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.

23 Responses to “Urbs Prima Pedestria”

  1. Abirami R March 18, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Beautifully written.

    “Bigger equals better equals shiny happy joy”. Actually, “Bigger equals better equals shiny happy job equals “look how far we’ve come up in life!”

  2. sukanya March 18, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    wow! OJ…you wrote so beautifully about somethings that are insidiously taking over our lives…

    But a little thought, people? yes, indeed! this truly is an indication of how lethargic and deleterious we have become as a society.

  3. Anjali March 19, 2010 at 9:09 am #

    So true. Cities are becoming clones of each other. Aren’t people getting bored of the same old same old? Oh wait! this is supposed to be new!

  4. Guy March 19, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    Gosh, your prose is a thing of beauty. I want to have your baby. If you’re not single *sigh* that’s ok, I will raise her alone. You have my email. Write me. Let’s meet and consummate.

  5. anil March 19, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

    … so the devil does wear Prada then …

  6. Abhishek March 19, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    Hey OJ

    Couldn’t agree more…. guess most of us wanna consume our way to the illusion of happiness….

    Wanna connect – email id???


  7. Orange Jammies March 20, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    Abirami: Yeah, that incessant need to demonstrate “progress” irks me. I’ve seen it in Delhi a lot (understandable, given the post-Partition history of the city) but Bombay does it too, in smaller doses.

    sukanya: Show people an easy way and they’ll be off and screeching in that direction. 🙂 We probably didn’t do it earlier because the opportunity didn’t present itself.

    Anjali: Cities losing their unique flavor would be tragic indeed.

    Guy: If this is Ceej trying to offload his sperm again: nice try!
    If this is an ex: Piss off, you had your chance.
    If this is anybody else: Very flattering, but my eggs stay in their coop.

    Anil: I’d prefer Ferretti, actually.

    Abhishek: Hi there, Chandni mentioned you yesterday. It’s orangejammies@gmail

  8. Adarsh Rao March 20, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    At times, it does make one wonder, with so much of globalization, and human ‘competitive’ spirit of going one better than the other in a consumer-centric culture, what would it take to be really true to oneself and be happy. People are so immersed in this culture, that they convince themselves that their ‘happiness’ is a reality!!! 🙂

    Thank you for the wonderful post!

  9. Anil March 21, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    Clones. Bang on.

    Most human effort follows the path of least resistance, the path cleared by the herd in most cases.

    Anyways, it’s upto us to sustain diversity, starting with the neighbourhood shop, or the neighbourhood street vendor.

  10. RM March 21, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    Very, very well written. You know, when I lived away I always thought of how India was making all the right moves that the people around the world were finally acknowledging – conserving power by not having appliances turned on 24/7, buying local produce, getting your unique (albeit, sometimes hideous) clothes tailored, taking a basket with you to buy vegetables etc.. only to come back and find us down the slippery slope we never should have started on.

  11. Shubhangi March 22, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    another problem is that the people who we perceive ‘do give this a thought’, who do try and live on their own terms are unfortunately either extremist in their views, or plain boring at times, and both isolate them. you get what im saying, there is a stereotype in that too. vegan, do it yourself, anti globalization.
    it seems to be an ‘either you’re with us or against us’ attitude the whole world has adopted. i go to PVR, but i also go to regal and chandan cinema, and download films. i go to crosswords, but i also order second hand books online and borrow and never return books i really like.

    its a 20% rant, 40% heartfelt 40% hoping for the better kind of point. i’d like to know how we could take this insight forward. and show up for it.

  12. R March 22, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    Beautifully written, OJ. Sharing this link with friends..

  13. Orange Jammies March 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    Adarsh Rao: It’s a vicious cycle, right–being fed and buying into what’s being fed. Oh well. 🙂

    Anil: Numbers would be the crucial factor here.

    RM: We’re hurtling without skis and enjoying the ride!

    Shubhangi: I’d suggest starting small and local. Talk about it to whoever will listen. (Even with something like spitting, so many cabbies don’t realize how harmful their action is until they’re informed.) Not everyone will listen. But that shouldn’t stop you from keeping at it. I’m pretty sure plenty of folks have had murderous thoughts about me. 😉

    R: Sure. 🙂

  14. Nothingman March 23, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    Hey OJ, this was awesome…gets better with second and third reads! Random browsing rocks!

  15. Orange Jammies March 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    Nothingman: Hello. 🙂 Doesn’t it?

  16. dipali March 23, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    Much as I agree with you, what makes these damn malls so attractive is the air conditioning! In a hot and muggy city like Kolkata it seems so much easier to buy veggies in air-conditioned comfort, and with a trolley you can take to your car. But we still have awesome places like New Market which have a buzz and ambience that no mall can ever dream of replicating.

  17. Orange Jammies March 24, 2010 at 11:16 am #

    dipali: 😆 Any argument when pitted against a searing Indian summer fizzles away.

  18. the mad momma March 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    theres a good reason we’re friends. i think this is the reason 🙂

  19. Orange Jammies March 25, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    the mad momma: 🙂

  20. Vidya March 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    Loved it!
    Wow,you knocked the branded Aviators right off me face.
    A lil ashamed now.
    That means your post worked!
    Will work on this 🙂

  21. Orange Jammies March 30, 2010 at 12:08 am #

    Vidya: Oh goodness, my intention wasn’t to shame anybody. I’m pretty culpable too, hon, just try not to buy in to the whole carnival.

  22. tgfi April 4, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    Loved this post.

  23. Orange Jammies April 7, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    tgfi: Glad. Visit again. 🙂

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