Apr 302008

Twenty-five years ago, London casinos were crowded with the newly rich, and were raking in the moolah. But that golden period is certainly over, though I don’t suppose the wrath of God is to be visited upon such dens of inequity anytime soon

If overt ego display is a must, at least be subtle about it; promote envy by all means, but never jealousy and resentment.

The first emotion is largely innocuous; the latter two, definitely corrosive. Prefer to evoke in others – excuse me for lapsing here into American English – the ‘aw, shucks’ rather than the ‘shock and awe’ response.

Is that only playing with words, I wonder? Or, is there really something substantive in that distinction that merits serious consideration? My answers are a ‘No’ and a ‘Yes’ respectively to those two questions.

Today’s column was to be a light-hearted affair. The intention was to do little more than blandly narrate the events of a pleasant evening, spent recently in a London casino. And here I am, starting with some off-beat speculation. Why?

Well, regular readers know my problem: once the decision is made to engage with even the most humdrum and mundane of matters, the process of marshalling one’s thoughts inevitably leads the mind to wander off into loosely connected and uncharted territory. The personal challenge is to then mould the ensuing ensemble of jumbled thoughts into some coherent form, in order to check for substance, sense, and sensibility. So, bear with me.

Vegas casinos cater primarily to the mass market. London casinos are small, select, and target the high rollers. If you are one of the favoured few, a chauffeured Rolls is available for a pick and drop; a gourmet dinner and grand cru classe libations are on the house; and other goodies, such as the best tickets for Lords, Wimbledon, and Ascot, complimentary. Luckily for me, the Godfather just so happens to fit that profile and, even though I rarely gamble, as an associate I am not averse to the comfy free ride on offer. Envious?

Twenty-five years ago, London casinos were crowded with the newly rich, and were raking in the moolah. But that golden period is certainly over, though I don’t suppose the wrath of God is to be visited upon such dens of inequity anytime soon, even if we accept Dr Shahid Masood’s meticulously researched conclusion that the ‘The End of Time’ is nigh.

How can I be so sure (not about Judgment Day stupid, but about London casinos no longer being a goldmine)? Well, neither the pride of the House of Krug –

the Clos de Mesnil – nor the Romanee-Conti, feature on current wine lists (though you may still order, should you wish, Dom Perignon and Chateau Mouton).

A bigger give away was the caviar. One casino served me sevruga, while another that did serve beluga, brought only a measured portion on a plate, instead of leaving a freshly opened can on the table. This comedown is surely indicative of leaner pickings, though no one, as far as I know, has considered it conclusive evidence for the imminent appearance on the scene of Dajjal.

Why do I narrate such trivia? It is to make that food junkie (and ex-DT columnist), Irfan Hussain, a little envious (but, hopefully, not jealous or resentful).

The casino we were visiting that night is a particular favourite of the Godfather, for a reason most would consider perverse. Many years ago, the freshly appointed Maitre d of the in-house restaurant made the serious error of not checking his credentials as a privileged customer before presenting him a large bill for payment, for our party of ten. The Godfather was somewhat surprised at this unexpected development (muttering only a “that’s odd” in a whispered aside) but he paid without batting the proverbial eyelid.

Only, on the spur of the moment, he found a novel way to express his displeasure: he added a tip that was larger than the bill. You can imagine the confusion this created. The result was a good deal of coming and going of managers to sort out matters, ending with the General Manager offering profuse apologies for the Maitre d’s mistake.

The apologies were accepted graciously, but not the return of the money. And, ever since, he takes great pleasure in embarrassing that casino (some embarrassment!) by insisting, despite vigorous protests every time, on paying and leaving a larger tip. I quietly envy his being able to afford the gesture.

On our most recent visit we were accompanied by a couple of young, new in town, Moroccan starlets, who were clearly excited by the casino ambience. The Godfather was having a lucky night at the roulette table, and he casually slipped them a few chips from his winnings during the play.

A little puzzled, they asked me in a whisper what these little round counters were for. So I marched them to the cashier’s booth, where the young man behind the grill gave me an envious and knowing wink as he handed them a fistful of crisp new 50-pound notes in exchange.

A little later, the younger of the two women, betraying a certain anxiety, said to the other she needs to leave soon if she was not to miss the last train to wherever she was staying. “Stay!” she was told firmly, in Arabic; “Have you not just been given enough money to take a taxi to Marrakesh and back, if necessary?” I nodded in silent approval.

And there I must draw a prudish veil over the rest of the evening and return to the thoughts expressed at the beginning of the column.

So, do you resent my idle, carefree, existence? I hope not. Are you jealous? Why should you be, when nothing I do is at your cost? Does it make you a little envious? That should be OK by both you and me. For if, as a result, you can daydream a little, I have only possibly added to (but certainly not subtracted from) the sum total of human happiness.

Why do you think people look indulgently upon the outrageous antics and excesses of film stars and celebrities, but are critical of ostentatious displays by certain other types? Have I made a good case for the distinctions I started the column with?

Damn and blast! Just as I was beginning to convince myself that the answer to that last question was in the affirmative, I remembered those wonderful closing lines of ‘Julius Caesar’, wherein Antony pays tribute to Brutus: “This was the noblest Roman of all; all the conspirators save only he did what they did in envy of great Caesar…..”

If I am right, the necessary inference must be that the master’s choice of the word ‘envy’, in that context, was infelicitous. As I am not presumptuous enough to shrug off a charge of lese majeste, I regretfully conclude that there is a serious flaw somewhere in my argument.

The writer is a businessman

Courtesy: Daily times, 30/4/2008

 Posted by at 5:41 pm

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