if a raw entrepreneurial spirit was straining to break through the discouraging politicalcrust. Word of the Ambani family and their company Reliance Industries had spread to
Hong Kong as prime examples of this brash new India which might nally have its day,
courtesy of the changes the Gulf War symbolised.Everything about the Ambanis, in fact, was a good magazine story The young couple’scourtship had been a stormy one, ready-made for the Bombay show-biz magazines.
The bride, Tina Munim, was a girl with a past. She had been a lm starlet, featur
ing in several of the Hindi-language lms churned out by the hundreds every year in ‘Bollywood’-most including improb- able violence, song-and-dance routines, and long
sequences with the female leads in wet, clingy clothes. Before meeting Anil, Tina hadhad a heavy, well-publicised affair with a much older actor. The groom, Anil, was thetearaway one of the two Ambani boys. His parents had frowned on the match. Bom-bay’s magnates usually tried to arrange matches that cemented alliances with otherpowerful business or political families. This one was not arranged, nor did it bring anymore than a certain popularity. Hired assailants had been sent with acid and knives to
scar Tina’s face, so went the gossip (apocryphal: Tina’s face turned out to be awless).Anil had threatened suicide if he could not marry Tina, went another rumour. Finally,
the parents had agreed.
The father, Dhirubhai, was no less colourful and even more controversial. He had rst
worked in Aden in the 1950s. I recalled a stopover there in my childhood, aboard theS. S. Oronsay, a buff-hulled Orient Line ship, en route to my father’s posting in Londonwith his Australian bank in 1958. The image was of grim, dark-brown peaks surround-ing a harbour of brilliant blue, a host of merchant ships tied up to moorings, and a busy
trafc of launches and barges. The trip ashore was by launch, landing at Steamer Point,
where Arabs and Indians besieged the white faces, trying to sell us Ottoman-stylecushions or to drag us into their duty-free shops. Now someone like those desperatesalesmen in Aden was a tycoon in Bombay.Ambani had got into polyester manufacturing in a big way, and got huge numbers of Indians to invest in shares of his company, Reliance Industries. In India, the home of
ne cotton textiles, it seemed that people couldn’t get enough polyester. The only con
-straint on local producers like Reliance was the government’s licensing of their capacity,or where they built their factories. To jack up his capacity, Ambani had become a big
political xer. In the recent minority government formation, it was said, his executives
had been shuttling briefcases of cash to politicos all over Delhi. There had been epicbattles, with the press baron Ramnath Goenka of the Indian Express and with a tex-tile rival from an old Parsi business house, Nusli Wadia. A year or so earlier, a Reliancepublic relations manager had been arrested for plotting to murder Wadia. The man hadbeen released, and nothing was moving in the case. Was it genuine or a frame-up? In-dian colleagues were not sure: no conspiracy was accepted at face value.
So we took our rst trip inside India, making our way down to New Delhi Railway Sta
-tion in a yellow-and-black cab, one of the 1954 Morris Oxford design still being madein Calcutta, in the rose-coloured haze of a winter afternoon; letting a red-shirted porterheave our bags on his head and lead us to the train, establishing our rights to the cov-
eted two-berth compartment in the middle of the First Class Air-Conditioned carriage
from the list pasted by the door.
The train slid across the at beige northern landscape of wheat-stubble and square
houses as night fell. In the morning we were trundling past palm trees and mangrove-bordered creeks before humming into Bombay through suburban stations packed with