So, I've realized that India is going to shit, which is actually pretty sad. Actually, not India really, more like Calcutta is going to shit all around. It used to be that Calcutta was sort of the liberal, educated city in India (which is otherwise a pretty conservative country). There are a couple of reasons for that but generally it boiled down to the fact that it was a capital of British India (until the early 1900's...1911, I think?--when it changed to Delhi), and therefore got set up as a seat of educational, social, and political establishments. This obviously gave rise to a tradition of intellectualism, activism and general advocacy of such things...and when I was here last, there was still evidence of such things. Places like the College St. coffee house, where the major artists of the day were still thriving, and it was entirely possible to step in there, get set up with a cup and join some group of graduate students in heated (or unheated, for that matter) discussion about something not-completely-mundane. Even at the small tea stalls, there was always some discussion about something interesting happening. Bengalis even had a term for this kind of inpromptu discussion on politics, literature or the arts - adda. And it was considered a perfectly worthwhile way of passing a few hours on any given afternoon.
During most adda sessions on more society oriented subjects, it was general consensus that things like womens' rights, abolishing caste-ism, setting up stronger social/financial support networks for the disadvantaged (be they women, the poor, the handicapped, etc.), and enabling access to education for everyone were the way to go. Of course, we were all ridiculously idealistic and knew it but we all felt that one day when we had enough economic security, we would try and do something about...well, things.
Upon getting to Calcutta this time, everything seems ridiculously different. To begin with, there is a huge IT sector that's developing here...which brings with it technically skilled workers with fair amounts of disposable income. Of course, with more money circulating in Calcutta's economy, there is a larger market for upper end goods...which led to shopping malls with the latest fashions in exclusive little boutiques springing up, pricey coffee shops planting themselves anywhere there is ten square feet to spare and other things of that nature. And now, apparently by popular demand, we even have McDonalds...which, as ludicrous as it may sound, is something that really only the upper middle class can afford on anything resembling a regular basis around here.
On the other hand, places like the College St. coffee house, where the likes of Satyajit Ray used to hang out and do their thing are going into decline and becoming dilapidated and underpatronized. Walking through the nearest coffee shop, all one can hear around them are conversations about new fashions and whose boyfriend makes how much money, and etc. People have coupled off, instead of hanging out in groups. And if you walk into the nearest shopping mall, the teenybopper level seems to skyrocket.
All the friends I used to hang out with, and the random people I used to repeatedly run into have fled, mostly to the West but to other parts of India as well. And everyone I see around here just seems hopelessly materialistic (which I have my periods of, no doubt, but generally it doesn't really interest me to go shopping), and...teenybopperish. There is no other word really.
Hopefully, my group of cohorts and I will have a chance to come back and change things. Hopefully we will even want to a few years down the road. But if things continue the way they are now, I simply don't see myself caring enough.
...where it is still boring. And somewhat unseasonably cold, given that the mercury hasn't climbed over 90F since I've been here, which for March is exceedingly unusual.