ON AN unusually hot and sticky January weekend, Priyanka Joe was looking forward to nothing in particular when her father-in-law suddenly ordered her out of home. “‘Go and learn how to shop. The mall has come to our doorstep’, he shouted,” recalls Joe about how she was introduced to the floating mall in Kerala’s Kuttanadu. A clump of earth spattered all over the vast Vembanadu Lake, the largest water body in Kerala, Kuttanadu itself is a perpetually floating piece of land. With its crisscrossing canals and deep rivers, the region depends on water for everything, including sporting—snakeboat race is perhaps the only sport known to its people. Shopping, too, is no exception, thanks to what the residents of Kuttanadu have come to believe as “the first floating mall in the world”.
Designed by a homegrown engineering company, the floating mall is operated by the state government’s Consumerfed, a cooperative founded nearly four decades ago with the aim of selling essential commodities to families at prices less than the market rates. Consumerfed commissioned its first floating mall four years ago when it realised the only way to meet the needs of the people in the backwaters region of the state was to set up markets on a travelling boat. Called ‘Floating Triveni’, compared to its land-based ‘Triveni’ shops, the mall on the water keeps just about everything a home needs. And people keep filling every day into the floating malls that are helping a whole population cut off by nature from the rest of the world.
The elders in Kuttanadu recall early days of trading by boatmen, who used to barter their wares like kitchen utensils and earthen pots for chicken and duck eggs, a household farming in the area. Consumerfed’s Alappuzha regional manager Anil P Zacharia, who oversees three Floating Trivenis in Kuttanadu and its surrounding places and another one in nearby Kottayam, says there have been instances of similar selling in tiny traditional boats in Thailand too. “But our floating malls, stocked with a variety of essential commodities, are big, like supermarkets,” says Zacharia. “Everyone is happy to shop seven days a week, saving time and money in going to big shops in faraway towns,” he adds. Agrees Greeshma Ratheesh, who bought a bottle of perfume from the floating mall in Naluchira, an island village 15km from Alappuzha, on New Year’s day. “I didn’t have to go to the town