The Crest Edition
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,

And the Malayalis ARE LOVING IT
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
TIMES NEWS NETWORK hen 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-1950s 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 in the entire political class to ensure social justice. 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

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

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.

From vegan potlucks to niche dating sites, ethical singles are trying hard to find mates that are diet-compatible


ayana Narayan has been searching for the right man. But the 31-year-old admits it is a difficult task. Though fancy degrees, four-figure salaries or the same religion do not top her list of requirements, diet does. “I am looking for a vegan, or at least a vegetarian. I cannot respect someone who eats meat,” says the Mumbai-based Narayan, who became a vegan eight years ago. A Malayali, she became vegetarian after she saw chickens being slaughtered. Later, she went a step further, and turned vegan, cutting out all animal products from not just her diet but her lifestyle. With veganism gaining popularity in India, there is a growing tribe of ethical singles seeking a veg connection. They go on green dates, exchange ideas and numbers at vegan potlucks and, if all else fails, log on to veggie dating sites to find their soul mates. Having the same value system is crucial as it's not easy to be a vegan. It means cutting out not just cheesy piz-

zas, juicy steaks and ice creams but also leather wallets and silk saris. That’s why vegans are still willing to walk up the aisle with a vegetarian but draw the line when it comes to people who eat meat. “My wife, who is from Chennai, is a vegetarian and before we got married I explained to her what my being vegan means,” says Anand Narayanan, who is based in Washington DC. “She respects my choice so we are able to lead a happy life.” For others, it is not so easy. Dietary differences can put a strain on many a romantic relationship. “It is very important to me that the person I marry is an ethical vegan or vegetarian, which means he should have made the choice due to ethical reasons,” says Mumbai-based Sneha Poojary. But her family is still struggling to find a groom from their own community for the 26-year-old. “I come from Mangalore, where people eat loads of fish, so it is difficult,” she says. Some organisations like the Indian Vegan Society in Karnataka, try to help. Shankar Narayan, who founded the society in 2004 to bring like-mind-

LOVE ME, LOVE MY DIET: Kriti Sachdeva Kolbusz met her Polish husband on a dating site for vegetarians. They are both comfortable with a raw vegan lifestyle

ed people together, has begun a small matrimonial section in their quarterly newsletter. “Several vegans contacted me saying that it is difficult for them to get the right match. So we thought of having a section where people can post matrimonial ads,” he says. Others get on to dating sites that cater specifically to the community. “Sites like and are popular as we are a minority,” says Niranjan Amarnath, founder of Chennai Vegan Drinks, an offline social networking group. People get the opportunity to make new friends who share the same interests. Since religion and nationality do not really matter to them, some also find true love. Kriti Sachdeva Kolbusz, for instance, met her husband on site A fitness instructor and nutrition counsellor in New Delhi, she was considered a 'freak' by her very Punjabi family when she became a vegan. Arranged marriage was ruled out as it was next to impossible to find a guy who respected veganism. So she turned to online dating in February where she met Maciek Kolbusz, a Polish computer engineer based in the UK. “We Skyped, exchanged emails and phone calls for four months and then we were sure we wanted to get married,” she says. So

Kriti and her father flew to UK to meet Maciek, whose mother also flew down from Poland to meet Kriti. In a few months, the couple was married. Since Maciek is a raw vegan, which means that he eats no cooked food, Kriti also decided to make the switch. “We try to prepare all sorts of cuisine in a raw vegan style. My husband really likes my curry style salad dressing and I am a big fan of his raw vegan cakes,” says Kriti. They also wear cruelty-free clothes and cosmetics, ie, those that don't come from animals and have not been tested on animals. Maciek and Kriti also have a very minimalist lifestyle. They don't have any furniture except for two tables. They don’t have a TV and use the oven and fridge as cupboards. Kriti is happy with the way her life has worked out. “For me the most important thing was that my husband should be a kind person and you can't really call a person compassionate if he is cruel to animals,” she says. “Though I was looking for an Indian, Maciek made me believe in him.” Other staunch vegans are willing to wait till they find the right match. “I am yet to get married as I am looking for a vegan,'' says Nayana. “What religion he follows is not really important as for us the only religion is kindness.”