he Man from Madras Musings is not much of a mall rat but he cannot say he avoids them. And when he visits them, he does take to musing on malls. What always impresses MMM is the vast number of people in these places, walking about the corridors, going up and down the escalators and, sometimes, the stairways as well. They remind MMM of railway­stations. But looking inside the shops themselves, MMM cannot but help notice that the silence is more like as what could be expected in a church. And the atmosphere is akin to a church hosting a funeral service.

MMM made bold to ask a shopkeeper or two about business and the answer was that it was dull. Then what of the footfalls, asked MMM. Oh, that; they all come to enjoy the air-conditioning, said one of the disgruntled storeowners. At most, some go to the theatres and a few others to the food court. But the vast majority prefers to walk up and down the common areas. MMM ought to wait till it was time for the daily power cut, said one shopkeeper rather disgustedly, and then MMM could see consumer behaviour at its best. And so MMM tarried a while.

At the stroke of the appointed hour, there was a marked increase in the number of people in the mall. And they did not look like shoppers. Apparently they were all from the residences and offices in the neighbourhood, at least those that did not have generators or inverters. A couple of grandmothers settled down comfortably on a bench, having let loose several children to play on the escalators. Men with laptops moved into a coffee shop and occupied a table. Those behind the counter showed no enthusiasm. On enquiring, MMM found that the customers ordered the cheapest items on the menu, shared it among themselves, and sat at the place for a full two hours.

But surely things ought to improve by evening, thought MMM. But that was not the case, said the shopkeepers. For, the walking brigade then takes over. What with there being no footpaths or walking spaces in the city, several evening walkers have turned to the interiors of malls for their constitutionals. The watch-and-ward staff does recognise these regulars but can do nothing about it for, after all, malls are public places and, who knows, one of the walkers could buy a thing or two. Somehow MMM is more in sympathy with these walkers than with the shopkeepers.

So, are malls on the way out? Not so, as MMM learns. There are giant variants coming up in the suburbs, the kinds where a person can spend an entire day without realising it. Those in the neighbourhood are hoping that these will be complete before the schools close for the summer. What better place than a mall for your child to spend its vacation in? Plenty of space, free lighting and air-conditioning – and complete security as well. Chennai has given the mall a new meaning though it is not the same as what the investors and tenants envisaged.