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“What do you want” the fifth annoying hawker in five minutes asks me. “I can get you anything.” “Guns” I reply. “Is there a gun shop around here.” “Toy guns,” inquires the hawker, scratching his rather long nose. “No, no real guns, high caliber sniper rifles, damn airport lost mine, the kind that will take a man down at 500 yards, can’t trust anybody these days, airports heh” I sigh with frustration. “You will need a license in India for those sir”. “Surely not, surely there must be a shop around here someplace,” I peer into a bag shop, the shopkeeper smiles at me expectantly. “ Would you like silk scarves sir, I have a shop just here” the hawker tries to steer me into a silk scarf shop. “What caliber are they?” “What?” “What caliber are your silk scarves?” “No sir these are silk scarves, export quality.” “Well they are not really what I am after, thank you for your time.” I walk off into the crowd leaving a rather bemused hawker with his silk scarves.

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Calcutta is a shopping paradise. It has streets that would rival Oxford Street or 52nd street. Shop, shop, shop. Consumerism is here and middle class India loves to shop. Actually Calcutta is very much like New York. With its Ambassador yellow cabs, Park Street could easily be 1930s Broadway. The architecture though is distinctly colonial and in fact the British truly have left their mark here. The Maidens (large grass areas) provide all sorts of clubs – cricket, badminton, polo and the Kennel Club are all here. All very la di da.

 

Fancy coffee shops sit next to record shops and book stores that are awash with self help books – the secrets of life, how to become rich in 10 days, yoga for people that can’t be bothered, Mein Kamph, and other light reading. India is on the rise and there is plenty of advice as to how you can retain your spiritual self, make other people wealthy and ignore the realities that surround you.

 

The middle classes are the new India, consumerism is on the up, India’s future is there on the smiling faces of its shopkeepers. Turn a corner though and you are into the other India. Chah wallahs, street food, pissing in the street, people sleeping rough and rickshaw wallahs that don’t even have the luxury of a bicycle. So don’t worry there is still a high enough level of poverty to keep old India alive for a few decades yet.

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Now where can I buy rocket launchers.

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