We spent this Republic Day at the shopping mall down the road. The irony of it - celebrating the anniversary of a republic based on the principles of Svadeshi and frugal Gandhian living at a mall
showcasing the finest and the most decadent of western hedonism - was not lost on me. And this heady consumerism, far from being ruinous, has ushered in a wave of prosperity, look around you.
What a change from my childhood, I was thinking. Everything was scarce back then. Milk, water, sugar, rice, kerosene, cooking gas, name it. Except babies, of course, who abounded. I recall one economics professor saying that our problem was that "the woman of India is more
fertile than the soil of India".
I was bragging recently to my sons that I could have a proper bath in one bucket of water, including shampooing my hair. (They heard me out silently and with a sombre expression, fervently wishing, no doubt, that my goofy traits are not genetically passed on). This is a skill featuring in the C.V. of everyone who grew up in Bombay in the 70s. What an unnecessary deprivation, foisted on us by namby pamby politicians and bureaucrats who, instead of being lynched, as they richly deserve, have streets and public institutions named after them. I'm
rambling, of course.
Coming back to the mall. There were thousands of people tramping around in the place, and it wasn't rush hour yet. Virtually every shop had a "SALE" sign out. "Up to 50% off" was the popular one, with "Up to" in 3.2 millimeter letters and "50% off" about 4 feet high. The only ones with 50 % off would be three white shirts that the staff had mistakenly used as dusters. The rest would be 10 %. But the word "SALE" had the same effect on the general public as a red cape on a bull. Pawing the ground and snorting impatiently, the wife would plough into the teeming crowd, myself and the boys following as inconspicuously as possible. Diving into heaps of merchandise, she would pull out a few worthy ones, conclude commercial transactions and move on to the next shop. Looking into her eyes, I could see pure delight. It was retail therapy at work.
Down in the lobby, an enterprising businessman had kept a Formula-1 car. This goofiest of sports (after golf) has an amazing ability to grip the minds (I use this word in the loosest sense possible) of the younger generation. It was more of a bill board on wheels than an automobile, and carried the most improbable ads. Mobil, Elf and Pirelli I could understand, but what was Henkel doing there? Fed Ex? Siemens? I was disappointed not to find Durex, Nestle and Boeing. I mentioned, sarcastically, to the boys that they could have a Life Insurance ad on the undercarriage for when it flipped over which, I am given to understand, happens now and then, though nowhere with the frequency I would like to see. My sons thought it a brilliant idea and suggested I write to Bernie Ecclestone about it. Anyway, they milled around it along with a thousand other young people, and took snaps from all angles with my phone (which has a camera, another goofy feature which only young people find useful.).
In all the confusion, I managed to escape to a cookie shop called "Cookie Man" and extensively sampled their wares. Ummmm! It was wunnerful, as they say when their mouths are full of brandy snap cookies.