Mumbai is the very embodiment of the “melting pot” cliché. Where else in the world, can you wake up in the morning in an apartment owned by a Marwari, tuck in a poha breakfast made by a Tamilian maid, run across the road to catch a taxi driven by a Bihari, only to be chased away by a political party rioting for Marathi supremacy?
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
It is imperative that the city does its part to maintain its cultural mix and multi-ethnic identity. Thankfully, Mumbai has developed a number of culture preservation tools. One such important device in creating this urban ethos is the famed Mumbai English.
Over the years, Mumbaikars have been able to develop a variant of English that is unique and symbolic. So much so that Aishwarya Rai, the talented actor (cough), augmented her acting (cough!) in the blockbuster Dhoom 2 by putting on an exaggerated Mumbai accent for cinematic defect. Who can forget this smouldering scene from the movie?
Aishwarya: “Like, are you, like, checking me out like dude…?”
To the outsider (Andheri Shoppers’ Stop and beyond), the accent can seem fake and pretentious. Are these people trying to sound like Americans? What’s with the Texas-style “y’all”? Or, the copious use of the word “what”? And if one man is “men”, what do they call more than one man in one place? (Editor, born and brought up in Mumbai, informs: “Mens. As in menswear.”)
Surely, this criticism is unfounded. An accent, after all, is part of a culture. And, as children, weren’t we taught to appreciate diversity and celebrate our differences? Did not our schools send us on trips to Chennai, Delhi, Gangtok and Hyderabad just so that we’d pick up, in addition to food poisoning and explosive dysentery, elements of other cultures?
Therefore, let me help you understand why Mumbai people speak the way they do.
First of all, we, for I am a Mumbaikar too, like to question things. We are not a people to accept status quos. So, if you tell us that you’ve landed in a new job or inherited a lot of wealth we will immediately double-check, “What are you saying dude!” or “What, men!” or even “Mad or what?” We do not doubt your mental state of health. Instead, we are expressing surprise and asking for confirmation. We are surprised you have got this new job. All the while, we were thinking you were a total dunderhead. We are impressed.
Also, we are a city that likes to show no gender bias whatsoever. “No separate queue for ladies.” So, we use the word “dude” to refer to both male and female individuals. However, when the sex of the person is important, we use “babe” for women. Less common is the usage “chick” for a lady in the third person. Be careful, though. Calling a woman a “chick” is no guarantee that she is one smoking hot bikini model with an open mind (sigh). We just like to give all women the benefit of doubt.
Thirdly, we are an emotional people. And we like to express this emotion openly and without restraint.
So, we end our sentences with suitable variations of the term “ya”. It can be used for happiness: “She agreed to marry me, ya!”, or sadness: “Dude…she said yes to HIM, ya…”, and terrible afterthought: “Oh f***…she said ya…”
Finally, we are straight-talking people. If we don’t like someone, we call him or her any popular Hindi term of endearment. I personally prefer the term chomu (it is also an excellent “emergency exit word” when you start calling someone something else and then your mother walks in. Saala chooo-woeooo-mu hai ya! Phew”).
Into this potent mix, throw in a little Hinglish and you have the perfect recipe for a unique and memorable, but efficient, oral style. In fact, as an aside, we also have a superb local dialect of Hindi. Recently, a friend received a rakhi from a Mumbai-based cousin sister. Expecting the usual “Dear Brother, Please accept this rakhi as a sign of my love and affection. Okay, now send money.” He was surprised to find this in the attached note:
“Bhaiyya, Main rakhi bhej raheli hai, unees ki subah pehen lene ka kya, warna panga ho jaayega. Jaldi chup-chaap paisa bhej. Love, Komal.”
In closing, let me illustrate the positive influence of the Mumbai accent by comparing a conversation between two people; first in the universal (boo!) fashion and then in the quintessential Mumbai (yay!) style.
One of the protagonists is a handsome, affluent young man who we will call, oh let me see, Sidin. The other protagonist is an attractive young woman; we will call her Halle Berry. Also, purely for the purpose of plot, she secretly lusts after Sidin.
Sidin: “Hey, Halle! It’s been a long time! How have you been?”
Halle Berry: “Very well indeed. What a pleasant surprise? Hey, I am going to Matheran for the weekend. Why don’t you come along?”
S: “No chance, Halle. My CEO is calling a board meeting and I have tonnes of work to do.”
HB: “Good god. That is criminal. How will you guys in the office manage?”
S: “I have no idea. We will have to figure out something. End up working on weekends, too, I guess.”
HB:“No way, Sidin. You can’t take even a single weekend off, is it? We have an extra reservation…”
S: “Hmm. Let me think about it. I’ll give you a call tomorrow.”
HB: “Sure. Don’t forget, ok.”
S: “I won’t.”
S: “Halle boss! It’s been hajaar years, dude! All well?”
HB: “Full on, dude. Too much meeting you like this, men. Arrey! I am pushing off to Matheran this weekend. You too come na?
S: “Mad or what? CEO hero wants to do phaaltu board meeting ya. I have hajaar work at the office.”
HB: What are you saying? All of y’all are going to ragdofy at work or what?”
S: “What to do, Halle. We’re going to put fight on weekends also ya.”
HB: “What men! Kuch bhi. Listen… Why don’t you try and make it, ya… I have an extra bedroom and all…”
S: “Awesome! Let me socho, yaar. I’ll like give you a call tomorrow.”
HB: “Cool. Chalo, I’ll go now. Don’t forget dude.”
S: “Ok bye.”