Sunday, December 20, 2009

South Mumbai Syndrome - the Aliens have landed!

It’s really strange how strongly people react these days to a person who happens to live in South Mumbai . First, the eyebrows wiggle,next the expression becomes quizzical, and finally conversation freezes. But why?? This has become a predictable pattern post 26\11, during which a large number of people believed the media extended an exaggerated amount of coverage to the terror attacks only because the targets picked were located in this area. To some extent, this is true. But a year later, that lop-sided sentiment remains unchanged. Even within the metropolis, there is a clear North-South divide, which is growing by the day.The divide exists as much in people’s minds as in reality, and never mind the Sea Link that is supposed to bridge both. I am often taken aback by the vehemence of the reactions, and as an unapologetic South Mumbaikar, my guess is that most of the backlash comes from the vague feeling (frequently justified) that those who reside here live inside a bubble with no real connect to the rest of the city… even less to the rest of India.

At a recent, high profile book launch event hosted by the Taj Mahal Hotel, at which the reticent Ratan Tata himself was the chief guest, a visiting executive from Chennai looked awestruck and in a daze. He said he was attending such a function in Mumbai after a gap of a decade, and had forgotten how things run in this town. His tone was envious. Just then, another invitee came up to comment that there was nothing all that exceptional about the evening, adding smugly, “This is how we do it here.” I looked around the room at the posh gathering and honestly speaking, there were no surprises. Perhaps living in this part of the woods makes one take such functions for granted. And why not?All of a sudden, there seems to be a paradoxical ‘class war’ on, in which the South Mumbai ‘elite’ as they are invariably referred to, have become the main targets of a petulant hate campaign. Is there something of significance brewing just under the surface here …or is it childish carping at its worst by those who feel somehow excluded? And what is so terrible about South Mumbaikars, to begin with? Attitude, maybe the answer. Though, the fact of the matter is, the only people who qualify as today’s super elite are our politicians – India’s biggest landlords. The sort of money we spend to ‘protect’ them is obscene. And as a class, nobody enjoys better perks. South Mumbaikars by comparison, are the underdogs who underwrite those perks!

When it comes to wealth, there are equally rich people spread across India. In fact, far richer! Money is not the monopoly of Mumbaiwallas . Ironically, the sho-sha associated with money is far more brazen in other cities, notably, Delhi. But it is always the Big Boys from South Mumbai’s Billionaires’ Club who hit the headlines, and are held up as prime examples of extravagant living.But ask car dealers of the priciest wheels in town as to who’s booking those amazing one crore plus wheels, and they’ll tell you it’s the sugar farmers in Kolhapur and not just the Brothers Ambani. Travel to Pune and see the lifestyles of the rich and famous Punekars to know what good living is all about. Who are the people putting down serious money for yachts, private jets and other expensive toys? South Mumbai tycoons? Naah. Not really. It’s the guys who hang out in lush suburbs further North. But why crib about these things. The truth is, South Mumbai symbolizes an unachievable dream in the popular imagination. This dream has become so exaggerated it has started to look absurd, even comical. When critics hurl accusations of insensitivity, superficiality, shallowness, selfishness and worse, at South Mumbai residents, it is a total cop out. An obvious and annoying conclusion based on narrow minded stereotyping and deep seated prejudice. The main argument rarely extends beyond, “What has so-and-so done in terms of giving back to society?” This is said with a level of self righteous fury, as if to dismiss that person’s right to continue his\her life without having to periodically justify or defend everything and then some more.
It’s come to the stage, where people will soon be admitting sheepishly, “ Some of my best friends are South Mumbaikars.” Just as it was once de rigueur to make ones position towards the Gay community very clear by declaring, “ Some of my best friends are homosexual,” and more recently, “ Some of my best friends are Muslim.” This sort of polarization is crazy and unwarranted given the bhel puri that is Mumbai, that is India. If I am wearing my exasperation on my sleeve, I ask to be excused this one time! Being a South Mumbaikar used to be fun! Now, it has become a bloody chore. Each time I move out of this space and receive weird looks, I can almost hear people say, “ The aliens have landed, the aliens have landed.” That reminds me – where’s my green suit??


Ran into Smita Thackeray twice in a row, both times at 5-Star venues. One let her gunmen in, the other ( classier and in South Mumbai - of course!), didn't. She is looking like a luscious peach . Leaving the mother ship clearly suits her. Now let us see if Sonia G welcomes Matoshree's abandoned bahu with open arms.


dilchahtahai said...

are you waiting for 3 IDIOTS? How about writing something on eagerly awaiting movie of the year...

Anonymous said...

South Mumbai Syndrome

North-South divide?

NO No no - It is not true.

ZB said...

***The main argument rarely extends beyond, “What has so-and-so done in terms of giving back to society?” This is said with a level of self righteous fury, as if to dismiss that person’s right to continue his\her life without having to periodically justify or defend everything and then some more.***

Very rightly said. Every time some article mention about the super rich in India, one find comments like these. We have to come out of our communist, socialist, outdated mindsets.India needs much more greedy, money minded entrepreneurs like Dhirubhai and Mittals. How much they spend on their super posh houses or lux yacht are their problem. TC, nice post as always. :)

cmpershad said...

The great divide is infinite... mumbaikars vs marathas, south vs north, rich vs poor, .... the list goes on till the last voter :)

jeww said...

Sidhusaaheb said...

Gives me a sense of déjà vu...

I'm often made aware, deliberately or otherwise, even to this day, that I'm different on account of my religious faith. The intensity with which I react has gone down over the years, however.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about this, Ms. De. I was wondering if I was the only one feeling the palpable divide. Have vented about this on my blog last year, after 26/11 vitriol was thrown at "privileged south bombayites who had the audacity to receive larger chunks of media air time". Do take a look if you will. In the meantime, I continue to live my life as a proud South Bombayite who is happiest south of Worli. And no, not even the Sea Link has changed that.

wise donkey said...


Ps : when karnataka cm spends 1.7 crore renovating his bedroom, he didn't get attention or criticism but when ministers pay their bill to stay in five star hotel, they are "out of touch with common man" .

Amrita said...

Liked your Sonia G ... :):)

*Aham* said...

Mr. tata is genuine and very very focused. Though he doesn't seem as concerned about the environment as his predecessors.

speaking about the south bombay fixation. well, id not disagree that there is a difference in every gully that you get into in Mumbai.

But the SoMu/SoBo thing is a myth. People in kandivallii and panvel attend parties in SoBo more often than what SoBo people do.


Ambani i dont know why, i always feel they will topple down like tulsi virani of television. Anyways. glad that they are making hay when the sun shines bright.


Why do people have to make a virtue of being poor? Kaiko! Kashaala? I mean people can be rich and still be nice. Cant they?

And does everyone have to be a dogooder?? Naahi. Some people could do so much by not doing anything.

I hate this generalization as well. It is simply a sly way of brushing away our responsibilities. The SoBo people have not taken thekka of social service.

if you have money and want to blow it up on a single night. its your prerogative. Whether you buy a real jumbo jet or a battery operated toy train...

What seems to be, might not actually be. i mean people who fly high might be dry too.

Anyways, All thats gold doesnt glitter.

Nirbhay said...

I am out of touch with Mumbai and it's North/South Divide.
What exactly are you referring too?

Please take into consideration that lots of your readers are ex-mumbaikars also.

supriya said...

well..i don't know about this strange division of mumbai. But i appreciate your simplicty of expression.

fazal said...

Same here not a mumbaiker but would like to know more about it ........but ya such divide is existing in my city ahmedabad too hope u write something on it too

Theyoginme said...

Is she south or North? I recall her working out at my hotel gym (JWM) in Juhu minus the gunmen..Shobhaa not sure if you have been informed of the ND Tiwari sex scandal. Its disgutting. I remember him as a child. He used to be the chief minister and a friend of a family member who was in politics. There is video on the net of compromised pictures. The guy must be 80 or 90 years old. This is disgusting and continues to add to my disgust of Indian politicians.

vik said...

Mrs de..I hate to say it but the article screams that someone is wanting to PROCLAIM that he/ she is from South Bombay, making the person feel oh all high and the mighty and making a big deal of it
Let's not forget people like you and me live here because our late ancestors came here and lived here. We are but merely living on their legacy and rather that gloat lets sound thankful. This articled SCREAMED gloat.
On the north south divide it's all washed underwater now my friend. Look at the apartments come up that side !! That side of the sea link...North of the sea link.
No mrs de, they don't think of us as aliens , it's US who think we are. It's like being living where the autos don't run makes us SPECIAL , the hallowed one. It's us mrs de , in our heads not theirs.
To sum up I ditto like you come from here , from this hallowed land and just for statement, a very renowned family as well, but it's Us who need to shrug off the ALIEN image lodged in our heads from the day we entered the hallowed schools n colleges n clubs of south mumbai. I ve managed to shrug mine off. When shall you ??? :-) PEACE

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