Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Old is New Again

Bangalore's M.G. Road -- a namesake to make doti-clad Mr. Gandhi roll over in his grave--is the Oxford Circus of India. Lined with Tommy Hillfiger, Levis, Puma, and Ruby Tuesdays, the buzzy strip's watering hole du jour is the Hard Rock Cafe, predictably if mystifying bedecked with "SAVE THE PLANET" banners on its faux-castle-like exterior. Inside, waif-like girls in tank tops sipped cocktails, their bony elbows brushing boys in sunglasses. Phones trilled and evening plans were made.
My plans? To crash early and fly to Jaipur the next day on Kingfisher air, also The Hard Rock Cafe beer of choice. Kingfisher is India's answer to Virgin, the airline glamorized by daredevil businessman Richard Branson. Kingfisher CEO Vijay Mallya sports Branson-style rocker-rumpled hair and sunglasses and tells passengers in an on-air announcement how he carefully selects his flight crew. Indeed, they are immaculately turned out. Kingfisher stewardesses wear cheery cherry-red figure-hugging skirt suits and carry boxy 1960s-style totes in matching crimson--an enviable accessory that is unfortunately not for sale to dowdy passengers.
Even up in Jaipur, Rajasthan's dusky "pink city" of palaces, I noticed several new loudly-colored malls. The biggest emporium, fronting a busy traffic circle, featured a kind of amusement park with children bouncing up and down on a giant harness, like New York's trapeze school on the West Side Highway.
However, much of Jaipur still seems to operate around familiar North Indian landmarks: markets with oranges, cucumbers and limes piled high; women sitting sideways on the back of scooters their husbands pilot to pani poori snack stalls; tank-like Ambassadors hurling across roundabouts.

Fish were piled on wooden carts. For obvious reasons, one avoids fish in Rajasthan.


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