Author: Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay.
One of the biggest casualties of the current pandemic has been insaaniyat, which is often loosely translated as humanity. Strictly speaking such an equivalence will not be considered a halal interpretation by most purists. Even if we were to use an English equivalent, we should use the term humanism and not humanity.
The loss of insaaniyat we are seeing all around today is not in the sense in which social scientists, intellectuals and thinkers are alluding to but in a wholly different way. The crisis we humans are facing are far graver and more perilous than any challenge we have faced so far!
And this is on account of the closure of shopping malls during the current coronavirus pandemic!
A mall is a place where the faithful congregate to spend time closely at the altar of consumerism, enjoy the cool air conditioned air, eat burgers and pizzas, and drink American beverages. India’s premier map portal describes India’s mall culture as follows:
“Malls are not only a shopping place but a place to rejuvenate, socialize and entertain … Doing shopping in the scorching heat of the sun has been replaced by AC shopping. Youth take this as a status symbol. Visiting malls and buying branded products satisfies their thirst for better quality of life. Teenagers do come to show off. Certainly shopping malls are bringing in a new culture in India which is different from the traditional culture…”[i]
For worshippers of capitalism, the mall is holier than the Lord’s House and in fact holier than the holiest grail in the history of humankind.
How Malls became A Unifying Force
In the dark old days before the advent of mall-based modernity and eating-out-in-restaurant culture, the local market, tea stalls and community parks were perhaps the biggest hangout spots. But since there were no McDonalds, no Adidas, no credit card culture or craze for English-medium schools, it was considered an age of darkness and great despair. It was an age of jahiliyyah.
At that time India was deeply afflicted by a social malaise on account of the ongoing transformation from a Nehruvian-style closed license raj crony-capitalist economy to a relatively freer open market economy. The new economic conditions bred new values, and caused ruptures in the fabric of Indian society which had earlier been glued together by socialism induced misery and corruption induced poverty.
It was at this dark juncture in the early 2000s when India got its first mall, and the light of unbridled consumerism was shone upon the Indian masses for the first time. The Good News of western consumerism had finally reached the exotic east.
Mallelujah! people exclaimed and converted immediately to this new faith.
Today, India has 650 malls, spread across its metros, tier-1 and tier-2 cities. Humanitarians in the west finally heaved a sigh of relief having been able to harvest the souls of the non-consumerist heathens.
There is no distinction between Sunni and Shia in a mall. There is no schism between Protestants and Catholics in a mall. A mall does not care whether you are a Padre, an Imam or a gay rights activist. People of all sexual orientation, religious denomination and clans come together in a mall for a few hours of oneness with the one true God, the deity of capitalism.
Consumerism is a relatively new religion in India, but has the highest number of adherents, all gained in merely 20 years. No deen or faith has come close to mall-ism. A mall is like the baap of all masihas. A mall is like the Father of God.
A mall is at the same time multi-cultural, pluralistic, globalized, westernized, left-liberal friendly, halal-certified as well as secular. It is modern as well as post-modern. It gives the same khushi to an adherent as the ghazi gets after doing kaam tamaam of kufr[iv].
The inability of humans to devise an ageless system that confers all-round well-being makes us appreciate the message of this new faith which offers us so much more.
They provide us a definitive message of eternal peace and stability, which is at the same time, versatile enough to accommodate the transformations in world dynamics.
Unfortunately the corona-virus has dealt a huge blow to malls and this has dealt a death blow.
What will happen to all the teeming masses striving for divine consumerist gratification? This is a serious matter that needs a lot of thought!
Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay is a civilization studies researcher with a background in data science. His writings on culture, philosophy and economics have appeared in various newspapers, online platforms and academic journals. He has authored two monographs titled “The Complete Hindu’s Guide to Islam” and “Ashoka the Ungreat“, and is a recipient of the Foundation for Indian Civilization Studies award for 2017.
[ii] Not Shah Rukh Khan’s house Jannat in Mumbai.
[iv] Kufr means denial of the one Truth.