Let Them Eat Cake

I read in the paper that Vijay Mallya was actually worried about something. That’s certainly news! And a relief for those who were wondering whether anyone could truly be so callous as to ignore the hardship three to four thousand of their employees were undergoing. Turns out a top level official of the airline was checking with AAI whether there was a danger of his private plane being impounded if he flew in on it. I hope, for his sake, the pilot of that plane has been paid, or he might really have some worries.

Illustration/Amit Bandre

Until the early 1990s, it was common to see striking workers on dharna as you walked through commercial areas, or to sometimes be stuck behind a morcha. People cribbed a bit. But there was nevertheless a resigned acceptance that these occurrences were naturally a part of any world where there are employers and employees.

That’s changed a lot in the last two decades. There’s an unsettling hardness with which media and many middle-class people who have benefitted from the new economy, and are therefore understandably likely to see its good side, view the protests of the working class. It’s as if any worker who strikes is an anti-national, anti-social, near-criminal figure who could not possibly have a point. We saw some of this play out during the recent Maruti workers strike, where there was a hardly-concealed outrage that workers would want to be paid well, that they too might want to be able to ‘Flipkart it’, so to speak.

The spectacle of the striking workers of Kingfisher Airlines ruptures this well-preserved division – and delusion. Suddenly we are able to see what injustice means when it’s people like us, aren’t we? No longer do we dismissively call it a “labour problem”, because we can see what it will look like when we’re on the biting side of the employer-employee world, without too many rights. When it’s not “labour class” people but middle-class people.

It’s a quick and dirty reminder of the feudality and hubris that underlies the corporate ego so well-maintained by state subsidy, bailouts, forgiven loan and other such mollycoddling of the very people who complain about subsidies for the poor. But had Dr Mallya ever promised anything else but a kind of expensive sleaze? We averted our eyes as King Leer invited us, gravelly-voiced, to treat the airplane as his home, flanked by sexy flight attendants in red, nudge nudge wink wink. King Leer is always talking about bringing glory to India.

How? Look, he doesn’t just own the sword of Tipu Sultan, a cricket team and all, he can even kind of own Yana Gupta! It seems the glory he wants to bring back is of the zamindari era. An aiyaash zamindar channelling Hugh Hefner at the centre, crying “naach kaneez” while that vital accessory, his wastrel son tweets, “Just spent the morning playing volleyball with 12 bikini clad models on the I understand why people hate me. HA!” Oh baby, did you really think that was the reason?

Meanwhile he proves he’s incapable of seeing them as people, when KFA agrees to the demand of four-month salary out of fear that employees will protest at the F1 NOIDA. Vijay Mallya called himself the King of Good Times. Now that the Bad Times are here, what else will he say about his suffering employees except, Let Them Eat Cake.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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