The writing on the mall

If you’re a budding journalist and on the verge of landing yourself a job in a media company, I would in all sincerity advise you to ask your interviewer this simple but important question: ‘Does the job involve checking out malls on Sunday evenings?’ If you get an answer in the affirmative —– I say this in all seriousness —– just reject the job.

I am speaking here out of personal experience. Last week, I had to go to a spanking new mall in my neighbourhood to ‘get a feel of the place’ for a ‘slice-of-life story’.

Many of you out there may be wondering what a ‘slice-of life story’ is. To explain this, I have to elaborate here a bit about today’s newspapers.  Most newspapers these days come with two sections —- the main paper and the supplement. The main paper consists of news about all the important happenings in the country and elsewhere that you can, quite frankly, ignore. (The sanest people left in this country are those who don’t follow news).

The supplement, on the other hand, is where the meat is: It carries all the vital advertisements, without which you cannot make the crucial choices of where to eat and what to buy in the weekend.

But if you bother to move your gaze away from the ads to the actual news articles, you may probably go, ‘sheesh, this is quite fascinating. Man, I must turn to this page quite regularly’. Because your eyes must have fallen on an interesting bit of a news feature — interesting for the fact that it has a photo or two of a nubile actress or a hulky hero in an outfit that is usually the size of an elongated well-chewed bubblegum.

Aside from all these, elsewhere in the supplement, you will also come across some random chunks of prose alongside some random pictures, and that mostly will be a ‘slice-of-life story’ only.

The main attribute of an S-o-L story is, as the name itself suggests, from every-day happenings at every-day places, but embellished and elevated by the journalist’s skill for observation and for using obscure words that are not found in household dictionaries. To put it differently, a slice-of-life story is that place in a newspaper where you come across terms like ‘discombobulation’, ‘fenestrate’ and, of course, ‘pulchritude’. (Pro-tip: Any sentence that carries words like these will generally make perfect sense even without them).

Back to my daunting assignment of visiting the mall on a Sunday evening: I spent roughly around two-and-a-half hours there, which I would break down as: One hour of trying to get in and one hour of trying to get out and half-an-hour of riding various escalators. As far as shopping goes, we did a lot – of watching people who did shopping, that is.

Of course, it is a fact that most people visit malls because — this is an important sociological observation —- TV programmes are unbearable. If ever malls make it a rule that only those who are ready to purchase something can get in, I think the ‘foot falls’ would come down by 88.2 per cent, which when rounded off should give you some whole number.

If not for shopping what do people turn up for in a mall? On the evidence of what I saw last week, I should say —- for taking pictures of themselves and their friends on their mobiles. This uncontrollable urge to ‘snap’ whatever place you are in is the latest epidemic sweeping the world.  On that evening I saw a bunch of chirpy young men and women, all of them probably employed in the IT sector (many of them sported T-shirts that are handed out as freebies at computer conclaves), taking a one-for-the-album kind of picture in front of the cultural edifice of a Jockey showroom. I tried imagining what they would say to their grandchildren when this photo showed up in the family album. (‘Listen kiddos, this is where your thaatha used to buy his underwear those days. *audible sigh*.’)

I then peeped into the food court that was roughly the size of a standard hockey ground, with too many popular food outlets setting up shop there. The problem with modern food courts is —- you can quote me on this — they offer way too many choices. My theory is, when faced with too many choices, the human mind has an astute knack for making the wrong pick. If you are one that makes the right choices in such matters, I must warmly tell you that I pretty much detest you.

As I was about to exit the mall, forlorn that I couldn’t find anything interesting enough to be featured in the supplement, luck favoured me at the last moment: I spotted a popular actress at a boutique. Immediately I knew what my article should contain: A sensuous photo of that actress.