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India as Superpower

India and China will take the place of America and Japan. And the Americans themselves are saying it. But does this mean that there would be caviar on every dining table and a bungalow for every family?

India is the flavour of the future. The momentum is building up and the world is watching. In another quarter century, India and China will take the place of America and Japan-anyway, that is what we are told. And the Americans themselves are saying it. Does this mean that all our problems will be over?

Will there be caviar on every dining table, a bungalow for every family and five-star holiday for every honeymooning couple?

Perhaps there will be no more waiting for hours at bus stops, no strap hanging in suburban trains. And, of course there will be five-course meals at single-course prices.

This is what I expected when I arrived in London for the first time at the close of the second world war, almost exactly sixty years ago, almost a lifetime. Britain was after all the world's first super-power and had been so for over a century.

I expected London roads to be paved with all that gold they had looted from us, and every Londoner in dandy three-piece suit. Surely it was the least one could expect of an imperial capital on which the sun dare not set.

There was no gold in the streets and no three-piece suits. Of course, I had arrived at the wrong time but even then I was not prepared for what I found. I had taken a bed-sitting room in a place called Walham Green, only three or four miles away from the bright lights of West End and the splendour of Westminster, the very heart of a great empire.

There was only one bathroom in the house and there was no bath in the bathroom. We had to go to public baths, about half a mile away, for our weekly bath which cost us one shilling.

And then trudge back to the bed-sitting room shivering all the way. Ours was not the only house without a bath, most houses in Walham Green, and possibly quite a lot in other parts of imperial London, were bathless.

Children without shoes roamed the streets and old women without overcoats. There was very little food in the shops-often no food at all. We had to scrounge for our daily bread-literally, going from shop to shop and asking if they had a loaf of bread to spare. There was little butter and only one egg a week, which I brought home every Saturday like a prize trophy. There was no heating and often no coal-and of course no rice and no curry.

Things were worse in places away from London. I spent a few weeks in a place called Crewe, an industrial town on Lancashire, which was straight out of Dickens.

There was not a single decent restaurant in town, and we had to trudge miles for a cup of tea. There was only one cinema house, full of rats. And remember Crewe was a place where Rolls Royce cars were made.

There were Rolls Royces everywhere, put together by semi-starved British workmen.

Britain is not a superpower anymore and the empire has sunk without trace. But Britons, including those in Walham Green and Crewe, have prospered mightily and are having the time of their lives.

The last time I was in Walham Green-where, incidentally, George Orwell had lived for a while, not far from my own 'digs'-the place crawled with discos, fine Italian restaurants, and of course, the ubiquitous tandoori take-outs. The girls looked fabulous, straight out of Hollywood, probably their next destination.

I shudder every time somebody mentions super-power. And so do Englishmen.