However, before you actually have a dekko at it, please keep these things in mind.
1. This assignment is longer than what is expected of you so don't worry if you find it too long.
2. The stylistic devices are entirely my own and don't try to simulate them. It would be better for you if you start developing your own style and pattern in your writing.
3. All the quotable quotes and phrases used in my write up are my own and cannot be quoted in any part of your assignment. Please do not plagarise. If I find you using words and phrases which are not quite yours, I will have many things to say about it.
4. This is just a sample assignment voicing some of my own concerns. See how the questions are addressed all at once without actually referring to them all the time.
Culture in a Chocolate Brownie!
You could find culture in a chocolate brownie, if you so wished, and I am not even joking when I say it. In a recent trip to The Forum, Bangalore, I was astounded at the number of food joints that have erupted in that space over a short period of about five months. Apart from the usual stores that sell everything from clothes to cosmetics, the biggest thing out for sale is Food.
Pizzas, burgers, junk et al, coffee houses, cookies, chocolates, candies, Chinese, Burmese…the list continues. Every floor of that four storied building is bathed in food smells that compete, each with the other. No wonder then, that it was food that captured my fancy. However, this is not an exploration of the various food products or the menu cards available at The Forum. Though Food shall remain central to my argument, the focus is on what does the space of a mall stand for, in relation to the food that it sells.
Bread, in India, has been rendered a symbol of a particular notion of modernity. I would like to propose that it is the chocolate brownie that carries the iconic burden of a new globalised post modernity. My own encounters with the chocolate brownie is only incidental to this stream of thought. However, I am skipping grounds. Here is a threaded idea that might illustrate what I have to say.
Food can be identified as a lifestyle product. I define lifestyle product as something upon which entire ways of living and fashioning the self can be predicated. Regions and spaces have often, and over time, been recognised by the food that it sells. Delhi has had its Paratha galli in Chandni Chowk, Mumbai has been savoured as Chaats and Paani puri on the Chowpatty beaches, Calcutta has been rounded up in a Rassagulla; All of my completely North Indian Aunts still associate Curd Rice and Masala Dosa to the ‘South of India’. Consumption of these immediately brings the notion of consuming a certain culture.
Carrying this idea, Food can indeed become a category by which cultural consumption can be studied. Within The Forum, food becomes the product around which everything seems to rally –meetings over a coffee, date over a brownie, Birthday with pizzas and celebrations everywhere else! However, Food itself is a large category, not homogeneous at all. At a cursory level, Food seems to fall under three categories: Junk and Fast food, Meals, and beverages and snacks. Each of the spaces are not mutually exclusive and often mesh, one into the other. However, they all have one constant – The Chocolate Brownie!
The food also seems to decide where it should be sold within the architecture of The Forum. For instance, all the corner shops – the corner still bearing the notion of a space that binds two other spaces together, of a space open to everybody – are all food shops. The overbearingly transparent glass walls do not enclose these spaces. There is a sense of freedom – almost a legitimacy about that space to serve as a space for strange encounters. Cookie Man, the Chennai based company actually gives out free samples to anybody who wishes to drop by – buying is not mandatory.
There is something very unique about these food spaces in the way the ‘Rights of Admission Reserved’ hovers uncomfortably over them. Their apparent ‘window shopping’ status, where you can actually sit at the Food Court –The Transit, without actually buying anything, or the fact that you can order a coffee and sit in the Café Coffee Day forever, seems to bank on the fact that the people entering the Mall will belong to a particular group who would not pose a threat to the spaces that it houses. There are other similar spaces outside of the mall but the policing and the hawk-eyed trafficking of potential customers that one sees in those spaces is absent at The Forum.
Also of interest, is the subdued brand positioning that happens in this space of the Mall. While window displays and neon lighted, glass enclosed spaces characteristic of an MTV ‘ishtyle’ cannot be avoided, the spaces have learnt to co-exist and not encroach upon each other’s spaces and sales. No garish billboards, no directions to reach any place, but a simple acceptance that ‘S/he who enters shall Come’. It is perhaps this co-existence which makes the Mall a space of interest for the consumers (It can be argued that a supermarket works on the same spatial principles but the economic logic would be different) who frequent it, not because the food products available here are unique to the space of the mall, but because they have the notion of Choice available here.
However, in my all-gluttonous interests over the chocolate brownie, let me not forget the fact that everyone who comes to the mall does not buy. Everyone who sits in the food stalls or cafes or restaurants (or whatever else you want to call them) does not actually eat the chocolate brownie. However, the chocolate brownie seems to become the all pervasive cultural element that determines the way the person belongs to the mall. It is the familiarity, ease and the person’s relationship with the brownie that seems to shape their interaction with the space of the mall. Curiosity, temptation, pleasure, leisure, consumption, a globalised culture, modernity, buying power, metropolitanism, party – everything that the Mall seems to stand for, can be condensed into the chocolate brownie.
The consumption seems to take a new ‘kahani mein twist’ motto when it slowly sank to me that all that is consumed is not the same as all that is for sale. The products on display and the products on sale actually create a whole narrative of an urban lifestyle /culture. The food that one eats seems to determine the clothes that one buys, the books that one reads, the accessories one adorns, the cosmetic therapies one indulges into, the language that one speaks, the home products that they buy…the whole gamut of things that consumerism has defined. Along with it comes the feeling of being ‘chosen’ or of being ‘special’ because the consumer is always aware of his/her inclusion/exclusion from the narrative.
As a part of the trip, to cite an anecdote, we saw a bunch of young kids, dressed in school uniforms, sucking on popsicles, traipsing across the length of the mall, using it as a shortcut to their way home. They had no eyes or attention for the things either on display or on sale. They were things beyond their economic range or aspirations. Very different from the UCB clad, spiked haired duo of about the same age, huddled together over a book in a café. The images, it would seem, speak for themselves.
This would lead me to make an uneasy triangulation between the products (and the narratives that they create), the lifestyles that they sustain and the notion of consumption. Consumption, it seems, is no longer restricted to consumer durables but seems to go into the realms of the Fantastic. One needs to keep in mind that The Forum houses a multiplex theatre in its structure, and thus seems to become a point of confluence where many different kind of Fantasies are being consumed. From the fictive space of the cinema to the Fantasy available in the stores where everything is possible as long as you can say ‘Charge It!’, The Forum becomes a cyberspatial structure where many different forces of Fantasy coincide.
While Malls have often been looked upon as dystopic spaces that threaten the cultural heritage of a local space. However, looked upon as an essential structure of the city; as a space of consumption of Fantasies, the Mall can indeed become, like the chocolate brownie, a symbol of a global modernity – an archive that registers the changes which come with transnational economies, transglobal culturalism and chocolate Brownie.
I have also offered to come in on Thursday, 25th August at 14:00 hours to solve any queries or problems that you might be facing with the assignments.
Till I hear from you, the deadline stays - 28th August, 2004.