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23 June 2008

Why are there no umbrellas in Kolkata?

I SPENT the whole evening looking for an umbrella in the city, and I went home finding none.

I can't believe that stores in Kolkata, let alone the more cosmopolitan southern part of the city, do not stock on umbrellas. I first went to the veritable grande dame of department stores, Shoppers Stop, but they have no parasol to sell. I then visited a row of sports houses, and there are no umbrellas. I tried Samsonite: none (which makes sense: if you travel in planes, why need an umbrella?). Then the trendy casual brands around Theatre Road and Elgin Road: apparently, umbrellas are not that trendy. Then finally to Sumangal The Man's Store—yes, Virginia, they do call them these way—where the store manager met me with a quizzical stare. Perhaps it's not man enough to carry an umbrella in Kolkata, ya?

Not that I badly need one, as I still have the blue five-foot manual umbrella from my days in Mumbai. But in Kolkata, you don't need a five-foot umbrella. You need a more compact one, possibly a folding one, to avoid it from getting squished by the massive humanity of the streets. Or avoid it from squishing the massive humanity of the streets.

For a city that literally disappears under the four-month torrent of monsoon rains, not finding an umbrella is almost a crime. Don't the Kolkatans leave the house during the rains? If they do leave the house, how do they manage not getting wet? Or do they actually enjoy getting drenched? At the Tommy Hilfiger store, I asked the sales associate, "Where do you buy your umbrella?”

“I don't have one.”

“How do you leave the house during monsoon?”

“I get one from home.”

“Where did that umbrella come from?”

“From home.”

Not wanting to return to the hospital for hypertension, I decided to give up the search for the elusive umbrella. Perhaps the older bazaars downtown have some fuddy-duddy made-in-China stuff: let me check them this weekend.

That is, if it doesn't rain this weekend!

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