BRIEF CASE: Ode to Indolence
5 Jul 2007, 0051 hrs IST, Skand Shukla
The characteristic that differentiates Allahabad from all other cities in India is indolence. A laid-back attitude is cause and effect of the city's life. This ambience perhaps made this city give to the world many renowned philosophers and litterateurs. Government offices and the university give sustenance to economy and culture in this city of babus. The ubiquitous tea shops that line the roads have immense socio-economic importance. These are the places where students who throng the city with the dream to make it big in life undergo socialisation. These tea shops are to Allahabad what pubs and discotheques are to Pune and Mumbai. Here our middle class 'chills out'. Sitting on wooden benches beneath the tamarind and pipal trees, they discuss weighty social and political issues, cast an appreciative glance at beauties passing by while sipping sweet, syrupy tea from small 'kulhars'. The impersonal market system of the modern economy has not swamped the city yet. Tailors, barbers and grocers still have personal equations with their clients, not only in suburban mohallas but also in upmarket Civil Lines. The paanwala knows what his regular customers prefer. The leaf used and the proportion of kattha, chuna and zarda is tailored to the specific tastes of each customer, often without prompting. He must have an elephantine memory given that his regulars run into hundreds. Paan shops are great levellers. Everybody, irrespective of his social standing gets the same treatment at the shop. The other great equalisers are the cycle rickshaws that are by far the most popular means of public transport in Allahabad. The few autorickshaws that are seen are a recent phenomenon, as the city has spread a little beyond the Ganges in Phaphamau and Jhunsi, and beyond the cantonment in Sulemsarai. But they are not happy additions. How can the smoke-bellowing cramped autorickshaw ever compete with the happy informality offered by the cycle rickshaw? One is afraid though that things are changing. The Mughlai paratha and egg roll at The Moghals, or at Meals on Wheels, are making way for the fare served by multinational eateries like McDonald's. But given Allahabad's love affair with local traditions, new entrants are unlikely to wipe out the golden oldies like Coffee House, Netram, Sulakhi and Hari Namkeen. Rapid change is for others. In Allahabad, we like taking our time.