Archive | 2:39 pm

Urbs Prima Pedestria

18 Mar

Life gets more pedestrian every day. And far from being aware of this fact, we appear to revel in its fall-out without even realizing the implications of our choices. Take malls, for example. In what way are they a suitable entertainment option? If you need something, you show up and buy it. Or you show up, browse and buy it. Or go window shopping and indulge the odd whim. But who actively steps out saying “Ooh, let’s randomly hang around at a mall without an agenda and cloak ourselves in consumerism, ignoring more appropriate cultural/cerebral/child-friendly pursuits”?

The answer, sadly, is far too many people. Even though they may not have processed it that much. People for whom popular culture is the only route, whose idea of alternative is bright blue ice-cream, who take solace in identical mass-produced goods, chain stores and majority choices. Who believe Bollywood is the default setting, that one must necessarily burst into filmi tunes at a picnic/wedding/middle of nowhere and that branded is best.

So the little store around the corner languishes like a neglected hausfrau, small businesses are increasingly impossible to sustain, local flavor gives way to cities that could be clones of each other with the glass-facades of their retail temples glistening with consumerist entitlement—we’re big, better than bourgeois, we deserve front and centre. And so we eat. At tables housed in painstakingly identical restaurants around the world. And we shop. In a store that could very well be in Shanghai or Chicago. (And if you didn’t actually live there, could you even tell their skylines apart?) And we send our children to conveyor belt schools and sigh in relief at the “known name” that will take care of what is our primary responsibility, never mind that you can’t tell one rote learner from the next. And we amuse ourselves with consumerist pursuits—check, check, check, what’s next on the List? Bigger equals better equals shiny happy joy. And we take PRIDE in being just like the next person, oh look! We’re so with it.

Crossword is the default bookstore, PVR the default movie screen, the friendly neighborhood mall the multipurpose hotspot. Really? Is debilitating uniformity all we can offer ourselves in a time when choices are supposedly multiplying? Or is that a glimmering capitalist illusion and are our options actually shrinking by the hour?

I’m certainly no trailblazer. And not everyone wants to be. But a little thought, people? About things and ideas and possibilities that could be, were we not so cognitively lazy and ready to grab the longest branch, the shortest pole, the easiest available alternative that is in no way alternative at all. For all our streets jammed with new-fangled factory line cars, we’re more pedestrian than ever and what’s most alarming to me as I watch the trend burgeon and deliver grandbabies is that knowingly or otherwise, we’re unabashedly proud of it.