Bright Lights, Big Stars: Chitrakoot’s First Mall’s Got Something Special

“A friend of mine came back from Dubai the other day and she was flaunting her shoes…. They were nice, but she didn’t know (or have) what I did… ‘Girl,’ I said to her, ‘You haven’t been to the mall at Karwi, have you? You have to check out the shoes there.”

We’re marking a historical moment here. Chandrakanta Chandralok Mall, Karwi’s first mall, is a recent entrant onto the cultural scene of this town that hadn’t changed a bit in many, many decades. And it seems like Karwi was more than ready for it, from the growing demand for all things shiny and Chinese. It has refashioned, kasba-style, that frenetic UP style ‘raunak’ and has changed, forever, the meaning of ‘timepass’ for Bundelkhand. Families from Karwi and adjoining districts now spend entire days and holidays here, shopping, eating and having fun. Karwi’s got designer catalogues, bumper cars, slot machines and a pasta counter. There’s also talk of a ‘cineplex’ in the pipeline, and that’s got everyone here excited. Cinema culture kind of died after Deepak Talkies went into losses four years ago, and mobile phone ‘chips’ became the one-stop source of entertainment.

Amidst the buzz, there’s another first that got us excited – new jobs for a new generation, and, lo and behold, a young girl at the cash counter. Priyanka, 23, is all smiles when we meet her; unabashedly thrilled to be the only girl considered good enough to do this job, amongst a lot of bright-eyed young people who have been recruited. Priyanka is from Mau kasbah, a good 2-hour bus ride from here. This is her first job and she joined here on the basic salary and trainee programme offered to all employees. During her training she worked as a shopping assistant and was soon promoted to the cash counter – you have to show promise and inspire confidence in being able to handle the transactions – and Priyanka informs us proudly that this happened very soon. “I only joined on October 2,” she grins. Priyanka’s in the final year of her MA in politics, and took up this job as she was keen to start working.

Ambition and grit give colour to her dreams and Priyanka views this job as a kickstart for her future, which she imagines as bright and busy. “I love my job”, she says, “The whole day just goes by in the blink of an eye… there’s so much chehel-pehel here.” 2 to 8 pm are the busiest hours here and we are witness to the throngs one Saturday evening, when we decide to go shoe-shopping. “It’s the most fun, being in the thick of it all. You have to be swift, and you must smile at the customers – you must take pride in the job,” is her knowing opinion, delivered as many peers look on, admiringly. It’s a long day and at times, Priyanka has to stay back even after 8 pm when the shoppers refuse to call it a day! “It is tiring, yes, but it also gives me a thrill.” It’s also made her a bunch of friends, who look on admiringly as she’s interviewed, and given her a big dose of confidence that radiates as we’re taken on a guided tour of the crockery and cosmetics department.

Priyanka credits her “supportive family” a lot when she talks about her plans, “In my family, we all have the freedom to take our own decisions. We have always been encouraged to do what we want to do, what we like to do.” Perhaps that’s one strong reason why Priyanka was able to take the call of staying away from home and family, in Karwi – because that’s close to her workplace – by herself. A decision still regarded unconventional, even in big cities, as we know only too well.

Does she get extra attention, we ask her? “Sometimes. People are fascinated at seeing me, the only girl on the cash machine. And also because I’m handling all the important stuff.” But Priyanka works with her eye on the ball, “If you do your work with sincerity, earnestly, then you also feel like you’ve earned your money. It doesn’t really matter then what people are thinking or assuming. Do you know what I mean?”

We nod along, even as she adds, smiling, “It’s also made me a bit of a celebrity.”

Next stop, Lucknow, is what we hear, behind a coy smile.