Monday, January 26, 2009

The mall that wasn't

For an old timer - a Madrasi - if I dare say it, of my generation, there was only one mall to hang out in during school years. Spencer's was for the oldies and was too forbidding to even contemplate 'hanging out'. So it was this place; by the standards of today's malls, Fountain Plaza would be declared a danger zone and contemporary mall designers would not hesitate to lay into anyone who insists on calling Fountain Plaza a 'mall'. However, nothing they say or do can deny Fountain Plaza (FP)'s place in Chennai's shopping history. It was the place to go for those who were too pretentious - or too far away - to visit Ranganathan Street for its bargains. FP had three long rows, with shops on either side, all of them opening out into an open air eatery: food court, if you will. While the first two rows were given over to rather reasonably sized outlets, the 'side street' was far narrower and the shops resembled rat-holes more than sales counters.

FP had its own charm. Madras has always been accused, rather unfairly, of being a city where no one understands Hindi. Anyone who has shopped at FP will not bear witness for such claims. That was one of the places in Chennai where Tamizh seemed to be a foreign language; and so it was exotic, to shop for north Indian fashions, gaze at the Hindi movie posters and video casettes and finally treat oneself to a 'chaat item' at Ajnabee. If you were not the shopping type, you could just walk into Jimmy's and clunk down 50p coin after 50p coin trying to outlast the Space Invaders, win at Race Car or any other such arcade game as took your fancy. In short, it was Ranganathan Street in Hindi, with a dash of the US of A thrown in at random.

On a recent Sunday, FP seemed a ghost of what it was a generation ago. Most shops had changed - and worse, were closed on Sunday. The eatery was empty. A couple of cars rolled into the parking lot, and rolled out again, bemused drivers trying to find a place that they passed by twenty years ago!


ck said...

FPs !!!
I had almost forgotten about Jimmy's. Boy did a lot of money go down that slots. We even managed to clunk some US Quarters that we got from here and there into those slots.
The bus stop just outside, added to its charm for us kids from school.

Shantaram said...

@ ck2: Welcome to this blog! You're right, there's many an hour that has been spent at that bus stop!