Saturday, April 21, 2007

New Town?

Suddenly, a lot seems to be happening in West Bengal. Why did I post a snap of the hoarding on top (and the ones below)? Well, because they seem to be symptomatic of a new resurgent Bengal. As any Bengali in his twenties will tell you, we grew up knowing that industry was leaving Calcutta. When we grew up, most industrial houses were relocating away due to the unionism and associated problems of a Communist government - the longest serving Communist government, elected for more than three decades! And somehow, in the last five years or so, the Red Guys seem to ahve woken up to the fact that agriculture and Marxism alone will not help the state.

So this is what you have: spiffy ad campaigns; closed door meetings with the captains of industry; reining in unions and granting land for SEZs. So there was on Singur and one Nandigram, but thankfully the government is not abandoning its policy. What's helped: the great IT boom and the great land boom.

So you have all these vast townships coming up on the northern and southern fringes of the main city. Places like Rajarhat and South City which were earlier just hamlets or even empty land, are suddenly teeming with skyscrapers and residential colonies.

And the mall culture is suddenly everywhere in Calcutta. When I left in 2001, there was just the Forum mall and 22 Camac Street (down there), the only two high profile mall addresses. Now, there are so many - springing up in all those new townships and even in new swanky addresses in the main city. Signs of a new resurgence? Indeed...

Perhaps the biggest sign of this, a rethink of Calcutta on India's consumer-map is the opening of Kentucky's Fried Chicken and McDonalds finally here. The fast food MNCs, much as we like to hate them, delayed opening shop in the city for years - so while Bangalore and Bombay saw multiple outlets, Calcutta saw none. When they finally opened, bang in uptown Park Street, it was interesting that these outlets have been the highest revenue earners for the MNCs in India. Calcuttans are clearly hungry! :)

But in a good way, as if to signal that the new Calcutta does not necessarily mean a break from the old, we have one of Park Street's oldest and most famous addresses due for a relaunch. The Skyroom is memorable for so many Indians, not just Calcuttans, who came here to dance and eat during the 60s and 70s. It was one of the most sought-after places to be seen at in those days, but then it fell to ruin due to (what else?) labour problems. The current owners however are opening the place all over again - and though the shutters are down today, you can hear the busy workers inside, working inexorably towards a brand new opening. :)

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