If Mumbai is notorious for its poverty, then the city is no less famous for the glittering wealth of its richest inhabitants, and they don’t come richer than Mukesh Ambani, chairman of the Reliance Industries petrochemical corporation. With a net worth of US$21 billion, Ambani is officially India’s richest man, and his recently built home on Altamount Rd in the Cumballa Hill district of south-central Mumbai is said to be the world’s most valuable piece of real estate. The futuristic, 27-storey skyscraper – known as Antilia – enjoys a majestic view over the Arabian Sea on one side, and Dharavi slum area on the other. Completed in 2010, it cost an estimated US$500–600 million to build, and is valued at somewhere between US$1–2 billion. Six floors are given over to a 168-car parking area. The building boasts nine elevators, three helipads, a glittering ballroom with solid silver balustrades and ceilings festooned with crystal chandeliers, hanging gardens of hydroponic plants and an ice room where the Ambanis can beat the summer heat in flurries of man-made snow.
Reaction to this behemoth on Mumbai’s skyline has been mixed, to say the least. While most of the locals and sightseers regard it with wide-eyed wonder, members of India’s intelligentsia – from industrialist J.R. Tata to novelist Arundhati Roy – have been less than complimentary, deploring the Ambanis’ apparent lack of social conscience.