Every city has a word. A word that might not have resonance or traction in any other place, but in the confines of its home city, is indispensable. In Singapore, it’s “lah”; in Delhi, “oye” and in Mumbai, it’s “boss” – used with multiple inflections, each with its own meaning. As a way to catch a stranger’s attention, perhaps, or as a way to express frustration or even to express specifics like “Come here”, “Don’t try to take advantage of me” and “What’s wrong?”
Its many uses as well as other uniquely Mumbai colloquialisms have been captured in Griphin Official’s “Shit People Say in Mumbai”, a YouTube short inspired by a series of similar videos made around the world. The city’s consumerist (and the filmmakers’ sexist) attitude is evident when a girl tells her friend, “Dude, the Mango sale is on!” There’s celebrity-spotting by way of a telephone conversation (“Priyanka Chopra is sitting right next to me”), and a Mumbai darshan (“Okay, now that’s Amitabh’s house.”) Our island city’s fixation with geography is also hinted at.
The great geographic divide is also the basis of the two competing memes, south Mumbai’s Obnoxious Townie Lemur and its frenemy, the Righteous Burbie Raccoon – both the critters have a Facebook page. The laughs are cheap and easy – usually playing up the cluelessness each has about the other side of the city – but they reflect the stark mental divide between the residents of the areas. Most Mumbaikars grow up on either side of, say, Worli – a concept migrants and expats first find alien. So it’s easier for “townies” to travel to Singapore (to shop at Forever 21) or the US (where they last caught Norah Jones playing) than to visit “Kandi Valley”, which is not as nice as Aamby Valley. The suburban raccoon has rejoinders for the cranky lemur, but does not spend too much time advancing the virtues of the great north.
A few themes emerge from both the memes: a disdain for Delhi and the city’s transport network is an easy and obvious target. Mumbai’s small apartments elicit the excited “Hey, you have a bathtub!” in the video, while our primate friend scoffs at the notion of putting down Rs44,000 for a BlackBerry phone when a square foot of real estate in south Mumbai can be had for the same price. With their tongues firmly placed in their cheek, the memes serve as a collective, crowd-sourced documentation of the way we conduct ourselves on a daily basis.
This article first appeared in Time Out Mumbai