There was a time when our ‘mall’ was the shop around the corner of the country road. The casual labours and even government employees would step in on way home and make their small purchases. Those who do not earn money daily would enter it in the ‘pattupusthakam’ (the credit book) and take home the groceries and other essential commodities. Life was as simple as that, and ambitions never crossed the threshold of one’s economic power.
Kids used to walk to schools, maybe a couple of kilometers away. When the people had a fever or some other ailments, they had the local clinics to depend. Those were the days when the specialization was yet to happen and life flowed without super specialty in anything or credit card to swipe.
This was not just about my native Kerala. The scenario was more or less the same everywhere. A local economy that thrived on simple requirements and simple pleasures meant the beauty of life.
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Then the urbanization happened. Shopping became more of an experience and fads replaced needs. Small shops without glass doors slowly became obsolete. Super market, hypermarkets, malls. Brands and style statements. Colorful advertisement decided what we should buy.
In my working city Muscat, which is my second home now, and my nostalgic homeland I experienced the same change, though the scale differed. Weekend outing with kids, dine out with family and extended family. Looking at the alluring showcases and garnished culinary delights, we often forgot our pockets. Everything got a new flavor in life and we slowly migrated to a new normal.
Time went by. Then we further graduated to the virtual shopping malls. The offers upon offers made us shopping maniacs sort. The call bell meant the delivery boys! Then…Once day we heard of the virus that is spreading like wildfire. No, it will not infect me, thought every individual but almost everybody got infected. In no time, living in the closed room became the order of the day. Stepping out meant masking your face. Once again we learned to express everything with the eyes.
The story did not stop there. Our fear psychosis and the restrictions kept up away from the big malls. The limit of maximum permitted mobility took us to the small shop around the corner. The place that never satisfied our brand awareness and postmodern taste buds once again became our resort for the daily needs.
There are times when we realized the shop owner who lost his livelihood thanks to our flashy lifestyle is making our survival possible in the tough time of the lockdown when our pockets are also locked. His smile, his willingness to pack the grocery even if you do not pay him the bill immediately… At least for some the real credit replaced the credit card. In response to helpless smile, the shop owner, who is equally suffering, gave a warm gesture of camaraderie, a sense of belonging.
And then, when the recent cyclone and heavy rains once made movement difficult, and the roads were closed, it was the local shop owner who was there to help us, when the big malls had to down their shutter. Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic and the natural calamities brought back to our lives the simple things we ignored till a few months back.
In a sense, it has proved to be corrective force, at least in the sense that it made us think of the beauty of simple things in life. In a few months we went back to many a thing that we believed are ‘outdated’. Even the small clinic across the road proved to be helping for many. We started thinking of a new life, a new normal.
However, now we are open, step by step.
The roads are open, the malls are open, and the schools are open… Slowly we are back to that world of speed and fad. We started loving the mall experiences once again. The shopping festivals, both real and virtual, are back. Candle-light dinners are there. But the shop owner round the corner is still there in every village corner. The non-celebrity doctor is in his unassuming clinic across the road.
And when we embrace the high speed life and the brand conscious lifestyle, there is something we should not forget! The simple people who made our survival possible in the tough times!
The village schools, the small clinics, the unpretentious shops, the small places that made our lives more engaging! No this time we should not forget them. Let us make sure our fads never affect their livelihood.