I was feeling an annoying awkwardness as we were walking to the entrance of that astounding structure, enormous, modern, posh and attractive. I was tediously accompanying two of my friends in their bid to show me “the real world”. To tell the truth, I was really surprised to see the biggest luxury mall ever seen in my life, a showpiece of the much declaimed ‘economic development’, an investment venture worth millions.
To me it reflected another world, a fetish fake inside our factual world, quite ironical with the honest realities outside that glassy door, the door at which we were greeted with the folded hands of a glamorous young woman with an alluring smile, clad in a nice uniform, solemnly uttering a sweet ‘Namaste’. I stood there hearing it like in a dream, the door opened automatically and I mechanically walked inside, trying hard to be as casual as possible, but certainly with a wide opened mouth.
I was angry at my friends. We had no plans to come to the city and to have a stopover in this luxury mall. They took me here giving little respect to my relentless noisy protests. I was wearing a cheap polyester shirt, old, worn in some places and less two most important buttons and my shoes were too old and filthy.
For a moment I foresaw trouble ahead, a humiliating prospect that I might be stopped at the entrance on account of my substandard dressing and all and sundry staring at me with genuine sympathy. I knew that I do not belong here. But thank God, nothing improper happened. In a moment we were inside and I was following my friends who were already acquainted with the procedures and endorsed the manners of the plush bazaar while my eyes were searching for someone too ordinary than me to have a satisfaction in my mind that I am not alone here.
Inside I began to feel the refreshing coldness in a boiling afternoon. My friend explained that the mall which is spread in about 4 to 5 acres and in 4 floors is centrally air-conditioned. I just thought about that Mangostine tree under which I usually sit during the daytime, reading, the only air-conditioned area in our home property; the difference is that I never bother to switch on my AC, it is automatic and nonstop, AC 24×7!
We moved to the second floor. I insisted on using the stair instead of escalator or lift, hopelessly arguing that what we unfortunately lack in our daily life is exercises but my friends suddenly grasped my veiled intention. I was never fond of an escalator (truth is that to that very moment I never used it) and have always failed in aptly making use of the lifts. Two or three times I have tried to casually enter a lift (making sure that I am standing in the middle of the crowd inside) with a sort of a careless look, cunningly letting the others to operate it and obviously ending up in the top floor while I needed to be found at the ground.
Consequently I became an ardent promoter of the traditional method, the stairs and those lovely stairs never frightened or outwitted me. But now my friends were adamant, nodding me to abandon my old comrade and to follow them to the escalator, whispering in my ear to “do just what we do” to avoid the embarrassment of jumping in and out of that running machine. But I failed to follow them and naturally jumped, inviting attention of some, I heard the chuckles behind, resulting in my friends abandoning me for at least five minutes (they pretended that I am not associated with them at all) before cursing my ignorance and lecturing the urgent need to “espouse and learn the inevitable realities”.
We moved on. Anything and everything was there. Tea shops, movie theatres, book shops, electronic and mobile shops, fancy stores, banks, hyper markets and even a skating area full of ice! We saw televisions worth 10 lakh and suddenly a flash of that 15 year old 21 inch bulky BPL television so carefully kept in our home, passed through the mind.
Next the fish market, a fish market without that unpleasant smell! I have not seen this much varieties of fish in my whole life, attractively kept in glass boxes with young uniformed men receiving the orders and delivering the packages in pretty covers in most respectable manner.
I remembered the fish market in our village, the hell of an area with so much noise and nasty smell, newly caught fish openly displayed in traditional aluminium flat bottomed pots with hundreds of flies humming around while the fish folk tries to drive away the flies with the lid, they wrangle and compete with each other to beckon the customers with vigorous deafening calls. But I like that hell; it has the liveliness of a life.
We moved around that elegant luxury world, watching and commenting on things which we could only watch and comment. At last I persuaded my ‘bourgeoisie’ friends to return from their ‘neo-liberal’ fetish world. The cute young lady still had her share of courtesy of folding her hands while the doors opened automatically and was it my fancy that I failed to find that thankful smile in her face? I strongly suspect that our bare hands resulted in the disappearance of that beautiful smile.
I never wish to return there. I think it is a fancy place where we can buy what we have dreamt. But the problem is with the inauspicious shortage of those worthless pieces of paper which have the distinction of running the world. Simply I cannot afford even a stopover in that mall. I legitimately fear to be attracted and exploited.
Thus I assure myself that I am totally satisfied with what I have got here in my village, that I am satisfied with the AC of that Mangostine tree, the fading image in that old BPL television and the noisy, stinking, unclean market place which can satisfy my continuous demands. That’s how I sustain my middle class life and fortunately or unfortunately, that’s only what I can afford.
By: Ganesh Hariprakash