Hello, is there anybody there? Hello?’ I called out, waiting for my echo to repeat the words. But it didn’t and instead it lost its way in the emptiness ahead of me. I walked on down the gullet of concrete and steel, feeling almost like I was heading towards the very belly of some long dead monster… or like an alien visiting planet earth in the future. The walk was endless and I recalled the many times that I strolled among the remains of some ancient edifice.
Of course at historic sites, there’s a different feel… the dry fragrance of stones, swifts and pigeons, and the muted whispers of history. Yes, and there’s the song of the wind. But that was no ancient edifice; instead it was a super modern disaster site. A gigantic Folly. You know what a Folly is don’t you? One of those structures built on a hill and later abandoned because it was one big awful mistake.
Anyway, the further I went, the darker it became…and considering my poor sense of direction and bouts of claustrophobia, I was in a state. I had to get out. And losing my nerve, rushed further into the dark, tripped and fell. ‘Shh,’ said a voice which came at me. ‘Who is that?’
I asked. ‘I was sleeping and you woke me up,’ the voice explained, so I apologised. ‘That’s okay,’ came the reply, ‘this isn’t as bad as when a kid got lost here two days ago. There was confusion.’
‘Why don’t they put on some lights here?’ I asked.
‘Because it’s not necessary, there’s nothing happening here anyway. The action is going on in other parts of this mall. They’ve renovated it seven times and there’ll be many more. Nothing unusual….’ Then there was silence and a snore rose sonorously and floated in the air around me.
I turned around and scrambled, trying to retrace my steps. Once out in the light I was greeted by the happy sounds of busy drills and hammers and saws, as workmen like Santa’s elves rushed around the place in their attempt to give the mall another makeover.
The words of the invisible fellow echoed in my head… ‘nothing unusual,’ he had said. So true. Not all the malls in Pune are bursting with life and business. You’ll either find the so-called exclusive ones spiffingly ready and waiting for customers who never arrive, or the ones inhabited by a few heroic souls holding on in the hope of better times, or the ones that are so smashingly huge and showy that they are nothing more than a window shopper’s delight and a jay walker’s nightmare, or the ones that are more like up-market urban haats, or the ones that constantly re-invent themselves.
Not that there’s anything wrong with reinventing oneself, but please dears, have a little respect for your customers (or guests, whichever term you’d prefer to use!).
Maybe I’m expecting too much, considering Pune’s folk have a penchant for reinventing and refurbishing themselves and the spaces that they inhabit. I suppose in the case of personal spaces we are all very proper and get the work done to the best we can but when it comes to public spaces, we don’t seem to be in any hurry whatsoever. It’s ages before work is completed… and when it is finally done, reinvention starts all over again!
Like my neighbour, Suresh Sachdev, who has changed his front door thrice in the last year and a half, his bathroom fittings twice in the last year, dug up and re-laid the floor tiles on his terrace twice in the last three years and has even added two more letters to his first name for good luck. ‘Change is the secret of success,’ he says with a broad grin, ‘the more you change, the more chances are that you’ll be a success. See the chameleon, he never hesitates to change his colours.’
Maybe Pune should choose the Chameleon as its mascot.