“The malls are changing the culture,” our friend Monali told us a few months ago. We’d asked her to describe some of the changes she’d seen in India over the last few decades. This is a question we’ve asked many of our Indian friends; hers was an answer we hadn’t yet heard.
Saket Citywalk Mall in Delhi. Photo by Flickr user nithinkd.
We’d already learned that Delhi’s social life used to revolve almost exclusively around the home. Jenny’s boss Renuka told us of growing up in a Delhi in which there were almost no restaurants outside the fancy hotels, which meant that most gatherings of friends and family took place in each others’ homes. In this situation, children were never far from the watchful eyes of parents and neighbors.
Times have changed, obviously. As the 800+ Café Coffee Day outlets now open across India will attest.
Café Coffee Day in Mumbai. Photo by Flickr user ianjacobs.
And all those coffee shops, restaurants, and malls have made it easier for teenagers to do teenage things without that historically intense parental supervision. Especially the malls, as Monali told us. So now, with teenagers given widespread access to venues for hanging out on their own terms, a sea change could be cresting:
- Boys and girls hang out.
- They go on dates.
- They fall in love.
- They fall out of love.
- They fall in love again. (In other words, relationships are made and unmade in accordance with the fleeting whims of fickle teens — that is, independent of parental influences.)
- Which means teenagers grow accustomed to asserting control over their love lives.
- Which means they push back on traditional parental authority in this realm.
- Which means that India finds itself on the path to American-style marriage. (And, inevitably, American-style divorce rates.)
There have been many stories about the repercussions on India’s traditional family structure of children now routinely out-earning their parents. With such economic independence, it’s said, the decision-making role of the patriarch is significantly diminished. (And this goes double for women.)
But Jenny and I have only seen this shift documented upon the point of the child entering the workforce — which is, of course, after the child’s schooling. But if Monali and that conjecture above is correct, then the malls are breeding independence into teens during the schooling years.
Which means there are now two forces at work: economic independence in the twenties that builds upon social independence in the teens. So what kind of change will this bring?