Reed Young, Michael De Pasquale & Annalisa Merelli The Seven Percent


Kuldeep Singh Garcha - Colonel Kuldeep Singh Garcha, a businessman, is a retired national polo player and army officer. Originally from Punjab, he lives with his wife in Jaipur. His son, also a polo player and a businessman, lives in Singapore. "You know there are two things in life, ambition and desire. I let my desires run wild, because whatever I achieved I feel happy about [...]. But if you are ambitious and from 0 to 10 you reach 8, you still have a negativity [because] you haven’t got that 10. So I'm not ambitious, I desire, I desire the stars and if I fall short I'll probably land at the moon."


Dibang - Originally from the northeastern state of Arunanchal Pradesh, Dibang is a well-known TV journalist and news anchor. He lives in South Delhi. "I think traditionally in India money is supposed to be bad. If you're rich that means you've done something wrong, so even if you're rich you would never say I'm rich, […] you would always underplay it, it's a strange thing that happens here."


Gaj Singh - 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."


Ganesh Singh Jhabua - Ganesh Singh Jhabua, a member of the former royal family of Indore, is a businessman. He has two daughters, both of whom moved away from their hometown after marriage. He lives in a property just outside the centre of Indore with his wife and their Great Dane. "It was very difficult for a person with my background to compromise that old royal style which I'd learned when I was a kid [...] to start something new, a business, [something] which my forefathers had never done. […] In my grandfather's times a businessman was not [considered] a moral person - that's what I'd learned all my life and from there to get down and do the same thing [business] was difficult in the beginning. Then I started enjoying the work."


Gunjan Gupta - Gunjan Gupta is a furniture designer. Originally from Bombay, she studied in London and now runs a sustainable luxury design studio and production unit in Gurgaon, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. "I think one of the challenges that I find as a parent in the India of today, which is modernising at such a crazy pace, is this growing up in excess. Our kids are growing up with just too much: too much access, too much aspiration. [...] So in that sense I feel that it's the whole idea of value that’s really important, and as a parent I really worry about that. You can’t compare India at the time when we were growing up and India today, you can't say it's the same country. [...] We were just totally living in isolation [...]. When we used to travel I remember collecting Coke cans [...] because none of that stuff was available here."


Karan Talwar - Karan Talwar is a businessman from Delhi. He runs one of his family enterprises dealing in automotive parts, the electronic industry and mining. After the completion of his business degree in London he moved back to Delhi where he built an apartment for himself in his family home. "I've already seen salary hikes in the workers' wages, the minimum wage in the state we operate in keeps jumping up. [But the] monthly wage of an Indian worker is so different from an American worker, that gap is so wide that it's going to take a couple of decades to catch up, and [even then] it won't, because the cost of living in the US is increasing too. It's a cycle, because if our cost increases [and] they are buying the same products from us, we pass those increases to them, and their cost of living is going to up as well, so that gap is always going to remain."


Karanvir Singh Sibia - 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."


Kavita Sanghi - Bombay-born Kavita Sanghi, wife of late industrialist and businessman Satish Sanghi, lives in Indore in a house designed by Eckart Muthesius, which originally served as the servant quarter for the maharaja's palace. She runs a textile business and, together with her son who owns a home 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 me right through."


Nikku Guron - Daughter of an astrophysicist, Nikku Guron is an interior designer from Chandigarh. She runs her own studio, is married and has a daughter. "For example when we were kids it's not like we had a/c in all the rooms, now [...] these kids are not used to it, they can't even dream of a room without an a/c. When you become more comfortable you just thank god […] I think we're really privileged that god has been so kind, [...] because we’ve seen those days and the way things have changed."


Percival Billimoria - 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."


Rajat Sodhi - Rajat Sodhi is an architect. Born in Delhi, he studied and worked for several architecture firms the UK and Europe for ten years before returning to India to start his own independent practice. He lives in South Delhi with his sister, an art curator. "The service class who does work for the upper class, it's only a matter of time till they realize how badly they are being exploited and how badly they are being economically manipulated. [...] This is a structure that is somehow geared towards breaking down in one way or the other, that may be in form of a social revolution or of something more violent, or it could be something that kind of gradually changes."


Rohan Jetley - Rohan Jetley is a businessman. Born in Delhi, he lived with his family in Bombay and Singapore before moving back to the capital city. After graduating in Hawaii and working for Merrill Lynch, he moved back to India and manages T.G.I.F. India, one of the family businesses. "Before, unless you were educated and unless you came from a certain background and you had certain contacts, there were very little chances to make it. Today, because of the corporate structure that exists it's all merit-based, so if you work hard enough and you're a diligent and intelligent person you inevitably make it to where you want to go."


Sheel Chandra - Sheel Chandra, together with his late twin brother, started one of the biggest pashmina, wool and carpet businesses in the country. He was born in Shimla (Himachal Pradesh) and lives in South Delhi. He's married and has four children. His brother, who married his wife’s twin sister, has three. "The distribution of money is not good in India. Still, one third of the people in India live on one dollar a day, maybe more than one third. Some people have so much money that 5% of the people are the richest people in the world, 10% are very very rich, 20% are still very rich. We would be one of those 20%, I think."


Sukhwant Singh - Sukhwant Singh is a steel industrialist. He owns a plant on the outskirts of Indore and manages two Tata Steel factories, in Baroda and Sri Lanka. Once leading a much bigger industry, he had to reduce the size of his business due to an infrastructure issue, but is now again in a growing phase. "Making money is very important, but more important is how you make money, especially in this society. If I don't have the modesty, if I don't have the sensitivity to understand people, I'm a criminal." "The disparity is so visible, it's so obvious. How does it look if I'm driving a Mercedes and another guy doesn't even have a bicycle?"


Tegvir Singh Sibia - Tegvir Singh Sibia, "Gogi," son of former Minister of State Gurbaksh Singh Sibia, is an agriculturist and owner of a mechanised farm. Twice president of the Chandigarh golf club, he lives with his son and daughter and, with is brother “Sunny” is on the board of directors of two educational institution in his native Sangrur (Punjab). "We were pioneers in whatever we did, in agriculture especially, we started the first seed business in India and we were very happy with that [...] We drove ourselves to do it [machine-based agriculture] and it was a time of change and if we didn't change primitive farming was not going to pay, so we had to change, there was no question."


In recent years the media has depicted India as a booming economic powerhouse. In 2011, its GDP grew at more than four times the rate of the U.S. India’s seven percent growth is symbolic of a country that has become a land of opportunities, of modernization and development, with a fast-growing middle class filling the most crowded cities of the world. It’s a story of movement, change, and increasing possibility. 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 depicting a rarely seen aspect of Indian society: those who benefit from the country’s rapidly growing economy. These stories encompass both individuals whose fortunes have been built over many generations as well as those who have found success within one lifetime. The project features three kinds of portraiture. First, a classic portrait of the subject in his or her comfort zone: home, office, or car. Second, a still life with the subject’s finished dinner plate; nourishment is one of life’s fundamental acts and its accompanying rituals and etiquette symbolize a lifestyle. Finally, a video and written interview allow the subjects to tell their stories in their own words: where they come from, how they view their society, and what role they play in shaping it. The project started with a journey—from New York to Delhi and then on to Indore, Chandigarh, and Jaipur—to find those who have been, each in their own way, profiting from India’s wave of growth. They are businessmen, professionals, ex-nobility. They have different lifestyles, values, and beliefs about the current state and needs of their country. But they all look ahead, with great optimism, to the opportunities India’s continued progress will afford them.


All images © courtesy of Reed Young, Michael De Pasquale & Annalisa Merelli