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.