Travel east to west down south Calcutta's main artery. The one that links the round traffic island from Ruby Hospital to Alipore. Once you cross Bijon Setu, the flyover spanning the train tracks of Ballygunj Station and enter the chaos of the Gariahat area, you will see a rather remarkable sight: jewellery shops in quick, crowded succession.
Being a bit of a nitpicker (do they also term that anal?, I decided to count how many such shops there were over two days of travelling that road. On the left, between the flyover and the Gariahat crossing, there are 42. On the right, 36. From Gariahat to the Rash Behari Avenue and SP Mukherjee crossing, there are 28 jewellery shops on the left. I haven't actually bothered to count the number on the right. From the last named crossing to Chetla bazar, there are another 11 on the left, and about 18 on the right. That's when you almost reach Alipore. They don't need jewellery shops in Alipore. The denizens of this upscale area wear and possess enough to be classified as mobile jewellery displays themselves. In Alipore they mainly have outlets that sell all sorts of edibles. And banks. With locker facilities.
Now why there should be 135 jewellery shops on a 3-4 kilometre stretch of road is anybody's guess. And they say that Calcutta's citizens are poor. That, as a thumb rule, the "market" in Calcutta is depressed, down, accounting for about 20% or less of all-India sales figures for consumer goods. Yet Mr Biyani of Pantaloons, probably India's most successful, home-grown and fastest growing retail chain, has gone on record to state that he considers Calcutta to be the retail capital of India. What? Aren't we the poor cousins?
I decided that if I must torture myself, I might as well do it to the max. An initial guesstimate tells me that there are about that many pharmacies, medical laboratories, clinics and similar medically related outlets along the same stretch of road. Their density levels per square feet are perhaps not as glutinous as the jewellery shops but they exist. And at this point, I also need to make a note that all these shops seem to be doing well from outside appearances.
The third phase of my informal survey shows that there are thrice the numbers quoted above of eating establishments of all sizes, shapes and quality on that very same length of road.
So what is it with us Bongs? Eat as if there's no tomorrow, buy jewellery to flash at those who have none, (and those who have too much to prove that we too have it), and then go to to the medical establishments for our cure-alls and panacea to overcome or suppress the sensations and symptoms that arise from over-indulgence and overextended credit lines? That is as good an explanation as any! If you have a better one, I'd love to hear it.