Romancing the Mall
For many of the younger lot the word “Mall”stands for the glitzy Structures which have all kinds of branded stores for all kinds of stuff and Multiplexes and Bowling Alleys and Go Karting and Beer Breweries and Pubs / Lounges / Night Clubs etc. but there was a time when it wasnt really so. The word Mall stood for something else.
When the British took over the sub-continent the thing that bothered them the most was very likely the Weather. The hot Weather of the Northern Plains of the sub-continent can indeed be very harsh for someone not accustomed to it (as I had learnt the hard way once upon a time ). But luckily for the British the tallest Mountain Range on the Planet happened to run right along the Northern Plains and it was in these Mountains that the British went looking for refuge from the searing heat of the Plains. Over a period of many years the British created a number of what they called “Hill Stations” stretching from Assam all the way to the Afghan territories.
These Hill Stations as they were in the beginning meant to be used by Soldiers for Rest and Recuperation slowly over a period of time came to resemble Villages in the English countryside with similar Cottages being built and given fancy English names. It was almost like a piece of the English countryside was transported over to the Himalayas. And then came up the Malls. They probably started with a few Shops which stocked the essentials in the beginning but over the passage of time as the British as well as the local population grew these local Shops started to take on a character of their own. Fancy eclectic Stores started to come up dealing in a wide variety of wares. As the Shops became stylish so did the people.
The Malls soon became places where the people especially the Europeans came dressed in their finery. Some of these Hill Stations and the Malls were off limits to the “Natives” and it was an all “White” affair. The Malls soon became places where you could socialise and meet other people especially of the opposite sex as Victorian sensibilities had to be kept in mind. Of course there were the Regal Balls, Pageants and the Parties but it was more often than not the Mall where things happened. It was also the place where Gossip spread and wild stories were told.
And of these Hill Stations the “Queen” of all the Hill Stations was of course, Shimla or Simla as it was called. And of course the British liked it so much that it became the Summer Capital of India. Of course it had a lot to do with the fact that Shimla was strategically located and within reach from Delhi, the Punjab, the Northern Provinces, Kashmir and even Tibet. And over time the City grew and became quite a fashionable and scandalous place for the English as well as the Indian Royalty. And of course it had the Mall. And the Malls had its stories. Stories of a place called the Scandal Point. Stories of the Gaiety Palace. Story about the Raja Patiala who was not allowed into Shimla and he then set up Chail. And ironically it was from his ancestors that the original land on which Shimla was built was taken. And endless other stories.
And of course then I had my own connection and feelings with the Malls. I grew up in the Vale of Kashmir and one of the most celebrated of “Hill” Stations called Srinagar. Though it isnt really a Hill Station if you know what I mean. We never had a Mall Road there like in other Hill Stations. We just had the Bund, which at one time was the fashionable part of Srinagar and the place where the foreigners used to throng to. You need to remember that even during the British Raj time there were restrictions on foreigners. For example they were not allowed to own land or build houses thats why no fancy British Cottages in Srinagar. There was infact a Handbook of Do’s and Dont’s issued to Europeans visiting Kashmir. But by the time we were growing up the Bund had lost its glory but we had the Boulevard and Polo View but they just didn't make the cut. The only place which I considered close to a Mall in Kashmir was the Pahalgam Market.
The Mall for me was and always would be associated with the Mall at Shimla. Though I have been to the Malls at Mussoorie or Nainital and other places but Shimla was always the one. I used to visit Shimla often while growing up as it fell on the way to our Apple Orchards further afield. We used to enjoy the Shopping and the Ice Creams and lots of other things to eat and enjoy. Well that was till we entered adolescence and there was a big shifting of our Goal Posts as to what our favourite activity would be on the Mall.
Yes you guessed it right. It was the Girls or the Ladies as I would now call them more appropriately and it seemed that out of all the places, it was the Shimla Mall on which you would see the prettiest Ladies that God seemed to have made. Going to the Mall always called for Hair Gel and some expensive foreign Eau D Cologne. And boy was the Mall an excitable places. Walking up and down the Mall seeing the pretty Lasses of Shimla. Assuming myself to be the Gentleman that I really wasnt I used to make sure that I didn't stare at any Lady as it was bad manners. It was more like sideways stolen glances and just an occasional eye contact. And mostly like proper Ladies they would look away. And so the game went on and on usually.
It was just another of these days. And it was the Shimla Mall again. And again we started playing the game. I still remember distinctly she was wearing a Red sweater as it was kinda nippy in April beginning. Same old stolen glances a couple of times and then the eye contact for a flash but this time she didn't look away. And I think I blushed and turned all Red. And thus it started. We spoke, numbers were exchanged and I even gave her a pic, which I ripped off my Admit Card for Class XII exams which had just gotten over. And she was from St.Bedes. Ah St.Bedes. Finally I had made it. I had a Girl in St.Bedes. It was probably one of the best feelings I have ever had. Ah Romancing the Mall was never gonna get better.
And thus the romance continues to this day though now I don't even remember the last time I was on the Shimla Mall. I have always crossed Shimla but never stopped and the only thing that calls me to Shimla is that feeling. The Mall. The Ladies. Maybe St.Bedes. It all seems a like a pleasant dream from a time long gone by. Those were the days as someone would say.
Those days of Romancing the Mall.
Oh yes. Ms.Red Sweater from St.Bedes. Didnt work out. Like it never does in such Romantic environs :)