Utpal loves malls. He loves the thrills of the games, enjoys the rides and even had a go at bungee jumping, the kind they have at malls. I must confess that I am the one responsible for introducing him to such activities as when he first went to boarding school the only place close enough to school where we could take him for a treat was the nearby mall! I must also add that he has never been demanding specially as he grew up and was quite happy to go the ersatz option namely his beloved Kal Mandir. But a special treat will always be a visit to the mall. So last week as a reward for having been exceptionally endearing and compliant during his entire winter break, I decided to give him that special treat and find out a mall near our home which had some options for kids.
Before I go on I must be quick to add that I abhor malls and what they represent. I have often penned my views on the subject. To me they are the absolute antithesis of what I think India should be. I shun them and it needs nothing short of miracle to push me in one. But Utpal is an adept at conjuring miracles and this was yet another of them. So on a chilly Sunday morning we set out, my daughter, Utpal, Deepak the young lad who works at home and is Utpal's best pal and me to conquer the mall. The deal was that Utpal and Deepak would go to the kidzone and Shamika and me would wander around looking at the famed sales. After a few hiccups - the kidzone opened only at one so we had to find an alternative so hurray for the video game parlour - Shamika and I took on the mall. We walked by empty glitzy shops looking at price tags that seemed outrageous even after 40 or 50% mark down and walked around aimlessly. Shamika did manage to find a deal though.
I spent my time looking around the alleys of the malls that were slowly filling up. The people one saw were not at all potential shoppers but seemed to have come for a Sunday outing. There were middle class families children in tow and of course numerous young couples in need of a place to spend private time. This was quite an eye opener for me and a totally different take on malls. It brought a smile on my face. Unable to afford the exorbitant prices on offer, middle class India has adopted their own own brand of mall culture: the new place to hang out. Not a bad idea, warm in winter, cool in summer and dry in the monsoon. There are free places to sit and some not too costly coffee shops. And no moral policing as is the case in parks! My thoughts went back to times gone by and I remembered with a smile our hang outs of days of yore: the zoo, a park or a roadside dhaba in winter and probably a morning movie show in summer!
After our stroll meant to kill time till Utpal had his fill of games and rides we went to join him at the kidzone situated next to the food court. Here again we saw middle class people enjoying a meal has the eateries are still affordable. Many of the ones located in normal markets have outlets in malls. Andif shops were quasi empty the food court was filled to capacity with long queues at the coupon sales counter. Needless to say I did stand patiently and Utpal and his pal got their fill of chips and other fast food fare.
Thankfully it was soon time to go as Utpal decreed he had had his fill. I had had more than enough. One the drive back I wondered whether the likes of Radhey our three wheeler driver and his family would one day also join the throngs of people enjoying a lazy day off at a swanky mall. Maybe not though am not certain if malls have a 'rights reserved' tag. I do feel that they too should adopt their own brand of mall culture and increase the much sought footfalls. Cheers to incredible India.