This was published last Saturday, in DNA.
May the Dive Survive Hipsters
Earlier this week, a few of us decided to go to Janata in Bandra for a drink. For those of you who have not been impoverished in Mumbai, Janata is something of a legend among the city’s dive bars. Lunch home by day and dive bar by night, this place was once grubby, cheap, cheerful and served up generous portions of prawn koliwada that went perfectly with whatever you drank.
The core clientele was men – mostly either moustachioed or scrawny; all of them deeply committed to drowning their boredom and/or frustration in the constantly-refilled glasses before them – who were only momentarily curious about women in Fabindia clothing asking tentatively for a large gin and tonic. There was no air-conditioning in Janata. You didn’t ask for the menu. The waiters didn’t give you attitude. In short, it was a place that deserved to become a legend.
Then, somewhere along the way, Bandra became hipster central. Janata got an air-conditioned section. The tables became cleaner. First, the young people started nudging their way into Janata. Then came the foreign tourists with wide eyes and guidebooks, looking for ‘authentic’ Indian nightlife. The prices of the drinks crept up. There are fewer prawns in each serving of prawn koliwada. Basically, Janata has been lost to the common man (and woman). It is now a hipster hangout, as we discovered the other night when the bunch of us were curtly informed that there’s a 30-minute wait for a table. It’s as though we’d gone for brunch at a snooty restaurant in New York City rather than a drink at the friendly neighbourhood dive bar.
Being something of a hermit, I’m not particularly well-versed with nightlife spots in the city. (When I’m drinking, I prefer to do so in places that don’t entertain uncivilised notions like “last order” and “closing time”.) So I called a friend, who is a connoisseur of dives and makes an active effort to keep himself in the know of such things. After detailing the tragic transformation of Janata, I asked him to suggest a similar place where I could take my friends for our drinking session.
“I’m not telling you,” my friend said.
“I’m. Not. Telling. You.”
“Because then these friends of yours will know about it, and they’ll tell other people, and then it’ll be destroyed like Janata was destroyed.”
I gawped. “But all we want is a cheap and cheerful drink in Bandra,” I wailed piteously. “Be nice!”
My friend flatly refused.
“Listen to yourself. You’re hoarding the name of a dive.”
“Damn right I am. We made that mistake once with Janata. Never again.”
Presumably by “we” he meant all long-time residents of Bandra who are between 25 and 29 years of age, i.e. the ex-hipsters who must now suffer the indignity of being called “uncle” by hawkers at traffic signals. Ignoring this detail, I tried to cajole him into offering me alternatives to Janata. He gave me the names of a couple of establishments that were the precise opposite of dives and hung up.
I have rarely been so roundly betrayed.
Once upon a time, caring meant sharing. Friendship meant looking out for one another and providing in times of need. Those days, dear reader, are over. Ours is the age of hoarding, of every (wo)man for themselves. It wasn’t so long ago that I came to Mumbai as an outsider who knew nothing of this city, and I remember the generosity of locals – among them the traitor friend mentioned earlier – who introduced me to Mumbai’s cherished institutions, both touristy and untouristy. “Don’t tell anyone about this place,” was what people told the newcomer, which translated to “Tell only people who appreciate the importance and the sanctity of a dive bar”.
That spirit of generosity, however, seems to have left us. As if it wasn’t bad enough that there are political parties that would brand citizens outsiders because of their lineage, now there are neo-hipster locals who want to keep the real dives from those of us who just want some tasty chakna and an affordable beverage or two (or, well, eight). It’s a blinding tragedy. When the year begins with a lost dive, it’s a worrying portent. So raise a toast to the dive bar and its good health. May the hipsters not haunt it, may the neo-hipsters let it welcome worthy customers, and may the rest of us be able to raise a glass to 2013 that won’t leave us broke.