Castles in the air - they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too.

आम्हां घरी धन शब्दांचीच रत्नें | शब्दांचीच शस्त्रें यत्न करुं ||
शब्द चि आमुच्या जीवांचे जीवन | शब्दें वांटूं धन जनलोकां ||
तुका म्हणे पाहा शब्द चि हा देव | शब्द चि गौरव पूजा करुं ||
- abhang of Tukaram Wolhoba Ambile of Dehu

There's No Freedom Like That of a Child's Imagination

கடலுக்கு உண்டு கற்பனைக்கு இல்லை கட்டுப்பாடு

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Anthropological Taxonomy of Mumbaikars

[Originally posted on The South Reports]

Abstract:

As a Mumbaikar, born in Matunga and raised in military cantonments, I have had both an indsider's and an outsider's perspective of this city in which I have made (and unmade) my destiny. This has given me a unique (and unenviable) chance to observe the denizens of this super-city very carefully, and make mental notes from time to time. For the sake of those who seek to know this sometimes bewildering metropolis, this article will lay out a brief anthropological study.

Methods:

The chief methods used in this study are listed as follows:

1. Resident observation: Like Jane Goodall who became the world's expert on chimpanzees by living among them, I have been living among the Mumbaikars to gain the best insights. This consists of

a) buying a house

b) thereby undergoing daily living expenses

c) therefore holding down a job

d) hence commuting by crushing train and lurching bus and

e) interacting with representative specimens.

At the same time, a scientifically detached mind is needed, lest one forget that one's objective is study and not sympathy.

2. Copious note-taking: All anthropological and behaviour studies consist of letting the subjects be as free as is possible, and to mask the observer effect. Therefore, use of cameras, sound recorders and such articles as may bring out the worst in behaviour (as camera recordings of parliament have shown) have been assiduously avoided. Instead taking hand-written notes, especially in the form of sms, is the preferred method.

3. Unbiased interviews: Subjects have been interviewed by the author, without their knowing that this is an interview. This has taken the form of verbal fights with rickshawmen, idle chit-chat in buses and queues, squabbles in local trains during rush-hour, eavesdropping on people in restaurants etc.

4. Literature survey: It is important to know what studies have been performed already. For this, a regular subscription to Mumbai Mirror and other sleazy journals is a must. Also reading Saamna, Mumbai Samachar, Marattiya Malar, Inquilab over the shoulders of commuters.


Observations and Inferences:

The study lasted a period of over seventeen years. While there may not be much scope to present a detailed study, a short summary is presented herein. It is thus the author's claim that Mumbaikars can be divided roughly into ten major species in three genera, listed below in terms of visibility:-


Genus Bombaicus:

This genus exists in a tiny minority in the city's population, but is nevertheless its most visible and overwhelming. Much of the city's infrastructure is designed keeping this genus in mind. Divided into three species:

Bombaicus sobo: Commonly known as the Sobo; females of the species are sometimes called Sobitches. Lives in South Bombay, and will not be caught dead referring to the city as Mumbai. Inhabits Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Malabar Hill and Cumballa Hill; ignorant of all land and life north of Mahalakshmi. Wears Armani suits and totes Gucci bags. Does not vote in elections due to lack of valet parking and air-conditioning in polling booths.

Bombaicus bandraicus: Commonly called the Bandroid; females are Bandra babes. Formerly endemic to Bandra, but now may be found as far north as Andheri Lokhandwala. Males brawny with gym-ripped musculature, females skinny with shaved legs. Brain not detected in most. Work as receptionists, models, starlets or as eye-candy in Page 3 pictures.

Bombaicus modernicus: Actually a mutant species from the below-mentioned genus, but prefers to align with the former. Lives in suburbs, and is reluctant to admit so. Will refer to Mumbai as Bombay as far as one can. Tries to follow the Sobo and the Bandroid, but not as far as Mauritius for vacations (can't afford it; so settles for Goa instead). Will regret the decline of the city; and will do so on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Uses voting day for an excuse to go on an excursion to Lonavala.


Genus Mumbaicarus:

This is the dominant genus, making up most of the population. Visibility ranges from negligible to none. The common feature of this genus is the infinite ability to cope with bullshit, sometimes euphemistically referred to as the 'Mumbai spirit'. Divided into seven species:

Mumbaicarus maladicus: Sometimes referred to as M. occidentalis. Inhabits the region from Khar to Mira Road. Divided into two races. Race gujju is known for operating small to medium businesses, getting crushed in first class compartments of local trains, reading Gujarati economic newspapers and shouting profanities into the phone. Visibility rises phenomenally during the dandiya season. Race bhaiyya is known for operating tiny to small businesses or doing menial jobs, getting crushed in second class compartments of local trains, reading Hindi lurid papers and shouting profanities into the phone. Almost never visible to the city's planners.

Mumbaicarus mulundicus: Sometimes referred to as M. centralis. Inhabits the region from Dadar to Kalyan. Exclusively Marathi-speaking. Divided into two races - kalyanicus and dadaricus. The former is always in a rush, often younger or middle-aged and reads Lokmat; the latter has enormous leisure (to spend at plays) and is elderly with children settled in America and reads Loksatta. Visibility rises during Ganpati season; especially in lines at Lalbaugcha Raja. As invisible to city planners as M. maladicus.

Mumbaicarus mankhurdicus: Sometimes referred to as M. harboricus. Inhabits the region from Dockyard Road to Panvel. This is a poorly studied species, despite its relative abundance. Nevertheless, two subspecies can be discerned; debate exists as to whether they may be two separate species altogether. Subspecies M. m. sewricus is found in the Dockyard Road-Mankhurd area, inhabits dilapidated chawls, while susbspecies M.m. navimumbaicus lives in the areas beyond Vashi. As invisible to city planners as the above two species.

Mumbaicarus masala-dosicus: Also referred to a M. mathematicus; commonly called ‘Lungi’, though never on the face. This is a migrant species that has now made Mumbai its home. Formerly concentrated in Matunga and Dharavi, it has now spread all over Mumbai. You can see specimens of this species in the accounts departments of most offices, as well as running Udupi hotels and masala dosa stalls in business districts. Generally invisible, unless mathematics or hunger strikes.

Mumbaicarus millworkericus: Also M. slumdwellicus. The most numerous and most invisible species of this city. Gaunt thin appearance, generally hungry, but extremely hardworking. Family size of about six squashed into a flimsy shoebox. When elections come round however, this species becomes the most visible and celebrated of the city’s inhabitants. A spectacle that occurs once in five years, similar to the bamboo flowering season that happens once in 12 years. In 2012, the M. millworkericus Visibility Incident is scheduled for February 18.

Mumbaicarus manseicus: Unusually for species in the Mumbaicarus genus, this is a highly visible species; often seen with sticks, cycle chains and slogans. Commonly seen putting up posters and hoardings of chosen leaders. The taxonomy of this species is tricky. It has two races, which are utterly hostile to each other. The MaNaSe race is generally considered more radical, but the Sena race makes it up with numbers. It has been suggested that the Sena race be separated as Mumbaicarus senaicus, although this is evolutionarily the earlier race.


Genus D:

This genus, which has only one species – D.companicus –, is the strangest of them all. Although almost entirely invisible, even during election season, it exercises a disproportionate influence on the other species. If seen at all, it will be on a bike with swords or guns; else it is rarely reported except in ‘encounters’ with the police. Nevertheless, a continuing source of inspiration for Ram Gopal Verma’s badly made films. This species has also left behind a lasting image of Mumbai in other cities.


Conclusion:

This study has managed to document the major species of the city, their habits and visibility over a period of 17 years. Yet it may be said that it suffers from two flaws. Firstly, seventeen years is still too small a time to completely document all specimens. Other species, diverse in numbers and visibility might still exist. Secondly, observer bias cannot be ruled out. The observer can, for example, assert with 95% confidence limits that the incidence of M. masala-dosicus might be higher than real, largely as a result of belonging to that species and therefore attending too many weddings of that species.

Nevertheless, this may be successfully reported as the first attempt at drawing up a comprehensive anthropological taxonomy of Mumbai.

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