India has turned me into a crier. I cried when I got Internet access on my phone, when I ate garlic bread on Thursday, when I saw the American flag at the Consulate, when I noticed the replica of the grotto at the church we attend, and when I heard a Backstreet Boys song at Kolkata’s South City Mall. My visit to the upscale shopping center on Sunday afternoon gave me a great perspective on how wealthy Kolkatans live.
The mall is a good ride from downtown. We passed a cricket stadium and training center on our cab ride and drove by a few quiet-looking high rise buildings. Traffic thinned drastically once we left the city center. We agreed that there were some neighborhoods in Kolkata that would be ok to live in, provided the buildings were thoroughly power-washed. Lots of the buildings here are painted pretty, beachy colors, and many of the older facades have ornate decorative work, but all of this is hidden beneath an accumulation of dust and grime.
The mall was really nice, even by American standards. It looked relatively new, too. The building is 4 stories tall and oval shaped. It has an attached movie theater and parking structure, and the top floor is a huge food court. We wandered through tons of stores and tried on some really beautiful Indian clothes. I am not built like the average Indian person–most of the styles didn’t really suit me. However, I found 2 gorgeous dresses from Indian designers and snapped them up. I also picked up 3 cheap v-neck tshirts from a store called Pantaloons (which I find hilarious), kind of a Macy’s-esque department store.
Over dinner at the food court, Liz, Cynthia, and I discussed how our afternoon was probably going to be the only time we ever felt filthy rich. We’d walk in to the fanciest boutiques, try on some clothes, and walk out with shopping bags, chattering about how cheap our purchases were. One of my dresses, the more expensive one, was 1800rs. That’s not even $40. What a deal! Conversion shopping is fun. We were also walking examples of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” today. The 3 of us were strolling around the mall in baggy white tshirts and Goodwill skirts, hair up, makeup off. I don’t think I would have left the house looking like that in the US, but that’s just every day in India. South City caters to the wealthy elite, so all the other customers were decked out in their finest Indian and Western duds. Some of the ladies in shops kind of gave us the up-down, but their dirty looks stopped when we made our purchases.
The mall had a surprisingly large selection of men’s clothing. Stores that catered to both genders nearly always carried more men’s styles. I think women still dress in traditional Indian fashions more so than men. It’s funny to see which brands are popular here. Some of the big ones I expected–Nike, Adidas, Reebok–but I would have never guessed that Lee (like the jeans), Puma, Playboy, and Wrangler would be such major players in the Indian market.
In one shop, we got started chatting with a woman and her 2 sons. It turned out that one of the boys is a rising senior at Boston University. The family has a home in Bergen County, New Jersey. When we asked what brought them to the US, the mom said, “Oh, my husband has a call center there. One in New Jersey, one in Delhi.” Talk about giving us a great view of the typical shopper at South City. This woman’s husband doesn’t work at the call center…he owns it.
The food court was a little weird, but we tried Indian food instead of going with Pizza Hut, KFC, or the old Notre Dame standby Subway. I had tandoori chicken and naan, my new favorite starch.
On the cab ride back to the guesthouse, we lamented spending so much money. We felt a little gluttonous and guilty, using money to exacpe into the air-conditioned haven of the mall for the afternoon, so we went down to the school for an hour before bed to play with the Rainbows. Getting dirty and sweaty outside helped us remember why we’re here and what we’re doing, although going to the mall for the afternoon was a welcome break from the poverty that has surrounded us since we arrived.