The global pecking order is changing

I've just come back from a trip to Kolkata (or Calcutta, as the imperialists like to call it).

In typical Norfolk 'do diff'rent' style, while others heading to India would choose Goa, I prefer the crazy, heady, relentless City of Joy.

It is a place where the road sign 'Obey the traffic rules' must be ironic: there are no traffic rules.

It is also a place where rich businessmen get into their limousines a few feet away from families that live in the gutter – literally.

If you have a sensitive heart, nose or stomach, Kolkata is not the place for you.

Nonetheless, having seen four years flow under the bridge since my last visit, I am pleased to say that the city is improving. And the West had better watch out.

Empires come and go. I have news for Daily Mail readers – the British Empire has long gone. And trying to achieve 'empire by association' by clinging to the coat-tails of the United States won't help. The US empire is also about to be usurped.

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After many years of making developing nations dance to our tune, India and China are going to be taking over the jukebox and making the UK and US do a variety of 'dad dances'.

In 2008, Kolkata was still a down-at-heel former capital of the Raj: a choking blend of stray dogs, street kids, open sewers, streetside rubbish heaps and exhausted men pulling rickshaws.

All of those things are still evident today, but on a smaller scale.

Now, as my friends in the city told me, the money is coming in. Two doors down from the hostel where I stayed, where once there was a slum, there is now a Land Rover garage.

Subway, KFC and McDonald's have also pitched their tasteless tents in Kolkata. And on the outskirts, many thousands of acres are being developed at a furious rate, with office blocks and luxury apartments springing up from the swampy land.

Meanwhile, vast call centres squeeze 12-14 hours of work out of people each day – while providing dormitories for them to sleep in on site, to ensure that they don't waste any precious seconds on the way to work.

It made me think twice about complaining about my work-life balance.

It also made me think about how inevitable it is that, when the potential of India and China is realised, we will be overwhelmed economically.

While we struggle to master our own language, many people in India are tri-lingual. And while our relative prosperity creates a comfort zone and a tendency to eschew hard work, the work ethic in developing nations is frightening.

If my experiences in Kolkata are anything to go by, India will need to overhaul its administration, have a bonfire of red tape and deal with corruption if it is to realise its true potential. It also needs to address the divisive caste system that keeps people down in the dirt. But when it does, the results could well be frightening.

By the way, I'm glad to see that Paul Lambert doesn't let Norwich City's players wear gloves, scarves, hats or snoods in training or during matches. I cannot stand the sight of overpaid prima donnas fussing about getting chilly fingers.

But he'd have a battle on his hands if he ever managed Kolkata FC. For, despite the temperature hitting a warm 28C while I was there – enough to spark a flesh-fest on British beaches – I saw thousands of people wearing jumpers, gloves, scarves and even balaclavas.

•This article was first published on February 7, 2012.