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Manek Chowk and Malls: Shopping in Ahmedabad

When we came to Ahmedabad in 1972, one of the monthly rituals was to go to Manek Chowk and buy groceries for the month. Sometimes this extended to hoarding rice and oil for an entire year. We would engage an urchin to carry the basket around until we completed the shopping. Then we would start our journey back in an autorickshaw, laden with the goodies. Over time, this monthly excursion began to fade in its novelty. The municipal market at Navrangpura with its Italian Bakery and Rasranjan sweetshop became more attractive.

Manek Chowk is the city centre where trading in precious metals and gems happened. Even today, one can find some old jewellery shops here. In the night, the area blooms by transforming itself into a vibrant street food market. The mouth-watering aroma of khandvi, dhokla and methi ka thepla permeate the air. I have had visitors from Kerala getting a shock of their life looking at all that glitter, unimaginable back home, where everything shuts down at 8 pm. There are many stalls selling pav bhaji. South Indian food was trendy, and a few stalls specialized in only dosas.

Another shopping experience I enjoy sharing with visitors is the Law Garden Night Market with trinkets, jewellery, dresses, accessories and much more. Most of the wares come from the artisans of the Rann of Kutch. The bead and mirror work, all done by hand, are pretty exquisite. Long, traditional skirts are awash in colour. The prices are shocking, and bargaining is the norm. The markets extend over the road and are always busy. Foreign tourists get a big kick shopping in the festive atmosphere.

I had a scooter those days, and I drove around exploring the city before my family joined me. I came across the quaint Sunday market or Ravivari Baazar on the riverfront between Ellis Bridge and Sardar Bridge. The market, which started in the 15th century, had moved many times, finally settling down on the riverfront in 1954. The market sells all sorts of things — household articles, kitchenware, agricultural tools, electronics, jewellery etc. Ravivari Bazaar is heaven for book lovers. Assorted collection of books, even rare books are available. I have gone to this market a few times, mainly to show the wares of Ahmedabad to visiting friends. Unfortunately, I found the chaos a bit too much.

I saw qualitative changes in the shopping experience when the Big Bazaar opened in the western part of Ahmedabad. We had moved to this area in 1989. It was fun to watch the middle-aged shoppers’ response to the sheer volume of material available for buying. I realized that this was a world far away from the earlier times when almost everything was in short supply. Then, the sight of heaps of stuff, from toothpaste to kitchen machines, would make people start rummaging through them in a frenzy. This spoke volumes about the distance the Indian consumer had travelled.

The western side of Ahmedabad began explosive growth in the eighties. Shopping malls and multiplexes mushroomed up everywhere. I had built a house in Bopal, further to the west by this time. Close to this, many large shopping malls came into existence in the mid-80s. ISCON Mega Mall on the SG Highway covers half a million square feet. It has two substantial central atriums. The mall is famous today for its diverse collection of design ware. A convenient parking space is also available. Alpha One Mall is the largest mall with about a million square feet area. The shop offers a vast array of global and Indian brands. Access from both the Ring road and SG road is possible. They have heightened the movie experience by combining 3D technology with motion simulators.

We live close to these malls, and the proximity has generated some unusual responses. For example, Thomas, my second son, when he returned on a short vacation from San Diego where he used to work, thought that the shops were too close. According to him, the farther you drive for shopping, the better the shopping experience is. I have found this logic beyond me.

A shopping experience (a cultural experience?) I cherish very much is IKEA, the Scandinavian supermarket. I was lucky to sample their ware in Zurich during our occasional visits to my son Joseph and his family, a longtime resident of Switzerland. IKEA’s offerings are both practical and whimsical. The vastness of their shops, the predominantly white theme, the mirrors and the dressing up of the goods gives one an immersive shopping experience. The cafeteria appears mid-way through the shop, and a hot dog stand is at their journey’s end. IKEA is truly international, with stores in 294 stores in 40 countries. In India, they have opened in Hyderabad and are shortly opening in Mumbai.

Contrary to physical shopping, I do enjoy the pleasure of online shopping. Since my wife forbade buying more physical books, I have added to my Kindle collection. In the forced seclusion brought by the COVID contagion, I began to enjoy shopping at the Amazon site for everything from kindle books to candied gooseberry. I have come to love the web experience they provide, the packing and delivery and the ease of rejection of unwanted goods. For over two decades, Amazon has been the trailblazer in e-commerce.

I suppose it is my laziness that makes me admire Amazon. Both buying a product or returning it for some reason, the experience is effortless. Customers like me are more than willing to barter our loyalty. Amazon has introduced several innovations for last-minute connectivity. Amazon Prime get free shipping on thousands of items. Products come ready with the paperwork for return.

A straightforward way to access Amazon is through the Amazon app, especially Prime Day. Prime members can get notified when sale products become available.

Science says that our brains are chemically wired to resonate to acquisitions. Signs of clearance sale are akin to the triggers for other addictions: alcohol, drugs, or even food. Stanford Researchers have found that when you see representations of things you want to purchase, an area of your brain with dopamine receptors responds. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which controls the pleasure centres of the brain. The dopamine receptors respond to new and exciting experience.

Contrary to what science says, years of middle-class conditioning has given me a psyche hardwired against splurging. There is a built-in sense of guilt when I overspend on non- essentials. For some strange reason, this does not appear to apply to a horde of useless things like bowls, vases and the like. In contrast to this, my wife and children have no guilt when they shop. Seeing my children and their wives shop without this baggage of regret is sheer pleasure.

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