Travel purists (snobs) wouldn’t dare fly halfway around the world to visit an American-style, multi-story shopping mall complete with food courts and a Hard Rock Cafe. We, on the other hand, spent a good part of our first day in Delhi at a mall complex and found it practical, entertaining and insightful. The modern mall is a familiar backdrop to Americans, even if avoided at home. The familiar backdrop showcases the similarities and differences between people and places.
A mall in Dehli on the first day of Diwali, looks a lot like a U.S. mall before Christmas – lots of lights, decorations, music, and shoppers scrambling around to either buy gifts for family members, buy outfits to wear to family events or take advantage of the sales.
Groups of teenagers hung out together playing video games or grabbing food at the food court. The coffee shops were filled with people talking over their brew. Women crowded together to browse the same rack everyone else wanted to look at then waited in line for the fitting room (mothers, of course, going in with their daughters.) Shop staff collected and put away the “no” items. Cashiers did a dance behind the registers ringing sales, running credit cards, wrapping gifts and bagging purchases. Kids had tantrums.
What was different? Fashion for women as “ethnic wear” is popular and the salwar kameez is standard for many Delhi women. To enter most pubic spaces in India, including shopping malls, everyone passes through security with a body pat down and bags searched. The malls were full of kid-friendly activities including an arcade/play center and a mini amusement park. After visiting our local mall a couple of days ago, I realized that only expats and tourists used strollers in Indian malls. Toddlers toddled and preschoolers walked.
Not apparent to the naked eye, patrons of western style malls in India are rich. It may feel like an American “middle class” crowd but only elite, educated professionals and their families can afford shopping at this type of mall.
Our trip to mall was a great transition to India. Saddled with jet lag and culture shock (okay, more like traffic and air quality shock) we were able to gently transition to the country where we were spending the next month. We got a taste of bartering, communication, traffic and finding Delhi addresses getting to and from the mall. We bought some clothes and supplies. There was lots to entertain Mirielle and even fish-munching foot massages for mom. The food was relatively safe. We avoided the Diwali pollution indoors. And, we got so see how Indians most like us, most like the Indians we go to school, work and live with in America, live in Delhi.
Where we went: Select Citywalk, DLF Place and MGF Metropolitan Mall, co-located on Press Enclave Rd in Saket.
Getting there: Exit Malviya Nagar Metro station and take Rs20-30 auto-rickshaw ride. Tell the driver “Select Citywalk Mall.”