The depraved depths of societal sickness can be measured by many yardsticks - blatant selfishness and greed being signature hallmarks of an illness, which, ruthlessly encouraged by those profiteering from mindless consumerism, threatens to be terminal for the world as we know it and nowhere does this disease so clearly manifest as in the latest Islamabad hang-out. It goes by the rather strange name of ‘Centaurus Mall’ that, presumably, alludes to it being a hybrid creation of shops, cinema, hotel, offices and apartments all in one.
What is supposed to be an impressive line-up of three monstrous, 41-floor tower blocks on top of a mega-shopping mall, sulks, quite ominously, over Jinnah Avenue and the surrounding area which, as construction of an adjoining five-star hotel is currently underway, cannot be described as a ‘pretty sight’ and, rather than adding a dash of modernity to ‘Islamabad the green’, it declares itself to be exactly, no pretence here, what it is: an ugly monument to tasteless materialism in all its disdainful pride and money grubbing vanity.
This humungous blot on the landscape, designed by British architectural company W.S. Atkins and boasting a price tag of $350 million, probably more by the time all phases are completed, has been the talk of the town since construction began back in 2006 and has also, unsurprisingly, been the subject of still ongoing disputes with the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and was, although this is resolved, a bone of contention with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) who claimed that the number of authorised floors had been increased and thus presented a hazard to aviation.
An apparent lack of any green building technology whatsoever, something the architects should not have been allowed to get away with, does absolutely nothing to enhance the outward utilitarian appearance of what is, unsurprisingly, a completely tasteless shopping mall smacking of the kind of ruthless cost cutting that will, given a year or two of heavy use, begin to fall apart at the seams to reveal itself as the purpose designed ghetto it really is.
Described, in various publications, as the ‘symbol of a new and modern Pakistan’, this prime example of tastelessness is the brain-child of a Pakistani-Saudi consortium known as Pak-Gulf Construction. And which, society being as sick as it so obviously is, will rake in vast profits all along the line as gullible consumers flock, like the droves of sheep they are, to use the substandard facilities provided; and, for those devoid of any vestige of sanity, to invest, no doubt extremely heavily, in the offices and apartments balanced atop the shopping mall that, on the outside, resembles some sort of ‘holding’ facility and that, in a sense, it is.
A high percentage of the approximately 250 shops are taken, predominantly by, of all things, outlets for shoes and bags boasting of ‘bling’, a nouveau riche characteristic that spills over, incredibly so, into Al-Fatah superstore where those - and there appears to be an awful lot of them around - prepared to spend Rs5 lacs on dinner sets purportedly emblazed with 24 carat gold leaf and matching obscenities like diamante encrusted cutlery sets, can indulge to their hearts - surely that should be ‘heartless’ seeing that over half of the population of 180 million plus, struggles to exist way below the poverty line and that literally millions of children are suffering, and dying, from malnutrition - delight.
Pakistanis have never been renowned for their taste, aside from on the traditional culinary front that is. But even this falls by the wayside judging from the plethora of fast food outlets that, thanks to disastrously inadequate ventilation, are responsible for the suffocating, eye-watering, throat-searing, atmospheric smog of fried food fumes that replace, with nauseating effect, any hint of breathable air as shoppers, eaters, hanger-outers and children heading for the 4th floor ‘fun city’ ride the escalators or take the lift above the second floor above which breathing apparatus is recommended!
Undiluted noise, emitting from various sources and of varying degrees of ‘loud’, is, for those unaccustomed to exploring the ‘alien’ world of shopping malls, disorientating to say the least although, having given the matter some thought, the acoustics just may be purposely designed to disorientate in order to take the sting out of spending ‘disposable’ income on ludicrous pastimes like allowing a computer to imprint designs on fingernails or to fork out cash to have a fake diamond stud glued to a front tooth after which, one presumes, the recipient is advised to avoid eating anything remotely resembling food as even an ice-cream might have an unintended crunch factor.
It is often - all too often - claimed that Islooites, along with all the other ‘ites’ in the country, flock to shopping malls in search of entertainment. Yet, it is fairly obvious that entertainment as such is not the objective of such places, even if, like Centaurus Mall, there is a cinema on the premises.
The prime objective of malls is to extract as much money from people as possible and the sad fact of the matter is that people, including many who should know better, fall for it hook, line and sinker. As an economic indicator, malls show that the economy of Pakistan is far stronger than is generally portrayed. But malls are for the ‘privileged’ few, whilst going hungry is the lot of the many and this imbalance is sick.
The writer has authored a book titled The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War and lives in Bhurban.