[Originally written for The South Reports]
Say the word mall, and there are people who will immediately start calling you names and start frothing at the mouth. This article is not aimed at them. This article is aimed instead at the common man, who stoically puts up with everything life throws at him, including such things as this article.
So why would this article talk about malls? In a time when malnutrition is the flavour of the day, mall-nutrition might be the way forward. It could make us a happier, more efficient and hence more productive nation. Here are ten reasons why:
- Toilets: Entry into most malls is free (those with an entry fee are generally empty), and toilets in those malls are free too. They are also well-drained, cleaned regularly, and if they smell at all, it will be of disinfectant and toilet-cleaning liquids. A round-the-clock staff is employed to maintain them. Compare these to municipality-built 'public' toilets, which smell of urea, charge you a rupee or two, and employ some of the most rude people on earth. It is therefore a case that mall-building should be encouraged in all urban localities and rural hamlets in the interest of public sanitation.
- Air-conditioned spaces: Given that entry into most malls is free (as long as you wear some decent clothes), malls make a good argument for parking a lot of loiterers. These are young unemployed and unemployable men who would otherwise be exposed to extreme weather (heat, chills or rain) on the streets and therefore wont to be hotheaded. The balanced environment in a mall would make them cool-headed, and also sequester them from political parties looking to hire goons on the cheap. After seeing the coffee bars and food courts, our young hooligans might not be willing to settle for the cutting chai, 200 gm biryani and fifty rupees they are now paid to enforce bandhs. Bandhs might become fewer, once the rate for such hooligans rises to include one cappuccino, one pasta bolognese, five hundred rupees and a pair of jeans. Wouldn't this be a good reason to build malls everywhere?
- Babes and dudes: Young women (and in this era of gender equality and metrosexuality, young men) in malls are on average, prettier, fitter and more tightly dressed than those on the street. This is a good reason for the people mentioned in point 2 (some of whom are in fact pretty good-looking) to congregate in malls. Now before you begin to rail the evils of voluptuousness, pause to consider its benefits. The need to impress young women (and men) will mean you have to come better dressed, preferably bathed and shaved. This could lead to you being spotted by a model coordinator or aspiring director, and hence get you a break in the fashion or films industry (or as happens now, both). And more attractive people in public life makes attracting tourists easier. In north India this might mean sacrificing a political career, in the south you get the best of both worlds. Would you still oppose their construction? (Aesthetic architects' opinions are automatically disqualified.)
- Rickshaws: Anyone trying to catch a rickshaw will know how hard it is to find a rickshaw going in the same direction as you (That a rickshaw will actually go where you want it to go, is of course, a concept that gives rickshaw drivers a lot to laugh at). But if malls were built in all localities, rickshaw men would be more than willing to ferry customers to practically any destination. This may be because their needs from point 1 need fulfilling, their friends from point 2 might be there or simply because of all those point 3 eye-candy people. They will never crib about getting return fare or want double fares, because they will always find a babe laden with shopping bags. The dude factor might also encourage women to take up rickshaw driving as a profession.
- Parking: Most urban localities have few parking facilities, leading to cars spilling onto the road. This leaves the owner exposed to the risk of theft (even if it theft only of the car brand's logo, which makes your shining new car more than a tad ugly). You can keep it parked in your neighbourhood mall, as long as you pretend to shop there (drive into the parking lot, then get out of the pedestrian entrance). You not only get valet services, but it also decongests the roads, making your overall driving experience better. It also benefits those taking public transport, by opening up lanes otherwise choked by parked cars. And you are not exposed to municipal parking lots with their rude attendants and unreasonable parking fees. Moral: more malls, more parking.
- Roads: Malls have been accused of increasing gentrification (This means more affluent people move into the locality). This I say is a good thing. Affluent people pull strings, whereas the common man can only cast a vote. Affluent people shopping in your are will demand that the municipality upgrade the roads. Which the municipality will do, because corporators (or councillors) need funds for the next election. Better roads means that fewer buses will break down, fewer potholes, fewer jams. Win-win for both the poor and the affluent.
- Electricity: The common man lives without it. Malls don't, that's why they have power back-ups. And that is useful, especially when there is a cricket tournament to be caught at 4 AM when the friendly state electricity board is in the throes 'load shedding'. You may choose to fail an exam rather than defile the principles of socialism by studying by mall-light, but cricket trumps everything. And there is nothing like watching Team India get thrashed by an innings, along with your entire neighbourhood. Because a community that suffers together, stays together. Malls + load shedding = communal harmony. Can you beat that equation?
- Teen tracking: In the pre-mall days, if a teenage son or daughter was missing for a few hours after school or college, one had no idea where she or he went. Could be in some innocuous video game parlour, watching adult movies in a friend's house or in the clutches of some sex predator. Now you have the confidence that the teen is simply 'hanging out' in some mall or the other, drinking expensive coffee at your (ultimate) expense. If you give your child's description to all mall authorities in your town, they can keep you informed of her or his movements, without hampering the kid's 'fun'. You may be drained of fiscal capital, but your social capital stays intact.
- Wi-fi: This reason is low down, but still important. Several malls now provide good wireless connectivity. If you go to a mall's cafe, order an espresso and drink it over six hours (ignore the irony), you have an excuse to sit there and get all your work done – checking mails, updating excel sheets, writing articles (such as this one), tweeting, blogging, paying bills, e-banking...the list is endless. No need to buy an expensive and unreliable LAN, or even a dongle. Gone are the days when you struggled with your MTNL / BSNL modem and its amazing noises.
- Boss-dodging: The best reason I have saved for the last. While wi-fi may be exemplary in malls, your avergae telephone network signal is pathetic. That is indeed one reason why the teens of point 8 prefer hanging out in a mall; you can't call them. But that opens the delightful thought of experiencing the luxury of point 9, without having your fat-faced, nosey, nagging boss calling you after office hours or summoning you to his cabin on a Sunday for a tongue lashing. Or worse – to sms you a joke he made up. Because you can always hide behind lack of signal. Which is why I think it should be a capital offence to install mobile towers with 500 metres of a mall.