City Hangout – Three Wild Malls, Nelson Mandela Marg
It was all acacia.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The outdoor sound system is playing soft, moody music. It could be Kenny G.
Who could have thought that this desolate wilderness in south Delhi would one day be serenaded by a saxophonist’s tunes. That the rocky ridge that used to be littered with weedy bushes and snakes would be tamed with elegant tiles. That the thorny trees would give way to showrooms and cafes.
The three shoulder-to-shoulder shopping malls in Vasant Kunj lie amid a vastness that continues to be partly undomesticated. The malls opened only about a decade back. Charanjit Singh, who retired as a professor at Centre of Russian Studies in nearby Jawaharlal Nehru University, was a JNU student from 1969 to 1973. He used to go walking around the area where these malls are now, and in those times, it all used to be an “undulated thorny acacia and scrubland”.
You ought to spend a lazy afternoon in the gigantic plaza outside these malls to absorb the change our city is undergoing. This December day, the sky is smog-free because of last night’s rain. A window of sharp, glittering sunshine has opened up, and some shoppers are exploiting it by lounging along the plaza’s seating spaces, speckled along an archipelago of tiny landscaped gardens.
With the malls in the back and the trees lining the horizon across the Nelson Mandela Marg, one feels perched on a land of new beginnings. This is the ‘new’ New Delhi. It is like lounging in the brand new Connaught Place when it was set up by the Brits with the clearing of a babool forest all those years ago. Fifty years from today, all these trees here that face the malls might also give way to concrete destinations.
Meanwhile, the plaza is a gift for people who are into people-watching. Every person here appears to be as full of stories as any promising OTT series. A couple is sitting next to a man, who is sitting alone. It is difficult to discern who is lonelier — the morosely quiet pair or the single man happily tapping on his phone. Another romantic pair is flaunting their sartorial compatibility — she is in a green leather jacket, he has a green canvas pithu bag. Then there’s the steady procession of consumers popping out of a glass door from the mall directly behind, balancing multiple shopping bags in their arms with as much dexterity as a railway station porter.
Soon, the sun begins to fade, and it becomes uncomfortably cooler. Kenny G continues to serenade. A young man in a blue denim mask, white pullover and denim jeans walks past humming Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness. It’s difficult to believe that some years ago this was all acacia here.
a new New Delhi