The age of Suhel Seth: Decoding the new bible of social climbing

Few can match the ubiquity of Suhel Seth, adman, branding guru, columnist, and self-appointed expert on all things. The Everywhere Man forever seeks the spotlight like moth to the flame. An analogy that gains new meaning in light of the recent Rs 200-crore ITC lawsuits taking Seth to task for his defamatory tweets against the company and its chairman YC Deveshwar.

Visibility has its price, as does incessantly shooting off your mouth. All of Seth's powerful friends will be hard-pressed to rescue him from this latest misadventure.

Love or revile him, however, Seth is not an anomaly but an emblem of our dizzyingly aspirational times. We are all toiling to move on up, up, and up, ceaselessly networking, schmoozing, and, yes, ass-kissing our way to the top. And for us lesser strivers, Seth — now also the native Dale Carnegie – has put together a handy manual titled Get to the Top: The Ten Rules for Social Success.

Suhel Seth, Casey Schwartz, Marie Brenner and Andrew Tobias attend a special screening of 'Ahead of Time' in New York City. Getty Images

Now, you can buy the book for a paltry Rs 250 or read Mihir Sharma's brilliant takedown of the same in Caravan – for free! No prizes for guessing which option we recommend. (For option two, read it here)

In 'The Age of Seth', Sharma wittily connects both Seth and his book to an India "where appearance is all and visibility substitutes for substance, every man is his own brand, and cultivating one's brand equity is the highest of virtues." Yet for all the palaver about the new egalitarianism of new India, the truly successful brand – i.e. persona – has to possess, or mimic, an old-world pedigree:

Like everyone who, born to the Nehruvian elite, nevertheless managed to survive the disorientation of the Manmohan decades, he is convinced that he has made it on his own ("Rajdeep and Arnab are self-made, like most of my friends"). Social success apparently has nothing to do with being from the best schools and meeting the best people at the best clubs ("I love the good things in life, and I have earned it the hard way"); no, he believes he is invited by famous people to their parties because he has "a strong stand on issues". The worst kind of circular reasoning is charmed circular reasoning. But if Seth could triumphantly crash the elite into which he was born, can not the rest of us learn from how he did it?

Suhel Seth believes this is a helpful instruction manual, therefore, on how to be Suhel Seth. For those of us with more modest ambitions, however, it is an indispensable document to the time in which we now live: an age in which India’s apparent entrepreneurial dynamism is being replaced with an economy structured around rent-seeking and the sifarishi sycophancy that it engenders, around the discreet sale and purchase of private information at a scale which would make Rajat Gupta shudder. An age—let us call it the Age of Seth—when a closed, Brahminical notion of public discourse appears to have died, but has actually only disguised itself as a culture that prizes mediocrity, insulated from challenge by the same walls of privilege that have protected it all along.

This is just a taste of a long, insightful essay in which Sharma goes on to deconstruct the many Suhelian rules of success, connecting them with Seth's own social climbing career and Suhelian era we live in. You can read the essay in its entirety here. Or, if you wish, buy Seth's bible for social success, here.

Updated Date: Nov 30, 2011 12:32 PM

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