Once upon a time in CPM land-;take-it-or-leave-it approach of local merchants;vs,very polite shopping experience. "


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And the Malayalis are loving it


HAPPY MEAL: The rousing reception to what is essentially the 'arch' symbol of US imperialism has surprised old-timers

Once upon a time in CPM land, everyone decried America's gluttony for goods. But Kerala is now turning into a consumer paradise with a voracious appetite for everything from big burgers to the latest gadgets.
When Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez lost his battle against cancer, apart from the Americas, the one 'continent' where the event dominated front pages with banner headlines was Kerala. Proud Malayalis even regurgitated the legend that it was a Catholic Malayali priest who sheltered Chavez during the putsch in Venezuela, and paved the way for his second coming. That's how much the Malayali hates the Yankee. 

Or, so goes the common perception. Astute observers have always described Kerala as a consumerist state, and not without reason. The state has a long tradition of trade with the outside world so new ways of selling and buying should not have logically been a subject for angst. But an insular brand of Marxism post-1950 s besieged the Malayali and made him tilt at the windmills of capitalism. 

That is changing. Mall culture is seeping into the state like Earl Grey from a tea bag, and brands are replacing ideology on the Malayali's mind shelf. Kochi has already four big malls. Another one is getting ready on the city's arterial M G Road. Soon they will spread to other cities, including Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, and Kozhikode and Kottayam. 

In fact, Kochi is now home to India's largest mall and, going by the unending queue at the McDonald's outlet in this mall, Malayalis are loving it. This outlet in Kochi is the only one in a state that is showing a renewed appetite for consumer brands. There are four KFC outlets in Kerala (two in Kochi, one each in Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram) but somehow, the excitement that McDonald's has whipped up in Kerala is something that must be seen to be believed. Maybe the late arrival in itself (it opened in March last year), might have added to the hunger quotient, and the fact that it is the only outlet in the state is also spicing up interest. 

Susan Davies, a Kochi homemaker, has made many visits to the new mall. "This is incredible. This kind of power of choice has never been there for us. It has been a liberating experience. Earlier, shopping was only for essentials. Now I can combine essential with exotic at this mall, " she says. "It is not about spending more. I find better bargains for fish, meat, and groceries. And cash tills are manned by non-Malayalis, it has been a very polite shopping experience. " 

In CPM land, the rousing reception to what is essentially the 'arch' symbol of US imperialism and capitalism, has been significant. The CPM is opposed to big retail chains such as Walmart but here in Kochi they have not lifted even a finger against the mall that has been touted as the desi Walmart. 

It helped that the mall was set up by a son-of-the soil, petro-dollar entrepreneur, who has managed to please leaders across the political spectrum with his charm offensive. Fearing that he would be branded as predator and wrecker of kirana shop owners, he brought  the entire political class to ensure social justice. (bought or brought?)

In fact the CPM sent its veteran crusader and opposition leader V S  Achuthanandan to inaugurate the mall with its McDonald's. 

This is the same party that not long ago sent out its cadre to ransack Reliance Fresh outlets. And this is happening in a state where KFC outlets were vandalized when they first set up shop in September 2011. The KFC outlet in Kozhikode had to be shut down temporarily when an irate mob pelted stones at the eatery. 

There was a time in Kerala when everyone pretended that they read the Communist Manifesto and spewed venom at America. They still spew venom at the US. Even those who have never read anything more than local cinema notices too cry "death to America" whenever it suits them: For, didn't they kill Saddam, didn't they give cancer to Chavez. 

But despite anti-capitalist spiel, the aspiration quotient was always on a high thanks to the level of literacy, and an expanding diaspora in North America, Europe and the Middle East. The Malayali is learning to mall-hop with the same religiosity he or she attends places of worship. One of the unique features of the new talk-of-the-state mall in Kochi is the ultrapolite service offered by a courteous staff, mostly trained at the chain's Middle East outlets. 

Old-timers such as Krishnan Moosathu, 82, a retired government schoolteacher from Thrissur, are awestruck by the change that is taking place. "In Kochi, I can now buy stuff from all over the world. Oranges from South Africa, olives from Italy, lamb from Australia, dates from Saudi Arabia, and all that. Unlike the foreign-made gadgets and consumer products, this gives me a true taste of the rest of the world, " he says. 

At the mall's hypermarket, cash counters are handled by young Filipinos, mostly recruited from Dubai. Those who have been used to the crass, aggressive, take-it-or-leave-it approach of local merchants and shop-owners say they would any day prefer mall hopping, if they could make it past the traffic bottlenecks. "People buy from where there is a better deal, " says Mohammad Kunhi, 55, a shopowner in Broadway, Ernakulam, matter-of-factly. Of course, to rediscover in the malls the warmth and personal touch that vanished from shopping a long time ago is, he adds, a bonus. 

In his own rustic fashion, Moosathu captures the change and disillusionment at the grassroots. "Earlier we used to buy almost everything that was produced in our village or taluk. Fish was from the village river. Rice was cultivated in local fields. Jaggery was locally available. Milk was fresh from the udders. Malayalis have had a globalized mindset for centuries - our spices and jackfruit went places - but our consumption largely was limited to what was available in our own backyard. Then in the last 20-25 years, the Malayali farmer had been reduced to an idea;neighbouring states such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have been supplying our daily needs"
But there are hardly any male mundus at the long and winding Kochi mall queue. They are still making a beeline for one of the state's 337 Bevco outlets, where they get their liquor fix. It may be a while before the mall beat its older cousin, but it's unlikely that the menfolk will resist the temptation of golden arches for long.
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shopping means bought and brought

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Kochi to get three more malls


KOCHI: City residents will have more options for shopping and entertainment soon. Two major brands, The Forum and Great India Palace, are coming up in Maradu within a distance of 1.5km.

The Forum, which is a known name in Bangalore and promoted by the Prestige Group, is coming up in an area of over 10 acres with a total built up area of 17 lakh sq ft. The project will see an investment of Rs 800 crore. The Forum will have seven screens apart from hypermarket, branded outlets and food courts. Though the project was announced a few years ago, it was postponed due to the delay in getting approval from the ministry of environment and forests under the Costal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms.

"We have selected Kochi for the project as the city has much potential for shopping malls. Almost 40% of the piling work was over and the mall will be opened in the next three years," said an official with Presitge Group. Meanwhile, the piling work of Great India Palace, promoted by Unitech, is also in progress. The mall, which is coming up with an investment of over Rs 450 crore, will have a total built up area of 14.5 lakh sq ft.

According to sources, both malls have already tied up with two leading multiplex chain operators.

"The upcoming malls will definitely benefit consumers as consumers will get more choices. But the upcoming malls will have to create their own unique selling proposition to draw the crowd as by the time existing malls will become established," said Susil S Dungarwal, chief mall mechanic, Beyond Squarefeet, a Mumbai-based mall management company.

Meanwhile, The Centre Square Mall, which will have 11 screens, is set for opening by next month. Apart from the leading names, two smaller malls, promoted by local companies, will be opened in the next couple of years.

And these malls are coming up near the city's IT hub, Infopark.