The mall and my bazaar

I like the comfort of the air-conditioning. And, the fact, that there is no dirt and noise. I am safer here, people don’t jostle me, I can walk around lazily, at my own pace … the escalators, the lifts, the well lit, colorful interiors … even festive sometimes. The corridors shine and the stores are all organized so well. There is a floor above where I can eat, one where I can watch movies … I can even relax here, get a massage. The kids get busy with their own noise and gadgets… you know how they are. I can let them loose while I indulge in shopping. The whole world is around me, so convenient! The malls are a boon to us ‘urban-ites’. No sweaty days or sultry evenings…ah!

I have to watch everyone … be alert here! The guys keep screaming at me. The carts, the shops and the stores bargain with each other and try to get my attention. Some of them are even coming forward to try and get me into the shops. I have to avoid them. I have to dodge the people who are walking randomly around here. They can suddenly cross over and come towards you, some with their cycles and even scooters. Oh! The garbage is lying around, flies hover over, which I am sure have been all over. The smells are strong and all mixed with the flowers, the fruits and the food. And suddenly, there is a temple in the middle of it all! The crowd is endless. People stare even as they rush by. I am noticed by everyone and I can see kids, mothers, the aged, all involved in the goings on. It gets even more chaotic during festivals. Everyone is in a frenzy as wares are loaded, sold and carried all through these narrow lanes. I need to get under cover, far away … phew!

It’s getting a bit too cold in here. The smell of this place never seems to go away. It is a mixture of all the aerosols and the cleaning liquids. The dampness and the dryness seem to co-exist, in a strange way. The mall has people, attired in fancy clothes, but I can see that they are aware only of themselves, posing for selfies, looking at stuff. I can see greed and longing in their eyes. The kids are restless, they want to get to the next thrill, and they want more. Like the others, I look for brands that I would like to buy, but I feel trapped as I walk among the endless racks, each tempting, all pricier than the other. I feel inadequate, and yet, I feel I need to commit. It’s all here and I need to have it. I look around and no one seems to care, I try one and the other. I imagine glances and feel judged. I get out of the store in a hurry. But, then, there is more. From all the parts of the world. I thought I had a good watch, but here they are, looking so glamorous, I feel so poor. Someday, I tell myself. I can see the family is getting restless. Their agendas are on hold. We part ways in the passages. Each one of us wanders off to find our pursuits. With no one to argue with or to judge me, I feel a sense of freedom momentarily, but it turns into loneliness. I don’t need this, I tell my confused mind. But I have come so far, parked my car in the third cellar, worked through the city traffic and I may not be able to do this the next few weekends. I must get something. I am feeling pushed and I chose the lesser devil. As I stand in the queue at the counter, the junk food I bought in the stall while we were waiting for the kids to finish seems to stick to my throat, making me nauseous… It must have been in the freezer for quite long, maybe it’s the damn stale air … where is the exit … what if I should faint here? I look around, no one seems to care. I am disoriented now … this feels like the last time, oh no, that was not here, it was in Delhi, no. I think it was in the airport … I can’t remember. They all seem the same now. The same brands, the same kind of people, the same coldness, the same pressure to be qualified to buy, the same inadequacy.

I need to get out, I need to be someplace I can call mine.

I have known this fruit seller for a long while now.  My grandfather used to bring me here. He smiles at me as he gestures to his son to help me pick up the guavas. The young man is patient, letting me choose, even as he suggests mildly, aiding my amateurish sorting. He has learnt this from his father.  I gather the paper bag they give me and I look at the crowd around. I see people like me all around, some of them I recognize … a nod of the head, a little chat as I pass along. The sun strikes sharply and I duck into shade. The man selling soda on the cart gives me a sympathetic glance. His indication catches my fancy and I go for the pop soda. It’s been twenty five years since the sound of the pop was meant for me. I hesitate, look at the coke poster on the signboard across the road and tell myself, what the hell, this is probably healthier.

As I raise my head to drink and squint at the sun, my mind fills in with the profusion of aromas and colors from the garments, the spices, the fruits, the wares. A realization dawns in as I soak in the warm air…this is where I belong. The people in the stores are real people. They notice, they converse, they negotiate, but they engage with you. The kids are helping their parents, alert to learning, understanding people and circumstances. The food is fresh, accessible. There is no judgement on you even if you pass through this lane with an empty bag. The dust, the dirt, the sound surrounds you and yet allows you to feel the world around you. You are a part of the community.

This is my bazaar.

                                                                                                                               by Samarendra M.Ramachandra 

                                                                                   Featured image: Highpoint Shopping Centre, Melbourne

                                                                                                                                                        http://www.inhabitat.com

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3 Comments

  1. Beautifully written as usual, sir. But I guess I can agree only in parts.
    Of course, I remember the little mom n pop’s around the corner where the ‘uncle’ or proprietor would know which class I was studying in, and would sometime even slip me a little toffee, for no reason.
    Today, there is this faceless, nameless giant who’s ‘care’ and sense of responsibility towards his product is a half interested young girl in a call center in some other city. As she puts me on hold for the umpteenth time, the prompter reminds me that I am a ‘valuable customer’.

    Having said that, I also feel that we are sometimes hopelessly in love with the stereotype. In this case, the emotional, colourful, crowded, smelly Indian market that screams at us from the covers of lonely planet magazines and travel brochures. Oh, I’m sure I heard a few notes of the shehnai from ‘Ye jo des hai tera’ from the movie Swadesh, inside my head when I saw the picture of that market.
    BUT…..Standing in the middle of the very same market, I overdose on nightmares. The heat, the stench, the noise, the people, the animals, the Absolute lack of hygiene! Then there is the autowala who’s either asking for an unheard of price to take me home, or has parked right behind my car and has left for his daily tobacco fix. (reminds me of the caring call center girl).
    Then I find an ice cream vendor, but I promptly turn away, gagging, when I realize that what I thought was dry fruit garnish on my scoop was just flies and assorted insects. At precisely that point of time, my kid needs to go! Obviously, there is no toilet. So, I let her go behind the samosa seller’s – where I’d eaten an hour ago.
    My final billing only takes ages because of this lady, who, for some reason has decided, that her life depends on how much she could bargain.
    I finally manage to get out of the ‘Rythu’ and as my wife trips over the money saved on this months veggies, I discretely download the bigbasket app. I am their ‘valuable customer’ after all.

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  2. Some malls are fascinating for sure but after some time in the corridors of fancy glass walls, one can clearly feel the hollowness of space.
    Most bazaars are tiring, dirty and uncomfortable for the privileged generation.
    Could relate to that malls make us feel poor and insufficient, even after spending lots of money, buying things we don’t really require. There is always a small guilt I feel after buying something expensive from the mall and there is a happiness associated with buying cheap stuff from the streets of bazaars.
    Though spatially, I liked the beautiful bazaars of Udaipur and the Salt Lake City Centre mall of Kolkata…
    .
    ‘Globalisation’
    In a big city, I came across a gentleman, wearing branded clothes, in an expensive car, bargaining endlessly for some mangoes, He kept the vendor engaged for quite some time, and ultimately decided not to buy them because of 100 Rs. a difference in the quote. The same gentleman spent a thousand bucks eating burgers at one American burger place, obviously without negotiating.
    In a small touristy town, I came across two local women in a colorful market, wearing beautiful Indian fabrics, shopping for folk jewelry, talking about how the town is extremely backward because there is not even a single ‘mall’ there.
    We need both at times, the malls and the bazaars, but it is our collective responsibility to question and to find solutions for improvisations.
    Bazaars will seldom provide ‘ample parking space’, the comfort of A.C. etc.. but there is a warmth of that colorful space which draws us. After a certain time, people start getting bored of malls, but thankfully, I have never seen an empty bazaar…

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