Mall Culture | The new normal of shopping in J&K

Mall Culture | The new normal of shopping in J&K

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Mall Culture | The new normal of shopping in J&K

By Colonel Satish Singh Lalobbtra

‘For me, shopping is a way to unwind’—Stacy Dooley.

The year of 1991 under the Prime Ministership of late PV NarshimhaRao was a watershed in the lives of countless Indians, having been exposed to the LPG (Liberalization, privatization and globalization) wave that was further given a heft by his redoubtable finance minister Manmohan Singh in all his sincerity. Prior to 1990s, India was a closed economy that used to only day dream about the so called market economy which was a normal for the western countries. The advent of LPG doctrine in turn ushered in a culture of consumerism in the Indian masses that hitherto were smug in their own world of restricted marketing practices. With the opening of the economy it had a cascading effect on consumer behaviour too that graduated enmasse from a ‘Consumer’s satisfaction’ to ‘consumer’s delight’ syndrome. With such a turnaround in the buying practices which were further bolstered by rising aspirations riding high on a raised level of buying capacities, the Indian market too shifted gears and gave whole heartedly to the whims and fancies of its consumers. The flagship of consumerism was led by none other than the ubiquitous ‘Mall’ which was just around the corner for a consumer weighed heavily and spoilt for choices.
The concept of malls for retail shopping is not very old in India compared to western countries. The man who ushered in mall culture in the world was ‘Victor Gruen’ – very few people know that he was considered to be the father of American mall culture. Gruen’s first grand shopping complex , the 8 lakhs square feet ( 74,000 square meters) , known as south Dale center in Edina (Minnesota) had come up in 1956 and soon after 1200 malls came up in the USA. The first shopping mall in India was launched in 1999, exactly eight years after the Indian economy opened up. Led by the redoubtable Ansal’s Plaza in Delhi followed by the ‘crossroads’ in Mumbai and ‘spencer plaza’ in Chennai the year of 2003 saw a surfeit of malls in metro cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad and tier two cities like Gurugram, Noida, Ghaziabad etc. Though ‘Mall culture’ spread its wings like wild fire across the length and breadth of the country, the northern most erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was a laggard in this regard. The reasons for the above laggardness ranged from lack of economic renaissance in the market, a disturbed security situation,strangle hold of local Kiryana merchants over the customers, fear of outsiders investing their hard earned money in the beleaguered state, article 370 prohibiting buying of land for setting up of such marketing behemoths to a regressive mentality of locals to rely on home grown products et al . But the single biggest factor that prohibited the proliferation of the so called ‘Mall culture’ in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was the wanton cartelization undertaken by some influential businessmen to keep away the heat of competition lest it singed away their profits.
The abrogation of article 370 in August 2019 put paid to all the surreptitious attempts of such entities in keeping the public away from partaking in modern techniques of selling and buying of commodities in a more advanced and sophisticated manner. It has to be understood that more than the spread of mall culture in Jammu and Kashmir, it was the airwaves (read radio Mirchi and numerous FM channels) along with a constant bombardment of glitzy programmes on countless TV channels that did a groundbreaking for the masses of the erstwhile state to break free from the traditional thinking of patronizing the local markets.
The locals of Jammu and Kashmir will vouch for the fact that before the abrogation of article 370 and abolishing of the infamous annual darbar move, both the businessmen of Jammu region as well as that of Kashmir would wait with bated breath to get their act together and enmesh the markets with their products that would see a spike in their prices along with the mass migration of people associated with these moves. The prices in the famous Raghunath Bazar of Jammu city was a barometer of stranglehold that these businessmen had cast over them during such moves , with the local population towing their line in absence of any viable option available to them. But not now any longer.
Setting the bar of marketing and aspirations of the masses high in the prevailing mall culture has been the hidden face of a so called ‘Consumerist’. The wave of consumerism combined with the new found culture of ‘dinning and unwinding’ after a hard day’s work has been lapped up by these malls who offer a quick and easy way out to a harassed housewife or a professional who doesn’t mind spending an extra buck to get the maximum out of his money; that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible in the confines of his or her home. Since Jammu city lacks mass entertainment avenues and has been consistently falling short of capturing the attention of holidaymakers and partygoers, the burgeoning malls have been quick to fill in this gap to cater for a cross section of people cutting across age and preferences. The above wave of consumerism has been given a heft by the increased availability of disposable income to the people who don’t wink an eyelid before loosening their purse strings and splurge themselves to glory with the single notion of ‘Pampering themselves’ . The mall culture in Jammu and Kashmir has been a great trendsetter in galvanizing the entire spectrum of society. Starting with the sky rocketing of prices of real estate all along the national by pass in Jammu which has a maximum of such places, it has also made deep inroads into the interiors of the city that was earlier dotted with narrow gullies, roads and traditional shops giving way to spacious market centers, malls with glitzy tag lines to woo an eager customer. It would not be out of place to say that the sky line of the city of Jammu has undergone a sea change inviting praises from an outsider visiting the city for the first time. Malls like the ones situated on the national highway going by the name ‘Wave mall’ as also ‘Palm island shopping mall’ on canal road , city square on Dograchowk, Golden Palms mall on the national by pass road are strategically located to cater for both the locals and the fast zipping travellers on way to Kashmir. Can one forget the countless job opportunities that come along with such ventures in a beleaguered UT of Jammu and Kashmir that was perpetually starved of such opportunities? The proliferation of ancillary businesses and their capacity to absorb the pressure of unemployment has been stupendous to say the least.
The region of Kashmir too is not far away in catching away with this fast evolving mall culture. Few months back the Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha laid the foundation stone of the first international mall in Jammu and Kashmir. An act that was considered blasphemous few decades back by the gun toting hardliners who had virtually shut all the entertainment outlets of Kashmir region riding high on the strength of their AK -47 automatics. The era of 1990s as well as early 2000 of Kashmir resembled like an Afghanistan in making. In any case this international mall is expected to be the largest in the UT of J&K being built by the UAE Based Emaar group in Srinagar. The mall valued at Rs 250 crores covering 10 lakh square feet , will come up at the Sempora area of Srinagar by the year 2026. With 500 shops to be set up in it, the mall is anticipated to provide jobs to over 13,000 (thirteen thousand) youth of the valley. Which is that agency in Jammu and Kashmir that has the wherewithal to provide so many jobs in one single go? None to say the least. This mega mall would include a mall, six multiplexes, a five star hotel, and a multiuse commercial and residential complex. It is the first FDI / Foreign Direct Investment in Jammu and Kashmir that has the potential to turn the tone and tenor of how shape of things will be in the erstwhile state as also give a direct signal to the mischief mongers across the borders. It has been given to understand that about 5000 national investors have expressed their desire to invest in J&K with eight new investors being registered every day in the last 2 years or so.
The electronic commerce (e-commerce) spread in 2014 was considered to be some kind of threat to the expansion of malls, but realtors in the country hedged their business models in such a way that the e-commerce and online delivery mechanism did not have much impact. Since e-commerce to a very large extent depends upon the last mile electronic connectivity, in case of Jammu and Kashmir the oft repeated outages owing to security imbroglios does have an adverse impact on the e-business as well on the customers as such. One big change that the mall culture has ushered in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir has been the fact that the customers are now spoilt for choice which hitherto was a pipe dream for them.
The fact that malls have injected a spirit of competitiveness in the market, it has had a flipside to it too; for the common vendor on the street who now feels increasingly squeezed in due to the dwindling demands of his wares and his being made irrelevant to the emerging dynamics of the mall culture will have to redo his calculations to stay afloat. It seems ultimately it would take the combined might of the society as such to make sure that the weaker side (local vendors) is not marginalized under the onslaught of a rolling juggernaut in the form of a mall culture riding high on the shot of an adrenaline provided by a discerning customer.
(The writer is a retired army officer)