Nirav Modi, the diamond merchant who fled the country after reportedly swindling banks of over Rs 13,000 crore, has one thing in common with a character in Greek legend, King Midas of Phrygia: insatiable greed.
By all accounts, Modi ran a successful diamond business and had amassed more wealth than most people can even dream of. The sale of his art collection alone is said to have fetched some Rs 58 crore. He owns several properties in India, and at least two apartments in a tower block in central London, which in themselves would cost several million British pound sterling.
But all these immense riches were apparently not enough to satisfy him, and he conspired to swindle banks of thousands of crores of rupees.
Now he is a fugitive from the law in London, a prisoner who has been denied bail by a British judge and is facing extradition to India, where he is likely to do extended jail time.
So why, when he already had more money than anyone could possibly spend in several luxurious lifetimes, was he compelled to become a cheat and land himself in the mess he is now in?
The answer, as in the case of Midas, is unfathomable greed. Modi’s story parallels that of Midas. Granted a boon by Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, Midas chose infinite wealth and was granted the golden touch whereby everything he laid hands on would be turned into the precious metal.
Midas’s joy at having been given the golden touch was short-lived. He could not eat or drink anything, because whatever he came in contact with turned into gold, including his beloved daughter.
Midas realised that his golden touch born out of an unappeasable greed, was not a boon but a curse. He went to Dionysus and begged him to take back his baneful gift. The god told Midas to go bathe in a river that would wash away the unbearable burden of his greed.
The dietary disorder of bulimia turns people into obsessive eaters who cannot stop themselves from consuming much more than what their bodies require or what their constitutions can withstand. If untreated, bulimia leads to obesity and other life-threatening conditions.
The unbridled greed for material wealth is a bulimia of the spirit, an uncontrolled and uncontrollable appetite that leads to grievous consequences.
In Oliver Stone’s movie, Wall Street, the protagonist, Gordon Gekko, sums up the mantra of compulsive consumption: ‘Greed is good’. But greed, as Midas discovered, is far from being good; greed is another word for grief.
The so-called ‘subprime crisis’, which started in the US in 2007 and led to worldwide financial turmoil, was caused by greed, and led to many millions losing their life savings, their homes and their jobs.
Greed is harmful not just for our financial health. Greed for more and more of the planet’s limited resources has brought us to the brink of irretrievable environmental catastrophe.
Collective human greed – particularly as evidenced by the world’s wealthiest nations, who have shown that the more you have more you desire to have – has endangered the Earth, perhaps beyond salvation.
Not just Nirav Modi, we are all inheritors of the curse of Midas.
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DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.