Deprive people of enough, and they will create fun out of nothing. So to speak, there is nothing to do at the mall, unless you are willing and able to spend a wad of cash and engage in retail therapy, indulge yourself with comfort food or buy an overpriced automated horse-ride for your child. There are no talks, no recitals, no training workshops.
And yet, every day, hundreds of people swarm to the tens of malls that have sprung up across the country. Some of them, of course, are there to actually shop. But what are the rest of them doing?
Well, for one, they are taking selfies.
In the food court, two young girls bring their heads closer together over a packet of McDonalds french fries, and just when their heads are almost touching they stop, and click. “Caption lagao: At the mall with bestie,” one says to the other, as she nibbles on a fry.
At the far end of the court, by the windows, a couple, quite obviously on a date, are experimenting with different angles of their phone camera to find the perfect lighting.
It appears that the golden light has been found, they stop moving. The boy dampens his hands with his tongue — fast enough for the girl not to find it gross, but slow enough to grab my attention — and uses them to perfect his Caesar cut. The girl pouts her lips. Click. “Yaar! Mall toh aya hi nahin!” she says. Beaten, but not fallen, they rotate themselves 180 degrees and capture another picture with the mall in the background.
A level below, on an empty wall that may one day open into a store, the mall designers thought it wise to put up wallpapers of Seattle and San Francisco’s skylines. And a judicious decision it was.
The wall has morphed into a selfie-picture spot. A single man stands, shoulders broad, chest out, the Space Needle just above his head; and while he’s taking the selfie, a dozen of his friends also pull out their phones to shoot him. Then, they all compare who shot him best. “Selfie hi sab say best hai. Hamesha ki tarah”. Then the next friend stands in position, this one by the Golden Gate Bridge.
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They repeat this cycle 12 times until each of them has a picture against the backdrop.
But to take selfies, you need to look nice — or at the very least, washed. Which brings us to the second thing people do at the mall: submerge themselves in style, albeit mostly standardised style, i.e., you won’t find The Sartorialist at our malls any time soon.
Nevertheless, you don’t just roll out of bed and go to the mall. You fuss and bother with your clothes, and hair, and shoes. Everyone looks like they’ve made an effort. You see down-feather jackets, faux-fur lined hoods, sequined dupattas, platform heels, and sunglasses.
The attendants in the shops also reflect this aesthetic. Each shop has pristine uniforms for their staff — one wonders if even their hair has been pruned on demand.
The style is not just limited to humans that inhabit the mall. Each shop has its own aesthetic: Khaadi looks like a Jungle, Levis is a wooden hut at a beach, Sapphire is reminiscent of Frozen-meets-Wonderland. There is something to be said of all the artistic endeavour that goes into designing these shops. I don’t know, though, what that something is….
Now, to get a steady year-round dose of those selfies in style, you need the last part of the pie, a part that is found in (over)abundance at malls: the sales.
There’s a sale at every corner: flat out sale, goodbye winter sale, hello spring sale, clearance sale, opening sale, limited time sale, year-end sale that then grows into a start-of-the-year sale, weekend sale, and believe-it-or-not, even a weekday sale.
Even if you just went to the mall to take selfies and socialise, the sales lure you in. How does one gather the will power to not walk into a shop that has “70 percent off on all stock” written outside?
But, if you are a regular mall-goer, you are in on the secret. The sales are never ending, relentless, they come one after the other, steadfastly and predictably, like a PML-N government after every PPP one. So it’s best to ignore them, discount the discount, and focus on your selfies, since that’s the real reason these malls are functioning.