The teeming cities of South Asia I think I will now always associate with this acridity of the air, which mercifully today has nonetheless been light and cool. It might almost be called refreshing, if you somehow ignore the omnipresent and insistent charred notes mixed with something earthier.The resulting light is also strange; you are always straining your eyes to make out hazy shapes in the half darkness of no streetlights and dusty clouds, or else squinting to see through the blinding glare of a single functioning headlamp accompanied by the blare of klaxons and the roar of motorized impatience. Always straining and squinting, and trying not to breath too deeply or slip off the shallow, pitched seat of the rickety rickshaw. Must not let anything fall out of one’s grasp, or venture limbs too far off the spatial footprint of the carriage, and even that strategy often seems risky, what with oncoming traffic and swerving mad dashes across highways, racing against trailer trucks and buses. It’s also strange how the strength of the headlamps can throw certain details into such stark relief, making a surreal dream sequence of hazy silhouettes contrasted against a chiascuro dirt road.
Am thinking about consumerism, after walking about a dusty mile in dress boots in search of a supermarket as malls are plunged into intermittent darkness by brownouts, or fuses being blown or something. I failed to find one, so have not been able to buy pseudo necessities like tissue and more genuine necessities like breakfast and bottled water. I suppose I always imagined India to be more like China – masses of destitute juxtaposed against gleaming icons designed by Herzog & de Meuron, ancestral villages displaced to build glittering malls filled with flagship stores for Zara and Banana Republic. Indeed I did walk by and into malls boasting what I think to be outrageously expensive stores and restaurants–that is in relation to the products (e.g. United Colours of Benetton, Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste, Friday’s) mixed with more reasonable yet still definitely “lifestyle” brands (The Body Shop, Nike, Pizza Hut, Subway). But still, the dismal appearance of the international airport (currently undergoing much-needed renovations) and the general state of affairs tells a very different story. I have to say that I am both completely spoilt by, and wholeheartedly approve of, the sort of full-spectrum consumer-oriented array of goods you find in Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. Of course there should be dozens, if not hundreds of salty snacks available at any corner 7-11–quick game, name 3 types/brands for each country of origin: Japan, Australia, China, US–and at least as many chocolate-involving snacks.
Or at least if I’m going to have to be thrown into a development/environment/social studies mental mode then I shouldn’t have to straddle the divide between business-class travel and NGO-budget housing.