A Camel in the Land of Elephants

So this past Monday, in the midst of the wettest monsoon Kerala has seen in more than twenty years, I was successful in finally making it to the Lulu mall in Kochi. 

We’d tried to get there on Sunday. Well, it was a half-hearted try – and like most half-hearted tries by my family to cut through crowds at shopping Meccas around the world, it failed miserably. The traffic was backed up from Edappally all the way to Guruvayoor, and possibly to the Arabian Sea beyond it.

This, then: the Lulu Hypermarket on a Monday afternoon in July. Streams of people going in and streams of them coming out. Few buying anything, many out to gawk at the khubus machine which was happily churning out puffed up flat bread that the men at the counter were deftly feeding into blue and red plastic packs. Most of the gawkers didn’t want to buy the bread. There was more fun watching it being made.

Near the khubus counter, chillers filled with ready-to-buy cakes (black forest, nougat, pineapple, chocolate) stared out appealingly at the shoppers. Each had a garish pink or green plastic knife attached to its little tray. I didn’t see anyone buy a cake. Perhaps the weather outside did not make for pleasurable cake eating.

Six-muffins-in-a pack, plastic boxes of croissants (plain, cheese, zatar and chocolate), cinnamon rolls and chocolate doughnuts. Signs saying Ramadan Kareem hanging over large bottles of Vimto (on offer for Rs. 250 or thereabouts).

You close your eyes here and listen to the music on the PA system and the chatter around you and you could be anywhere: Dubai, Muscat, Doha. You open your eyes and you see the same faces you might see in hypermarkets in any of those cities. Then, you realize, these faces (and the bodies they belonged to) have that fresh-off-the-plane look that NRIs wear like coats. They were probably in Dubai or Muscat or Doha a few weeks before in Lulu Hypermarkets just like this one.

And yet, here they are: taking time off their summer holidays and making journeys of three hours and more over potholes in the rainiest of months in a season of rain just to see what they see every weekend of their lives back home in the Gulf.

Why do this? 

To marvel at the khubus machine? To think: how did he get this done here, negotiating pesky customs officers and town planners and municipal busybodies? How did this man build this obtrusive beige cuboid that sits, alien, a camel in a land of elephants?

When we leave, the crowds are making their way in by the hundreds, shrieking and laughing and marveling at this conceit that packs in its bowels the light and air and objects that really don’t feel like they belong here.
All these bodies, all these footfalls. The conjurers of this can claim a success.

But, but: all those khubus-machine-gawkers don’t really pay for the pleasure. And parking in Kochi is almost impossible. What was once free, is no longer so. Pay to park your Innovas and SUVs and other gas guzzling metal whales. 

The camel, seeing the elephant and soaking in the rain, is shedding its skin, slimming its humps. Give it a few years. It will be trumpeting with its slowly sprouting trunk.


  1. The mall has been 'coming soon' for as long as I can remember! I remember a few years ago when all the stores in Kerala began running their "NRI Shopping Festivals" - there was no attempt of any sort to mask that they were targeting the cash rich NRIs. Lulu sounds like a year long NRI shopping festival by your account...

  2. Yup - year round NRI shopping festivals are the norm now.

  3. Reminds me so much of how NRI Bengalis make a beeline for a few chosen swankboxes (read shopping malls) as soon as they land in Calcutta, while their words speak endlessly about the corners of the city they loitered in their youth. I have a strong feeling that the central air-conditioning of the malls has a big part to play in this.

    1. What! Are even Bongs like this? Shocking! :p