Malls are helping us getting used to technology which we were unfamiliar with. First is the use of escalators. I particularly remember one of my aunts who was mortally scared of taking escalators. She feared that at the time of disembarking her saree would get caught in the moving steps of the escalator. With frequent practice- she is a Gurgaon resident- she is an expert now. I also remember that many years ago a tribal woman from Bastar who badly needed a job as house help had approached her. After one day of trial she was derisively dismissed by my aunt because she did not know how to operate the light switch or even how to climb stairs! Not used to stairs she used to climb like a child does- using one foot at a time and then using the same foot to climb the next step. For many years my aunt spoke of her ignorance mockingly. She stopped when escalators came in her life. The Gurgaon malls not only taught her how to brave escalators; they taught her empathy.
Another thing at which malls are making us more proficient is the use of vending machines- from ATMs to movie ticket vending machines. Malls are also promoting better dressing. We hesitate in going to a good mall ill clad or with our hawai chappals on.
Malls are also teaching us queuing. The West and particularly some countries like UK put a great premium on queues. So much so that Britain plans to make the art of queuing part of the citizenship test for immigrants. Queuing is associated with their sense of fair play. Though as a community we are not used to queuing we follow queues quite well at the multiplexes. I was in Vidisha (small town in MP) recently where I lived till the age of eleven. When my brother, who was two years younger to me and I used to go for movies it was my challenge to buy the tickets. Often I could get a spot in the “ladies queue” thanks to the benevolence of some woman there and we would get our tickets. When there was no queue for ladies it was a nightmare to get the tickets. I remember once I was so crushed in the mass of men jostling to reach the ticket window that I felt almost suffocated and started crying. The men smothering me laughed but made way for me leading to the back of this mass. I came out empty handed. Seeing me cry my brother laughed too! Went home unsuccessful and insulted.
The malls are really civilizing us. Much work still needs to be done though.
I am waiting for a mall which will have signages saying:
If ambling, stay to the left; Do not crowd the walkways.
That it is dangerous for yourself as well as for other passengers if you walk on escalators. (The escalator industry has identified the act of leg-powered movement on an escalator as a “dangerous action”. In fact in Japan escalator-walking is being banned. The Japan Elevator Association says that escalators are not meant for walking, and people should not stand on one side to let walkers go by).
That when one is in the elevator one should speak softly and not subject the others to your private conversation
I am also waiting for the administration to allocate spaces to build malls only after studying future habitation and traffic trends. Especially keeping highway and street capacities in mind. Otherwise these malls which have actually given us a lot of convenience and comfort and- in their own way- education will leave in their wake severe, unresolvable congestion problems for the next generation.