Ian Jack: Will Walmart Cause The Death Of Traditional Indian Life?
The country's street sellers will almost certainly vanish once foreign supermarkets are allowed into the big cities.
Certain habits in Indian life once gave an illusion of permanence. On hot afternoons 30 years ago, for example, you could lie on your bed under a slow-turning fan and hear noises from the street that had been the same for at least a century. The lonely wife in Satyajit Ray’s film Charulata heard them in the film’s celebrated opening sequence as she flitted about her Victorian mansion in 1870’s Calcutta like a trapped butterfly, and in 1982 you could hear them still: some rhythmic chanting, the hollow patter of a little drum. And if, like Charulata, you went to the window and looked down, there in the dusty lane you would see a gang of coolies shouting something like a work-song as they pushed a wooden-wheeled cart with a heavy load, or a street entertainer drumming up business with his tabla. The most common sounds, however, were the singsong calls of peddlers selling fish or vegetables, or milky sweets and ancient biscuits from a portable glass case. Some salesmen rode bicycles; that transport apart, these were scenes that looked as if they had existed for centuries and would never be expunged by modernity.
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