The Overnight Millionaire

From earning Rs.6000 a month (roughly $120) as a computer operator in a government program, Sushil Kumar became a millionaire in just over an hour. The stage, of course, was the game show – Kaun Banega Crorepati. All he had to do was answer 13 questions. And with a combination of pluck, bravura, and insane risk taking, he had vaulted into a space that most people wait a lifetime for. When he arrived in Mumbai to participate with his wife and two brothers in tow, they traveled by train. Now, he can charter a plane back.

Everything had changed. With most participants, the small talk is all cut out and Amitabh Bachchan gets down to the business of quizzing and handing people their mini fortunes at the drop of a hat. With dizzying speed, people go from zero to a few lakhs. That’s the norm. Then they arrive at a question which stumps them and they bow out, rather than risk what they won so easily. The classic behavior that defines humans across the world. But this was different. It could be argued that the questions were in subjects he was familiar with. He was not asked who won the Nobel prize for mathematics in 1979, for example. But to get to the lifeline and then take the plunge at a time when the difference was between getting to Rs 5 Crores ( That’s 8333 months of earnings at his current salary level or approx 694 years) and dropping to Rs 1.6 lakhs if he was wrong took a lot of guts. Sushil Kumar claimed that he always lacked the confidence to do anything – that it was his brothers who egged him on. But once he was in a position to take the risk, he found the courage.

He will need a lot of it going forward. There are already reports about extortion threats and a retinue of investment advisors and charlatans who will make a beeline to carve out their slice of his pie. From being someone whom nobody gave a second look, he will become the object of intense envy and jealousy. He has just pole vaulted into the world he knows nothing about. Most lottery winners end up losing their bounty in a few short years. They have no way of figuring out how to invest and make their money grow. But lottery winners have the cloak of anonymity. This was a ‘millionaire moment’ in the full glare of the arc lights. The new millionaire will discover that money brings just as many problems as it solves. He has nowhere to hide and his simple dreams can become astronomical nightmares as well.

The final moments of winning were riveting. No director could have coaxed those hundreds of emotions that flicked across his face when he was forced to decide on the final step. The sweaty hands were not in the studio alone. And even though the outcome had been splashed across newspapers several days before it was telecast, there was no let up in the tension. Enter stage as a pauper and exit as a prince. For a few short moments, millions of viewers felt their pulses race in unison.