the son of the last nobleman of Alsisar, Rajasthan. Born in Jaipur, he was in the army before launching his hotel business. He now owns three hotels in Rajasthan, two of which are his family residences converted into heritage accommodations. He is married, has two sons, and lives in Alsisar Haveli, his hotel in Jaipur. “We had so many people working around us […] but gradually it faded and by the time I was passing out of school in 1976, we didn’t have many people working for us, but again, with this present business […] the bygone era has come back.”
© Reed Young. Above: Originally from Sangrur (Punjab), Karanvir Singh Sibia, “Sunny” to his friends, lives in Chandigarh with his wife, son, and daughter-in-law. He started his first stud farm in the 1980s on his family’s land in Jind (Haryana), and recently opened a second in Ropar, (Punjab). Eight years ago, after his son came back from Australia, where he studied and lived for seven years, he started with him a real estate development company operating in Chandigarh and surrounding areas. “One would like to see more industry growth because we are seeing a lot of our younger generations migrating to other countries, so if there are better job opportunities back home I’m sure they would rather stay back and try and avail of some of the benefits that would come about.”
© Reed Young. Above: Bombay-born Kavita Sanghi, wife of late industrialist and businessman Satish Sanghi, lives in Indore in a house designed by Eckart Muthesius that originally served as the servants’ quarters for the maharaja’s palace. She runs a textile business and, together with her son who lives in a property next door, owns nine male pedigree dogs. “It was me who started with the textile business, since my children had grown up and […] I had all the time to myself, so I told him [my husband] I want to start this. He didn’t like it in the beginning because most women of India’s upper class at that time weren’t open to work, [but] I said ‘but I don’t like sitting with ladies all day and just talking about household affairs, I’d like to start designing.'[…] So then he agreed to it and supported.”
© Reed Young. Above: Percival Billimoria is one of India’s most successful corporate lawyers. Originally from Bombay, he has been living in Delhi for over twenty years. He lives in a farmhouse in South Delhi with two rescued stray dogs. “I grew up in an India which suffered from a miscarried socialism. I am a free market proponent, […] I believe that the market sorts itself out; it’s not to say that there’s nothing wrong with the way free markets work, it’s not a perfect model, but ultimately market forces are the best solution to the problems that market forces themselves create.”