Town mouse visits India

London seems quiet after Kolkata, where I stayed in the restorative Tollygunge Club, an oasis of green fairways and white stucco-although the 5-and-a-half-mile taxi ride into the centre was conducted at full volume. The ancient Ambassador taxis throbbed. Through open windows -no air conditioning-came the peep, parp and snarl of motor horns, the shrill whistles of traffic policeman and the clang of decrepit trams. Clamour is encouraged.

Lorries bear the slogan ‘Horn Please’, so that the small fry of the road aren’t crushed when the vehicle swerves. From the map, it seemed that I could walk around most of the buildings of the Raj, disposed around an open area about the size of Hyde Park. Impossible. Even in the cool, dry season, it’s too hot. The pavements present another danger. From the attentions of traders, you might as well be carrying a sandwich board: ‘Man in need of pashmina.’

Walking space is occupied by food shacks, tempting the senses to play Russian roulette with the digestive system. Water wallahs carry battered cans suspended from poles on their shoulders. How grey London looks-except for the colours that now blaze from ethnic garments I may never have courage to wear outside the house.

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