Palash Krishna Mehrotra
A salesgirl assists a customer at a supermarket in Allahabad.
I’m walking down the swanky new suspension bridge across the Yamuna in Allahabad. I’m not sure if the view from the bridge is spectacular but it’s certainly impressive. As I lean on the railing, I can see the outline of Akbar’s fort on the left, while the lush green riverbank, dotted with grazing cows and goats, winds along to the right. There’s a lone boat on the river, the waters of which are polluted, but from my vantage point on the bridge, it looks pretty, a silver black sheet, somewhat like tin foil. The army has thoughtfully placed benches here, all of them facing away from the Yamuna. If you sit on one of these, you will have, for view, a long and high wall. A dog stands on a bench, tail to the wall, looking at the river.
The word adidas outlet majestic is usually reserved for bigger animals like tigers, but there’s something unmistakeably majestic about this dog on the bench, his wet nose turned upwards, his eyes fixed on the silver waters, his tail still as a leaf. Further up they’ve built an amphitheatre on the riverbank, a nice idea, but for now it is overrun with locals taking pictures with their cell phones. The strip of land between the amphitheatre and the Yamuna is clogged with polythene bags and wet rubbish.
Accompanying me on my walk is an old friend, Amit, a doctor, who returned to Allahabad after spending a few years in Bangalore and Bombay. He doesn’t care for cities much, though that’s not the reason he came back. His father passed away, his mother was all by herself and wanted him around. One day, he says, he will build a cottage in the hills and live there. For now, he has a job teaching in the local medical college.
A conference has just concluded at the medical college, a gathering of pathologists from all over the country. Amit has been helping out, showing the delegates around the city. They were not too impr adidas outlet essed. ” Why is this city so rundown?” was a frequent question. I’m not so sure about rundown, but Allahabad certainly has a rural air to it. On the bridge I see two men squatting in the middle of the bicycle lane. One man is trying to fix his bicycle chain, while the other chats with him desultorily, one ear glued to a small transistor. It’s a common sight.
? I’m not sure. There’s the new bridge for one, the new amphitheatre, and in Civil Lines, the heart of town, two malls have come up. Two more are in the pipeline. Twenty years after economic liberalisation, downtown Allahabad is finally beginning to take on the trappings of new India: a fourscreen PVR which shows the latest Hollywood movies in English, a video game arcade, see through lifts, multi floor parking, unisex salons, a Caf Coffee Day outlet where I’m told Hindi film music is prohibited as a matter of company policy, though that doesn’t stop Allahabadis from demanding it. An enterprising local businessman has opened shop next to CCD, selling Nirvana and Eminem and Che t shirts, As I walk around the two malls, I notice more girls hanging out, more than when I was growing up. More couples too, again a new thing, for the mall provides safety and security. The same couples wh adidas outlet o would have earlier scootered down to the outskirts, away from prying provincial eyes, are now comfortable being seen with each other in the downtown. They get used to it quickly though, and soon the girls are asking for waves and curls and tints, oblivious to the pimply boys in stonewash jeans sitting behind them who look more embarrassed. One boy plucks up the courage to ask for a spiky haircut. Within minutes, his bhaiya sideparting vanishes, and is replaced with a style that resembles a porcupine in attack mode. I later ask the owner where the hairdressers come from and he says from Habib’s institute in Delhi. Once the training is over they can be sent anywhere in the country. Many dislike being ‘ posted’ to Allahabad but then someone has to do the dirty job of giving small town India a makeover.
The small town is where the purchasing power is. For those migrating here from the surrounding villages, Allahabad is very much the city of lights.
They might look rustic, the boys in fake leather jackets, the girls with tight, oiled pigtails, their mothers covering their heads modestly with their saris, but they have money in their pockets, and it’s this money which gives them the confidence to enter the mall.
I observe one family closely: father, mother and two sons. From the moment they step inside, they are obviously bedazzled.
They tilt their heads and look up at all the floors, catch me looking at them. It’s like they’ve lettuce stepped into a new country.
Soon they are walking around, taking in the sights: Pantaloons, Levis Signature, McDonald’s.
The brothers go and sit next to Ronald and their father takes a picture with his phone.
By now I have turned into a mall stalker. I’m right behind them as the family strolls into Big Bazaar. They look comfortable here among the packets of flour, boxes of cheap socks, bags of Kurkure, hundreds of tubes of Colgate. A brand new Spencer’s has opened recently. It caters to an upmarket clientele, which this family will no doubt soon be a part of. I ask the manager if anyone buys this stuff here and he says the footfalls are few, for they just opened, but are increasing. He tells me, ” This is just one floor. You should see the Spencer’s in Gorakhpur. It is twice as big and always packed.” I will be leaving Allahabad soon, and fix up to meet with Amit at Caf Coffee Day, say goodbye. We get talking about Bihar and U. P. Amit says: Bihar, once it hit rock bottom, had no choice but start crawling back up the barrel. U. P. though is different, and stuck in the middle somewhere. The graph rises and falls by turns. Just last month, armed men held up a new D’damas store, a stone’s throw away from the malls in Civil Lines. When the owner resisted they shot him dead. It was only eight in the evening.
He adidas outlet brings along with him a friend, another doctor, who grew up and studied in Allahabad.
He’s been practicing in London for the last five years. He is an only child and his parents would prefer it if he came back. He can’t make up his mind. The rustic air and the undercurrent of violence get to him. A mall doesn’t make a city, he says. Besides, he has a baby daughter now. He wouldn’t want her to grow up here.