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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 22, march 1-15, 2010
Mall-grazing in Chennai
(By Arun Ganapathy - or

Recreation is not what it used to be in Chennai. There used to be a time when people took their families to the beach, went on long walks along the shore or took them to the temple. While this still happens, a new form of recreation is becoming popular in the city: Mall-grazing.

For me the experience started with a friend’s comment. What he said with the excitement of a hunting cheetah (sorry if the analogy doesn’t quite fit – but I am sure you know what I mean) was that this mall has a food court, six floors, four escalators, two capsule lifts, and 26,000 square feet of shirts and pants – marvellous, isn’t it? Why are you getting so excited, when it’s not yours, I felt like asking him, but I did the next best thing. I shut my mouth and shot off to experience this marvel.

First impressions: the façade of the mall was really, very really, really hideous and I would gladly add a few more reallys to this sentence, but that didn’t stop me from joining the stream of Maama-s, Maami-s, and eager young ‘Chennaiites’ funneling through the wooden security archway at the entrance . The archway beeped – as it always does – for the heck of it! And I was frisked by a security guard – as he always does – for the heck of it! I was now inside a large atrium looking up at six floors of shops, shops, more shops and a whole lot of people ejaculating excitedly in Tamil at the window displays.

In a corner on the ground floor were a few ice cream and snack bars. One of them, particularly popular, had a man in a beach shirt, against a backdrop of a palm tree, which was last seen in Hawaii. He was selling multicoloured icecream to customers who stood around licking the ice cream, feeling they were cooling themselves in some tropical paradise. My only question after seeing this was: Isn’t Chennai hot enough to lick ice cream? Do you really need to feel you’re in Hawaii? Come on!

From here I took the capsule lift to the second floor where there is 26,000 square feet area of pants, shirts, tops, underwear, sleepwear, and just about anything you can wear.

I am so overwhelmed – and confused – by the abundance that I just follow the crowd going into the first store. The store has miles and miles of racks with international brands of shirts and trousers, all neatly folded with price tags – also so neatly folded that their prices are concealed.

There is Something UK, this thing India and sheer rubbish. I walk along looking at them, trying to figure out the difference (if any), but can’t find any. Apparently there is! Two young men behind me were busy examining the fabric, and assessing the differences in shades to the minutest degree. They fingered the shirt, felt its texture, picked it up from the rack and looked at it again against the light. Then one of them placed it against his chest and tried it for size and suitability, while his friend looked on admiringly. Just when I was wondering how much more exciting a shirt could get, the young man took it to the mirror (on a column), did a little jig, twisting his body this way and that, and smiled in admiration of himself. He was pleased as punch, and so was his friend who issued a volley in Tamil from the other end of the aisle. (Dai kalakaddhu da dai; those of you familiar with Tamil will recognise kalakaddhu as an expression that in its many forms – kalakal, kalakuraan – fits many things in life.)

Meanwhile, others in the store were staring at shirts and pants; of course they never bought anything but just kept staring until I realised that just staring at shirts and pants is an all-day activity in itself. I leave them to their staring and scrutiny and take the capsule lift to the fourth floor.

The fourth floor is where all the action is. Here you can trawl through 2000 square feet of soap, another 1000 square feet of curtain material, 600 square feet of candles, candle holders, gift candle packs and really ugly and hideously priced flower vases. I wondered who on earth bought these things, but apparently there are many takers; those crowds of Maama-s and Maami-s holding on to the hand rails of the elevator and chattering excitedly as they tumbled out to get a glimpse of this magnificence.

One such Maama-maami couple were examining a colourful prism-like glass candle holder. Maami picked it up, now looked at it this way and now that way and then at the bottom to see where the price tag was. She spent a few more moments considering it and deciding where in her house it would find a place.

Idhu bedroomla nanna irrukuma, illata nammah drawing room centre tablela nanna irrukmana (will this look good in the bedroom or in the drawing room?), she asks Maama.

Maama’s facial expression tells me he has had enough of candles, candle-holders, malls and possibly Maami as well! He would sooner than later beat the hell out of there. He grunted; and Maami, pleased by this soothing response, added the candle holder to her shopping cart.

Yayndi, I heard Maama say as they left, food courtuku pogalama (let’s go up to the food court).

I left them and went out to the verandah, to see a row of people on the floor above me (fifth floor) looking down into the well of the atrium and pointing and gesturing excitedly at something or someone there.

Curious to find out just what or who it was I took the glass capsule going up to the fifth floor. There were one too many in the lift and my body felt like India rubber. But it was fun, considering the fact that my face was pressed flat against the glass and I got a grandstand view of more people stumbling through the security archway and eating ice cream in Hawaii!

Soon I was on the fifth floor. I joined the rows of excited people and eavesdropped on their conversation and followed their fingers to see what was causing the excitement.

One young man next to me said, “Dai, colour paaru da dai, dhool kilappara macchi” (I am sure Chennai readers know what this means), while the Maami-s and Maama-s were watching those on the fourth floor as though they were lesser mortals.

I would add here that those on the third floor were doing the same; and so it went down floor by floor till, in the eyes of the beholders on the top floors, the people on the ground floor seemed like clods of earth in the scale of evolution. To add to this a few young men were travelling up and down the escalators, viewing the smart young girls from their mobile platforms.

After seeing all this I suggest that in future mall builders add a few more floors if only to promote this free version of afternoon entertainment.

Then, it was time for me to head to the food court.

The food court is on the fourth floor of this vast mall and is as psychedelic as the mall itself. The ceiling is fluorescent pink, the walls a blue that makes you shrink, and the tables are taxicab yellow. If this were not enough to make you colour blind, then you only need to go around the rows of cubicles tucked into the far wall.

Each one was a restaurant with brightly coloured tube-lit displays of prices and food, and men in blue, yellow and pink and green hats all highly trained – American style – to confuse you.

Can I get a cup of coffee? I asked the man at the counter.

You want Espresso or Macchiato, Sir?

No, just coffee please.

With milk?


Okay, I will give you a café latte.

Don’t you have South Indian kaapi?

Eh kaapi?

Just plain kaapi?

The conversation went around like this in circles for another minute until I gave up and meekly accepted what he wanted to dish out.

After drinking the coffee I looked around again for food.

Food courts in malls are amazing if only for the variety of food they offer. In this particular mall there was Italian, Chinese, Kerala, North Indian, South Indian, and Junk. The mind boggles, huh? The last of these is not food at all; it is what happens to you when you don’t know what to order.

So I ended up ordering the known thing, i.e. ordering a plate of idli-s. Idli-s in malls are not the big, white fluffy lumps that you get in roadside places for ten rupees. They are small (podi) white fluffy lumps that cost Rs. 65 and make you curse like hell that you could have stayed at home and entertained yourself free.

My sentiments were encouraged by Maama and Maami couple, whom you read about earlier,

Yennadi, says Maama loudly, aathilaye jummunuh saaptirkalam (we could have eaten a good meal in comfort at home).

Sshhh, replied Maami to Maama, shushing him down, mella paysungo (speak softly, everyone around can hear us). Maama instantly turns into a meek little lump of pulp – defeated again by the new mall culture that is overtaking Chennai.

In this issue

One small step towards preserving heritage
Can’t we leave natural heritage alone?
Mall-grazing in Chennai
A legend in his lifetime
Monotonous post-match presentations
Historic Residences of Chennai - 37
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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