I am a “townie”, a moniker we the citizens of South Bombay have infamously earned. I stay in an incredibly tiny, old house, a crumbling structure that’s been around for decades, much before rickshaws started plying and rickshawallahs started rejecting people in the suburbs. It’s nothing like the swank sea-facing four-BHK in a Versova high-rise or the fancy tower with an infinity pool and a tennis court in Powai that my colleague stays in. But unfortunately my pincode has the undesirable effect of making everyone who’s ever heard of South Mumbai think I’m rich, and that I’ll be happy to pay for their drinks.
For those unfamiliar with the geography and hierarchy of Mumbai, South Mumbai is part of the old city. It is home to financial institutions, historic districts with Art Deco buildings, and a place which is now become impossible to describe without throwing in adjectives such as snooty, tony, and posh.
According to urban legend, SoBo is a magical place where people swim in money and dry themselves off with garish ?2000 notes. The clean, cobbled, and supposedly pothole-free streets of Colaba and the moonlit beauty of Marine Drive at dusk provide the backdrop for prancing unicorns and other fantastical things like pots of gold buried under my imaginary garden.
On behalf of all young townies working at millennial jobs, I say it’s time for a reality check.
Think of the cheapest person you know. Not “townie cheap”, which, according to people living in other parts of Mumbai, means leaving a five-rupee tip after paying 500 bucks for French fries. I mean the kind of cheapness that makes you bargain over the price of bottled water at the train station, just to save that extra rupee. That’s me, except I’m even worse. I’m not scrounging each paisa as some kind of hobby since painting and slam poetry were taken by all the other townies. For me, saving up is a way of life because hobbies are for the rich. Sometimes, while staring dismally at the lack of zeroes in my account, I wonder if I should just release a sex tape a là Kim Kardashian and reap all the financial benefits that come with the fame. But I can’t even do that. Why? Because we are in India, and the whole world would just pirate the sex tape, thinking I don’t need the cash because, being a townie, I’m already rich.
However, at the risk of sounding like someone dipped in Chanel No 5 scented privilege, I’m here to break the myth of the rich townie. To stand up for the rights of the misunderstood who are not poor, but aren’t as rich as you try to convince us we are either. See, every time I go beyond Bandra in an attempt to have a social life, I’m constantly reminded that I’ve travelled “all the way from town”. Some take digs at my quick getaway. My friends – for whom I brave the hell that is the Mumbai local train – are constantly trying to dump their bill of a billion beers on me, only partially joking about how selling one speck of dust from my Mumbai Central mansion, would be enough to cover the bill. I might even have seriously considered their advice if I were confident that moving even a single speck of dust wouldn’t cause the entire archaeological relic I call my house to come crashing down.
The stereotype of the rich townie brat haunts me wherever I go. When I first started travelling to Andheri for work, a well-meaning senior told me to “just Uber it” while lecturing other employees on saving money. He then went on to ask me if I’d like to pay for everyone’s lunch so that the “less fortunate could get a headstart on their savings”. Most of my time with him was spent explaining that I wasn’t in fact Ranbir Kapoor from Wake Up Sid. I simply couldn’t afford the luxury of being a lost creative, and the view from my house certainly doesn’t overlook Marine Drive. We’ve been friends for a while now, and he still jokes about where I’m hiding all that cash, convinced that I share a secret vault with Rahul Gandhi in Switzerland.
Meeting my friends’ parents entails navigating a whole new minefield. The harmless question, “Beta, where do you stay?” is immediately followed by, “Okay, don’t misuse your parents’ money, haan.” And then, after a conversation filled with more sly references to my supposed wealth than pelvic thrusts in a Govinda song, they inevitably end up reminding me that my friends aren’t used to the “townie” lifestyle of expensive meals and Bacchanalian nights at the club, and that I shouldn’t “spoil them”. All that this really does, is point out that I can’t have epic parties or lavish dinners because I’m embarrassingly short on both cash and contacts.
I say this at the risk of sounding “urban poor”: In a world where millennials are intent on proving that they have their shit and finances sorted, we Rolex-bereft, non-Lacoste-wearing, comparatively poor townies are trying hard to prove the exact opposite.
It took me a while of attempting to give zero fucks about what the word thought of my miserliness to actually give zero fucks. Am I saying that we have it as bad as people facing actual financial crises? Am I unaware of the privilege that I already have? Most definitely not. Am I equating disposable income with poverty. Yes, maybe. But just for a moment, it would be nice to be judged not by the Google Maps location of my perceived wealth, but by the fact that I’m just another overworked, underpaid writer.
This article was originally published on Arre
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