Friday, November 24, 2006

A for orange

Earlier this week I spent two days in the only large Indian city I hadn't yet visited (at least, not since I was 3): Kolkata. It was too short a trip to expect much, and most of it was spent in a hotel on Chowringhee Road. I'm not sure what I expected. I didn't expect streets littered with dying beggars (an image bequeathed the world by Mother Teresa) and I didn't find that. I did expect to hear much bong spoken everywhere (I've been surrounded by the species all my life), and I didn't find that either. Passers-by, hotel attendants, everyone seemed to be speaking Hindi. And as for the writing -- shop signs and advertisements -- nearly all of it was in English. I see much more written Tamil in Chennai, or written Hindi or Marathi in Mumbai, than written Bangla in Kolkata -- at least, in those streets I actually passed through.

I wonder what the reason is. I could only think of:
1. The advertisers there haven't yet learned that people who don't read English do often have significant purchasing power
2. People there who don't read English do not actually have significant purchasing power
3. Bengalis who don't read English can't read Bangla either.
4. Bengalis are now a minority in Kolkata.

I find (1) the most likely. At any rate, I hope that is the answer.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the chance to learn anything much about the city. But I expect the opportunity will come. At quick glance, it did look like the kind of city I can live in.


Tabula Rasa said...

glad you liked it.

5th possibility: you only visited the posh downtown area?

Abi said...

"... it did look like the kind of city I can live in."

Does it really mean what I think it means?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

tr - yes that's possible, but there was the drive from/to the airport. Admittedly it didn't take long to get out of the city and there wasn't much sign of life on the highway.

Besides, even in posh downtown areas in other cities, you see local-language advertising these days. Especially for mobile phones, but also other things.

abi - what do you think it means? I re-read it and can't think of any "strange" connotations it may have. I meant I'd probably enjoy living there more than, say, in Delhi or today's Bangalore.

Tabula Rasa said...

i see, interesting.

yes, i'd wondered along similar lines :-)

Nirmalya Nag said...

Some people think if you wear dhoti or sari and not a pair of jeans, you are unsmart.

Some people think if you do not convey your message in English, you are not modern.

Sadly, these some people forget the
fashion statement of Chidambaram, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee or Simi Garewal, who wear dhoti and sari.

And, your fourth one is a correct observation.

Anonymous said...

Bengalis aren't prickly about their language, only their culture and their 20th century "heroes" and "intellectuals" such as the Master of All Subjects, Amartya Sen; and the "revolutionary" Jyoti Basu. Bengalis really don't mind if you don't know their language and will gladly help you, not only in Calcutta, which most outsiders mistake for West Bengal, but also in other parts of the State. So also with Malayalis and the Telugus. Kannadigas and TamizhargaL are locked in a race to the bottom of competitive parochialism. While the Kazhagams every now and then organise cultural conquests (actually Nazi-like orgies of violence) firebombing the Hindi Prachar Sabha and blacking out signboards in Hindi, the Kannada Chaluvaligaru, destroy English typewriters and shut down theatres showing Tamizh movies!

Also the law is a little different. Unlike Madras, Bangalore, and Bombay, Calcutta and Hyderabad IIRC don't have any rule requiring signboards to be in the local language also/only.

All the four possible reasons you have listed even if founded on fact aren't relevant. Business people have a strong instinct for survival. If they are in business you can be sure they know what they are doing. People recognise a word-mark or logo and know what it stands for even if they can't read it. And that is reinforced by the shopkeeper's sales talk, ads on TV, and hoardings. Marketing is very dynamic you know?

Anonymous said...


Chidambaram, Buddho'da and Simi aren't the only ones who are dressed traditionally. And have you forgotten the fun we all used to make about the dhotis of some other politicians? OK now leave alone English. Are homegrown politicians (educated in India) any lesser than Harvard/Cambridge/LSE/Inner Temple trained politicians?