The RICH Syndrome and why poverty is the only cure

Do me favour today will you? Read this article before you go any further – it won’t take too long and it is easy to read and fascinating – then come back to me. The page will open in a new tab so you don’t lose this page…

India’s elites have a ferocious sense of entitlement

You back already? Wow, you read fast! Thanks for coming back to me. 🙂

The story of the a wealthy young SUV driver rang a bell for me. His behaviour is the kind I see in Dhaka all the time. I hang out in the Gulshan/Banani areas because they are safest for us bideshis (foreigners) and I don’t know the other areas of Dhaka too well (and some not at all). Gulshan/Banani is the area of the capital inhabited by the rich. While I am wealthier than many, in this area I am definitely the poor relation and am quite used to being looked down upon by both Bangladeshis and bideshis in my shorts and T-shirts when I walk or pull up on a rickshaw instead of having an SUV with a personal driver. Still. how I am treated is an awful lot better than others around.

I love Bangladeshi people but, when it comes to the rich, I become very saddened and very disappointed very quickly. I have lost count the way I’ve seen the rich abuse Rickshaw wallahs and the slum dwellers kicked out of what little they call their homes and made to move on in the name of ‘development’ which really means ‘office blocks and luxury apartments’.

It seems that while the poor and lower middle class of Bangladesh (still, thankfully, the overwhelming majority of the population) have retained their Bengal culture and identity, the Bangladeshi elite have learned to be British in all the most awful meanings of the name – arrogant, snide, demanding and completely impatient with those who are their ‘inferiors and subordinates’. It saddens me that a wonderful nation is slowly becoming ‘just like all the rest’.

What Urvashi Butalia writes about as common in India now, I am thankful is not yet commonplace in Bangladesh – but it’s coming and coming fast as the country claws its way out of mass poverty. And in Britain, cleansed of true poverty long ago? It has spread like the plague…literally.

In fact, if you read the extra article on ‘Eating Sweets’ too then you might agree with me that, in reality, wealth is a disease. I would like to propose a name for this disease: RICH Syndrome (after all, acronyms always become popular, don’t they?)

Really Impoverished Compassion and Humanity Syndrome is now a pandemic in the whole of Europe and America with huge pockets in India and cases being reported frequently in Bangladesh. I’m sure there are many other cases throughout the world but these are the countries known to me.

If Butalia is to be believed then those suffering RICH Syndrome desperately need our help. I think the only way to tackle it is the same way you tackle any addiction (and wealth is surely addictive) – going cold turkey.

We need to take the money, the cars, the X-boxes, the jewelry – anything that is luxury and completely unnecessary for sustenance and ability to work and lead productive, useful lives – take it from them and put the elite back into society. Back into the world that most people inhabit. Back to the ‘common’ people. Let them see humanity again. Let them see the dignity with which most people are living in the world instead of the ‘squalor’ they normally perceive them to be stuck in. Let them find compassion again.

Let them weep.

Then, we can give them a decent allowance from their wealth (10% should be ample in most cases) and use the rest to make everyone else just a little less poor than they were – but not too much! It would seem that the only antidote or vaccine to this dreadfully debilitating disease is poverty itself. Until scientists find a cure, a pill the rich can swallow to return compassion to their souls en masse then we have to keep poverty for a while yet.

But maybe one day, we won’t have the poor in any corner of the world any longer and nor will we have anyone kicking over a Rickshaw, or hitting a poor person for touching their car or telling someone they’re not dressed decently or trying to rule others as politicians or religious leaders. Perhaps one day, together, we can eradicate RICH Syndrome altogether.

I can help to make this a reality. I just need you all to support me. I’ll need a good car to get me around the world. I’ll need a very good wage so I can fly to collect these poor suffering rich people (first class – I can’t do economy all the time as it makes my legs tired). I’ll need decent suits and jewelry and stuff so I can mix with these ‘patients’ and persuade them to come for treatment at my own exclusive state-of-the-art hospital and, of course, I’ll need an X-box to help me unwind; it’s hard seeing such suffering among the wealthy and I need something to help me unwind…

Wait a minute…

Stop, Ken. Stop. Before it’s too late.

I think I might have to go cold turkey myself…



About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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22 Responses to The RICH Syndrome and why poverty is the only cure

  1. mj says:

    Ken this is a post that, as we can see, excites a lot of atoms in people – rich and poor. I have read this article of Urvashi Butalia before, and I have seen what the RICH are all about. What you propose is what middle-class, sensitive, kind people like you and me feel, believe and want to do. What do the RICH want? Another car… a bigger bungalow… more poor people to kick around.

    In India, we love POWER – the power of wealth, the power of a government position, the power of an SUV. I think we must begin with stripping the political leaders of their symbols of power: those acres and acres of gardens in free bungalows, those numberless orderlies etc… let them live like servants of the people, or at the very least, as the people themselves. Like you and me. Struggle with daily problems, pay their bills the way we do (and they don;t)… then we have taken the first step. Thank you for this debate-worthy post.


    • Mj it is very good to hear from you – thank you for your comment here. I think there is much to debate here as you say and I don’t want to sound too much like I’m ‘rich-bashing’ being very aware, as I am in the poverty of rural Bangladesh, that I am well and truly in the very top proportion of the richest people in the world.

      I think we all share these burdens and it is attitude that matters more than money. As your comment points out, there are those who treat others as dirt when they could use their wealth to help those who have nothing. We can all do that and I have known one or two people who are wealthy by Western standards and yet do have a heart for others. They prove it by not just giving their money but their time and effort too. If we all did that, we could solve wold poverty even without the help of the rich…


  2. Bupe Rose says:

    Fantastic read! The problem with wealth is that it’s not equally distributed, and those that own the majority share are way too narcissistic, as you correctly pointed out. As an African, I’m often ashamed of some of our leaders. You hear of leaders who “own” countries, while their people are suffering. We truly need good leaders to bring about change. Selfless, compassionate, visionary leaders who are about empowering and growing the people.


  3. adnanramin says:

    A sad, sad eye-opener. The Snub-Chain – where the richest snubs the middle-class, the middle-class snubs the working-class and the working class, in turn, snubs the poorest …is a depressing part of power-structures everywhere. Your post has helped me see everyday occurrences in a new light. I’ve always believed that our (Eastern peoples) ‘humility’ sets us apart – makes us special. It will be a sad day when that goes out the door.


  4. renxkyoko says:

    Read it.
    There’s caste system in India. The people hay accepted their fate. I think it’s cultural.***


    • Actually the Caste system is far from accepted – Gandhi made great progress in destroying the Untouchables and many educated Indians today are appalled by the system where abuses take place (and there are many). However, the system doesn’t officially exist in Bangladesh (though there is a similar way of thinking) and there is no justification for the abuse of others. I would be interested to hear from Indians who read this blog to see what they think to your comment actually. Don’t forget that it was an Indian who wrote the article I refer to in the post. Not everyone accepts their fate…


  5. It seems that these posts (which you publish) are just at the right time. As you know, I was in India only 3 weeks ago, and in December 2012 where I spent the entire month there. What you have published here is along the lines of how I feel about the rich in India – and something which I started to write but not yet finished.

    I experienced this first hand on the last two visits to India, you would have thought as a British Asian that I would blend in and mingle comfortably with the masses, but I was mistaken. Although I am a British Asian, the Britishness of me (style, complex, northern accent, habits, etc) stood out a mile. This was enough to put me in situations where I would constantly surrounded by these rich people and their rich kids.

    I see a generation divide between those rich people in India and their rich kids. Those rich people who are well and truly in their adulthood know just one thing “accumulate more” from where it came from – I guess that is all that they know how to get more, it also probably because some of them started off being poor or not so well. Then you have their kids, who are lost with what to do. I mean, if you are a rich kid who has been given thousands of rupees daily as spending money – what do you do with it? This then dictates their spending habits, their behaviour and their attitude.

    I have many stories of what I encountered in relation to the rich living style of India, but I will eventually find the time to publish some posts about it. I remember my acquaintance who accommodates me when in India warned me of the rich and super rich people and to stay away from them, it even got to a point where in a club (where I thought I was going for some casual drinks with new found rich friends) turned out to be some sort a large extravagant hall with plenty of booze where the rich kids (both male and female) where things go so out of hand that she had to come and rescue me.

    I have totally seen how the rich neglect the poor, often thinking they are worthless and irrelevant. There have been moments where I have been totally disgusted with how the poor and especially their children are treated for the very basic needs such as food and medicine.


  6. says:

    Hi Ken … See I come with no extra baggage .. as I am from India itself. Lets just say that I have seen both sides of your picture … the rich and the poor. We tend to look at things from the side of the fence where we find ourselves and at one level its angst for I think you would be equally angsty on the other side of the fence too. Writing and complaining is part of our psyche … its what helps to get the bugs out of the system. While poverty is really really sad and I do appreciate that you and your family are doing good work … which sometimes may go unsung and many a times we feel helpless that we are unable to do all we want to … I may only wish that you find within you the capacity to be able to do all you want. Its a change in mindset … which keeps getting knocked about but eventually will take no more shit from anyone … and demands for itself all that it wants. Thats when reality changes … for push and pull are both needed to change things. Wish you success.


    • Hello again! Well first of all I have to say I don’t believe you to say you come with no baggage! Everyone comes with baggage one way or another. If you really believe that then you are unaware of how much you are influenced by your world. Just because you come from India doesn’t mean you have no baggage any more than the fact I live in Bangladesh. This is not about angst or feeling unable to make a difference or anything like that. It is about an injustice deeply entrenched throughout the world. I’m not complaining about things here – I’m saying they’re not right and they need to change. Poverty is not just sad – it is wrong. Simply wrong.

      I live on both sides of the fence, as you call it. I am from the UK – one of the richest nations in the world. I live in Bangladesh – one of the poorest. I have wealthy friends and I have incredibly poor friends. Their value is not accredited according to how much money they have. I am know that I rally against a wealth that I actually have myself. It is not the individual I condemn but the whole of a society that allows it to persist. There is only one reason why one man has wealth when another one doesn’t – greed. This is not about unsung work – I don’t give a damn about that kind of praise and certainly don’t need it. It’s about persuading the world to change its mindset (not mine) so that my brother and my sister don’t need to starve any longer and don’t need to feel that they are second-rate or worthless. Because, quite frankly, they are not.


      • says:

        Possibly we are saying the same things in different ways. I am part of the inner wheel the ladies wing of rotary … and we do see poverty first hand through the projects we do .. but that’s possibly not enough by any standards. I feel the hurt of you which comes through the words you speak … but the world is so big and there are so many pockets .. but you began .. you are walking the talk which is much appreciated. You do not know me at all for if you did then you would see that I cry for many people too. I live in a bungalow but have never felt it beneath my dignity to go out and give the workers on the road or the fruit vendors with my own hands. I never talk about this part of my life .. for one does these things from the very core .. not for public display. I always use a please or a thank you to the maids who work in my home. I have gone to poor schools and read stories to the kids there. I have also taught my own maid’s daughter .. but I never felt it necessary to justify myself and yes I do cry when I write too…. for we feel more helpless than we care to admit.


  7. boomiebol says:

    Thanks for sharing this… Africa and Nigeria in particular has a high dose of RICH


  8. Heather says:

    A good appropriate reminder to be content with what we have. (Just as I’m about to go shopping! The delightful Asda food shop….) Thanks.


    • More than that Heather – a reminder that we’re all very rich (in the UK where you and I are from, not necessarily others who read this blog though) and we have more than we really need. My last paragraph or two were only meant to be partially funny. I’m aware that I live on the wrong side of the dividing line I criticise here…


      • Heather says:

        Yes I realised that. But that was what i took from it for the day. I appreciate the insights you have from living in Bangladesh. And though my answer seemed not to notice all you meant, I think it is no small thing to aspire to contentment. I struggle with it so often, and it is true the more you have the more you want and the less you realise what you have. Do keep writing 🙂


        • Thanks Heather – don’t read criticism into what I wrote; just passion for something I feel strongly. I agree with what you wrote but just wanted to add to it. There is always more we can add to everything we do. At least…that’s what I find with everything I think, feel or do! 🙂


  9. Audrey Chin says:

    So true, so true, so true… Not just in South Asia, but everywhere in Asia really.

    I read somewhere (can’t remember) how inequality created by meritocracy is even worse than that created by aristocracy because the cream that rises in meritocracy truly believes their position is merited by their merits and was obtained by just merits….

    Maybe that’s just a 21st century view. Maybe in past times, aristocrats felt just as entitled.

    Anyway it is SAAAADDDDDD. As is the situation you’re reporting about in Bangladesh and the riots in Myanmar.

    Thanks for posting Ken.


    • Thanks Audrey – I love that quote. The arrogance and moreal superiority that comes with wealth that has been earned rather than inherited is a snobbery the world can do without. I may have earned my riches – worked hard for them. But the Asian farmer has worked just as hard as me – if not much harder – and earns a fraction if he is lucky. Where can my pride lie if I really know that to be a truth?

      It is sad – but more than that – it is an injustice.


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