Dr. Mahul Brahma’s Luxe Inferno is a philosophical quest for luxury
What is your interpretation of Dante’s hell in the book?
Luxe Inferno is a very unique mix of fiction and non-fiction, say ‘faction’, exploring the depths of the inferno as well as the heights of dazzle. It is a philosophical quest for the true meaning of luxury. It has two parts that capture a mix of Yin and Yang of luxury. The first part is fiction and narrates a philosophical story of a luxe-o-holic through the nine circles of inferno of luxe, finally reaching the purgatory and maybe the Paradiso. But whether he is able to actually make it is for the reader to find out. The second part comprises commentary based on my research that spans over a decade. It explores the various facets of this dynamic subject of luxury classified into three segments – strategy, brands, and perception.
What was the thought of retaining the names Dante and Virgil in your inferno?
I have retained the names as well as the roles of the two protagonists. This is a homage to Dante’s immortal creation so I wanted to remain as close to the original story as I could. These two characters give the reader an idea of how luxury can take over your entire life and get the better of you. Dante is an upstart journalist who is introduced to the world of luxury by his editor Virgil. He resists at first but slowly he gets a taste of luxury as if it was already in his blood, a part of him that becomes his whole identity.
He gets sucked into the nine circles of the hell of luxury, which is my interpretation of Dante’s inferno. While Dante falls into the hell and goes deeper into it, so does Virgil. Virgil chooses his own hell and falls deeper into it. But neither was aware they are so deeply sucked into it. While in Dante’s life a turn of events opens his eyes to reality and so he tries his best to move towards the purgatory. But Virgil’s ego never lets him escape the inferno.
Now, why suddenly was this choice Dante Alighieri’s hell in describing something as beautiful as luxury?
A few years back, during my visit to Florence, I was exposed to Sandro Botticelli’s work. I learned about his Mappa dell’ Inferno or Map of Hell, which was one of the parchments that he had designed to illustrate ‘The Divine Comedy’. The Map of Hell parchment shows the geography of hell in the classical funnel section, which was used in later iconography. The parchment was painted by Botticelli between 1480 and 1490, with the technique of the silver tip.
I have always been an avid lover of Dante’s creation but somehow this painting very strongly reminded me of a quest for the true meaning of luxe. So further exploring the darkness of this dazzle of luxury I found it has a beautiful connection with the journey of Dante as described in ‘The Divine Comedy’. I critically went through the entire poem, researching its background and various interpretations of the inferno so as to find an interpretation of my own. It was a great journey into the world of Dante as well as of Sandro Botticelli.
There is a darkness that safely hides behind this beauty and dazzle of luxury and I was convinced that Inferno was the best way to capture this philosophical journey. And thus Luxe Inferno was born. As I said, to be true to the journey I have named the protagonists Dante and Virgil, with the latter guiding him through the hell of luxury. During my research on this subject for over a decade I have seen that people choose to remain superficial when it comes to luxury. They are happy with the dazzle, the exorbitant price tags. My fight as a luxury commentator was to delve deeper to understand luxury beyond this price tag so that luxury’s appeal can be made more inclusive rather than exclusive.
I started exploring this lacuna. So the first thing I did was to remove this veil of dazzle to understand it better. After two books and many columns as my own journey matured, I thought of looking at luxury in a more philosophical way.
My objective is to share that deeper and holistic understanding with the world through my writings and thus the hell of luxury.
Is The Luxe Trilogy a single story? If not, why is it a trilogy and not separate books?
All the books are separate reads and have their independent identities. The Luxe Trilogy comprises Decoding Luxe, Dark Luxe and Luxe Inferno. Decoding Luxe traces the history of the evolution of luxury from the time of the Maharajas, giving a strategic perspective to the subject and a deeper understanding beyond the myopic concept of price tag-luxury. ‘Dark Luxe’, on the other hand, is an anthology of 13 short stories on luxury and crime, dealing with the darkness that hides behind the veil of luxury. It gives you a peek into the depths to which human minds can reach, luxury being a silent witness and sometimes accessory. The first book was a work of non-fiction and the second fiction. The third book, ‘Luxe Inferno’ as I said has a more philosophical approach towards this subject. It is a journey deep into the human mind and its labyrinths.
While these books hold their own and are independent reads, together they carve a holistic story of luxe. A story that is written in fiction, non-fiction, and faction. This story takes readers to a voyage to the heights of opulence as well as the depths of inferno. The idea also is to take an academic route to make luxury more inclusive, rather than exclusive as well as myopic. Books on luxury have never moved beyond ‘price tags’ and thus have never done justice to the subject.
So, The Luxe Trilogy in its own unique way tells a complete story of luxe.
What is the objective of the second part of the book that deals with your commentaries? What have you have classified them into brand, strategy, and perception?
Once the reader is through the philosophical quest for luxury in the first part I wanted to make him/her understand better three critical aspects of luxury – brand, strategy, and perception. These essays or commentaries help understand these aspects better from a contemporary perspective and deal with a deeper meaning of luxury. So you will have commentaries ranging from luxe aura to legacy of luxe, from millennial millionaires to subliminal marketing, from aspirations to philosophy of branding desire. These commentaries are based on my decade-old research and insights into this dynamic and mesmerizing world of luxury.
You have illustrated the book. I believe this is your maiden effort. How was the experience?
Illustrations have always played a key role in my books as they help in understanding the subject or the story better. So this time I chose to extend my storytelling format from only writing to include an illustration. As Luxe Inferno is a faction so the illustrations were needed for both fiction and non-fiction. This was a real challenge. The biggest advantage was that I knew exactly what was needed so it turned out to be a great learning experience to be able to capture the essence of a story both in fiction and non-fiction.
About the Author: Dr. Mahul Brahma is a luxury commentator, columnist and author of The Luxe Trilogy – three books exploring the world of luxury. Dr. Brahma is a journalist-turned-an award-winning communication and CSR leader with a Tata group company.