Rise of the Phoenix

Ever wondered what High Street Phoenix means to the city of Mumbai? Greek mythology must consider rewriting its text after realising how its long-lived bird has renewed itself, giving the middle class Mumbaikar a regenerated pair of wings to rid him of his urban loneliness.

I, like all of you, have seen the evolution of Phoenix Mills right from the time Gandhiji’s descendants stopped spinning yarn and started twirling the bowling ball with the establishment of the Bowling Co. in the early ’90s. Rich school friends hosted afternoon birthday parties where this newfound love of the big ball reached dizzying heights. We scrambled and jostled for the next marble-textured ball as soon as the previous one consistently rolled into the gutters. Just when we had more than our share of running around in ill-fitting bowling shoes, we scurried across to Sports Bar to play some Pool—the other sport in vogue at the time. As one grows older, there’s one thing one realises: no matter what the size of ball, the craze will pass.

 

As we moved from school to college, High Street Phoenix resurrected itself yet again and brought in Fire and Ice, the only nightclub in the country where you could feel hot and cold at the same time (depending on the purpose of your visit and the ‘pori’ that you are dancing with). Once again, prosperous friends with contacts got us in and we danced the night away; forcing the DJ to play our music of choice and getting high on filtered water, as soft drinks were way out of our budget. Soon next to it came Provogue – The clothes store by day that transformed itself into bare minimum clothes by night with psychedelic lights and thumping beats.

 

Sections of the textile mill were still operational at this time, but cotton soon had a new address and it was Cotton World. Then, there was no looking back. Phoenix, as we all fondly called it, developed over 3.3 million sq. feet to house more than 500 brands, each of them causing a hole in the pocket of the trousers bought from its own environs. And that tied in neatly, because as the myth goes, a phoenix obtains a new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

 

Luckily, cousins got promoted to top jobs at Pantaloons and Big Bazaar, and the availability of discounts for basic necessities continued to be reason enough to visit Lower Parel—an area of the city I only equated with Wadia Baug once upon a time. By that time, Mr. McDonald was already posing at one corner of the courtyard, attracting the nouveau riche Gujarati with the custom-made vegetarian meal and its classic aloo-tikki burger.

 

Middle-aged Parsi ladies almost had an orgasm when they found out that Marks & Spencer had arrived here. Their favourite flowery frocks exclusively for agiyari wear on New Year’s day were now available right next to the waistline-altering Copper Chimney, Noodle bar and Gazali; the size of the meal determining the choice of the outfit. Even when foreign friends visited, Phoenix became the destination of choice, with Fab India and The Bombay Store adding local flavour to the melting pot. The surprising thing about their phases of expansion is that in the last 5 years they managed to build an entire 20 storeyed 5-star hotel, but they are still busy renovating the Crossword bookstall in the basement. I guess because it has lots of more stories!

 

The arcade has become the Facebook for people with real social lives, not just virtual ones. Friends we haven’t seen for years are suddenly helping us choose designer handbags at Gucci; of course, no attempt is made to purchase any. The cooler, younger ones show up with a different date at every movie outing, whereas older ones consistently come with the same one and unsurprisingly even look perkier. And quite often, you may see an old Parsi uncle in Croma fiddling with a broken electronic item, helping the staff to fix it.

 

Depending on the stage of life you are in, this place has something in store for you. If you’re a pretty young thing dating an older sugar-daddy, then head straight to Palladium; if you have irritating 10-year-olds, then hang out in the courtyard with a person screeching on the mic, shelling out freebies; if you’re in the mood for a massage, then South-East Asian lookalikes will take care of you at the spa and salon at Sukho-Thai. And if you’re at the stage of your life where I am, you have to shuttle between Mothercare and Hamley’s.

 

Like most of the world, we too have adopted the ‘shopping mall mania’ from the US.

While the shopping mall is on a rapid decline, in the US, on account of amazon.com and the recession; for us here, the trend continues to remain on the upswing. But I must confess that I hate going to Phoenix. And that’s because I detest shopping. I’m more than happy to wear and use stuff that is given to me rather than having to go out there and buy it for myself. Every time I visit Mumbai, I pledge to myself that this visit will not see me entering this irresistible fortress, and unfortunately, I always succumb to circumstance. Its my way of paying homage to Victor Gruen, the ‘father of the shopping mall’, an architect by profession, who planned whole settlements around the shopping mall, and went on to design the first fully enclosed shopping mall, the Southdale Center in Minnesota in 1956. Now you can safely tick-off your quota of new things to learn for the day.

 

It’s sad that in a city as bustling as Mumbai, besides the few plays that sparingly run, there is no other form of entertainment. No public spaces to boast of, limited cultural experiences and even if you manage to get to one of them, there’s no parking. Which also happens to be the most irritating thing about Phoenix: you drive in spirals six times around, across 6,000 cars, always wondering how anyone could possibly hit the car at the bend looking at all those black marks on its white walls, and then find a spot that’s furthest from where you need to exit.

 

I’m sure you’ve lined up fancy plans to celebrate the New Year. But if you still haven’t booked your favourite Parsi natak already or headed for a Godiwala feast somewhere, then see you at High Street Phoenix.

 

Here’s wishing you and your loved ones an evolved New Year.

 

 

Mazda Turel.