There are two cafes up my street: one Barista and the other CCD. I used both for my meetings. If I had to sit quietly in a corner and record something in my voice recorder, I would choose the CCD because tucked away in a corner of a shopping patio, I would complete my tasks and order for a cappuccino to celebrate my hard work. Often there would be a garlic toast. But the Barista which had a wall of glass overlooking the street with trees that have grown old with the street and its houses, casting a canopy of shade in the summer forenoons would usually be the venue for meetings or to take a break from the household chores and answer those long calls of just chatting friends up. The Barista remains there still, having withstood the Covid shutdown, but the CCD is gone, given way to yet another upstart eating place where food prepared without grace costs nearly as much as three-fold the CCD prices. Surely, the place is mostly unoccupied. This is what development of cities do to us and the businesses all around.
As cities develop, rentals go up, shops those which sell cheap and in high volumes give way to shops with highly priced goods, lower footfalls and hence less staff. The worst hit are the medicine shops in our locality for they have disappeared giving way to designer bags and purses; these will scoot in a while too, giving way to even bigger brands with higher prices and even less footfalls. High rents increase the cost of holding stocks; hence stocks of essentials are replaced by stocks of those goods where the margins are higher, even if customers are less. Most medicine shops I visit these days, irrespective of whether it is Delhi or Calcutta, stocks seem to be always wanting. The margins and the customers must attain a magic number with the rent paid for the shop. Marketeers in pharmacy companies price their products in this way. Therefore, in the newly developed areas in terms of housing projects which are off the limits of the city, shops do better, and it is common to find franchisees or branches of the famous city shops doing brisk business in the peripheral townships. Not only the medicine shops but even stores that were more traditional like the Suruchi café, Dasa Prakash and others. It is common to see shops those were at the heart of the city move towards the newly developed suburbs pulled violently within the city limits.
Development in cities often suffocate the erstwhile localities and shift the focus outwards into what would for so long constitute the outskirts. The development of the Calcutta in the 1930’s saw the shift of influence from the heart of Bagh Bazaar and Bow Bazaar towards Ballygunje. The hub of influence from Bowbazaar which housed Raja Rammohan Roy, P.C Ray, Jagadish Bose, Satyen Bose and Michael Madhusudan Dutta and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay moved to Subhas Bose in Elgin Road, Naren Deb in Hindustan Park, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay near Deshapriya Park, Jatin Das in Southern Avenue. Satyajit Ray’s shift from Garpaar to central Kolkata and to Rajani Sen Road in his imagination is a sign how the development of cities bring about shifts in centres of influence and indeed of culture. The Bengali cultures of the northern hub of the city and those of Ballygunje are almost as different as chalk and cheese. The culture shifts also changed fortunes of the theatre, nature of goods circulating in shops, with a distinct fall in the standards of medical treatment and the scientific talents of the people. The scientific culture which includes a high level of political consciousness settled into a somewhat apolitical artistry, from the culture of producing economies and institutions to cultures which consumed what emerged out of the above mentioned.