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Welcome to Kolkata Shining

The picture of Kolkata you are likely to see is no different from that of urban metropolitan India -- young, shiny, happy people in malls on a weekday, multiplexes oozing warm-popcorn smell, coffee bars with jukeboxes where you can buy airtime for your favourite Sting song or chart-scorcher remix.

Correction, you will see more. You will see a mall that can impress even the most hardened mallphobic (if the species has not become extinct already), the sprawling Salt Lake City Centre, spread over 22 acres, with a fountain in the middle and a memorabilia shop shaped like a 19th century tram cart.

Built for Rs 120 crore by the Bengal Ambuja Metropolitan Development Authority, a joint venture between Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority and Gujarat Ambuja Cements, and designed by Charles Correa, it is more Delhi Haat than a Mumbai mall.

There are many such shopping complexes - perhaps none so good-looking - in Kolkata, because 'Marxist mall' is not an oxymoron anymore. The retail therapy panacea for all urban ills has arrived here too.

This is the new Kolkata of the real estate boom, of an information technology Hulk beginning to realise its powers, whose architect West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is being looked upon as the Gorbachev of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

This is the new Kolkata where huge hoardings of Buladi - an Ogilvy & Mather amti-AIDS campaign along the lines of Balbir Pasha in Mumbai - warn people: 'The urge may come anytime, always carry a condom.'

This is now an old story.

Text and Photographs: Sumit Bhattacharya

Also See: A new Bengal, rising in Howrah

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