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Does India Have A Hipster Culture?

Does India Have A Hipster Culture?

A good hipster does not try to be one.

I gave up a lucrative career in academics to come to Mumbai almost a year ago to become a writer. Only to be called a sell-out by my Kolkata friends for going public with my bikini-clad photos in an article. And a sleaze by my father for writing about the need for good aesthetical Indian porn. Not to mention attention-seeking, for inviting a transgender into my house (and writing about it). But life isn’t all bad. I have found validation from strangers on social media and I have also had a pretty good laugh at others.

Recently I came across a twitter post that referred to Bandra (a suburb in Mumbai) as the 'Hipster Mecca' and it made me want to check my eyesight because, WTF!

Twitter battles. Bandra Hipster: 0 :: Suman: also 0. Image source: Twitter.comTwitter battles. Bandra Hipster: 0 :: Suman: also 0. Image source: Twitter.com

“I do know that people like to make fun of hipsters,” said Margaret Artwood in an interview last year. This is true and so do I. And I know that Bandra is resplendent with kewl kidz loitering around in their hip clothes from New York. But calling them hipsters is a little too far-fetched even for Bandra posers. I’m not one for archetypes (ok that’s a lie! I am basically a pseudo-intellectual who is trying to get away with stereotyping so that no one calls me out for being the hypocrite that I am) but I simply refer to them as the 'Cool Bandra types'.

The hipster starter pack. Image source: twimg.comThe hipster starter pack. Image source: twimg.com

The reality of our generation is that we have no hipsters or feminists or nihilists, for that matter. All we have are adulterated humbugs of these counter and sub-cultures, in a mind-numbing effort to appear 'different'. You can perhaps call them pseudo-hipsters, or as David Infante likes to call them, 'Yuccies' i.e. Young Urban Creatives.  Born in the lap of parental comfort and financial stability, they are the dreamers. The creative ones - curators, writers, musicians et al. The freelancers if you may, who follow their hearts doing what they were meant to, and expect to be paid for it because becoming a doctor, engineer or a lawyer is just too un-hip for them.

Of course 80% of these people can afford to dream. If the money they earn doesn’t cut it (it never does) they have parents who will pay the rent (don’t we all), or because they can comfortably live in their uncle’s house in a ‘cooler’ city. So whatever paltry income they make is enough to afford them their craft beers and eclectic postcards (that they never send to anyone and is mostly for people to see and compliment like the Wes Anderson movie posters plastered all across their borrowed rooms). This is the bio-data of the kale-quinoa eating, glued-to-Pinterest, gig hopping, pill-popping, hash smoking, mind-numbing Indian 'hipster', quick on their feet and slow in the head.

Everything must be “different”. Image source: petmaya.comEverything must be “different”. Image source: petmaya.com

Originally the word hipster was used to refer to white musicians in America in the 40’s who wanted to emulate their black counterparts. At that time, prohibition was in full swing and therefore quintessential hipsters like Mezze Mezrow (he is even cited as an example in the Wikipedia page titled 'Hipster') were forced to perform at venues that were basically fronts for bootleggers. So intertwined was the music scene with crime in that era that they were forced into a corner. Which in turn led to the first principle of being a hipster - disengagement with society (read: the mainstream).

When the movement revived again in 1990, it did so along with the Indie music scene. Again, Indie was never a genre like Pop or Metal, but was rather called so because these musicians produced their music ‘independently.’ When far-sighted businessmen saw how smitten the youth were by this new music they came up with ‘Indie’ recording labels. Ironic as it may be, both the 'scene' and the ‘sub-culture became the mainstream instead of being the antithesis. 
It was the same with fashion. Suddenly youngsters no longer had to spend hours finding hip clothes at a thrift store, because everyone from Urban Outfitters to Abercrombie and Fitch were manufacturing 'worn-out' jeans in bulk. Today, everything characteristically hipster is an `add to cart’ away on Myntra. 

If you look at the etymology of the word ‘hipster’ amongst the varied explanations, one says that it was derived from the African word ‘hipi’ which means to 'open ones eyes'. As such, hipsters were essentially people who were aware of their surroundings and therefore believed in alternative living, environment friendly lifestyles, artisanal and indigenous eating habits, responsible fashion. And they were political.

Hipster Bandra Bakery. Image source: superfuture.comHipster Bandra Bakery. Image source: superfuture.com

Today you take a stroll down Carter Road in Mumbai, or sip on a drink at Bangalore’s Humming Tree, or stop by at some art café anywhere across India, you’ll spot a hipster (or at least a charlatan). They have absurd hairdos, they wear pale/pastel colors, they are constantly talking about Beat literature writers, they wear skinny faded jeans, they just oh-so-absolutely-LOVE poetry, block-prints, quirky stationery, stamps and virtually everything that has anything to do with the words ‘art’ ‘pop’ and ‘yesteryear’. Do you know how I know this? Because I follow them on Instagram.

What confuses me is how, between believing politics sucks, carefully documenting their lives, socializing and planning ahead to appear callously attired, do they find time to avoid society and be 'different'? With begging for attention and therefore being mainstream, haven’t they lost the plot therein?

Being hipster"Being hipster". Image source: scmp.com

My problem is with young people like myself who have simply appropriated sub-culture without following any of its core tenets. With the kind that stupidly smile when someone calls them a hipster and adjust their flannel shirts. Darling, hipsters don’t like being called that! If you want to be part of a sub-culture, then it means a sub or counter to the culture you grow up in. Not the culture that Wu Tang Clan and Vampire Weekend did. So if you truly consider yourself a hipster, you should be shopping at a Thane local store, not Good Earth or Fab India.

If I were to unnecessarily state the obvious, Mumbai is the melting pot for ‘dreamers,’ (much like myself actually) and therefore for hipsters as well.

I once had a red fringe that made me look like an Oompa Loompa and I have cried because my mother sold my father’s typewriter without consulting any of us. I also uselessly ride in Fiat Padmini taxis when I am in South Bombay because nostalgia to me is what sex is to a nymphomaniac. And I like Indie music. Who knows, maybe this entire exercise is an epic FAIL because half-way through writing this I realized I exhibit many characteristics of a hipster myself but I find solace in the saying that, “Part of being a good hipster is not being a hipster at all.” 

 

 


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By Suman Quazi