First World Problems
Our columnist takes offence at the increasingly frequent suggestion that Mumbaikars lack civility.
I hate to complain. But would everyone please just back off? It seems like every day someone else is telling me I mustn’t holler at my underlings. Who, then, am I supposed to holler at? My equals? My superiors? The already deaf security guards at Wankhede Stadium?
My underlings—and this I happen to know for a fact—are quite pleased to have someone like me hollering at them, rather than someone who pays them decently or someone whom they might have to respect. And I’m thankful I already have someone at whom to direct my impotent rage, or else I might have to get married.
The two sides of that equation contain equal quantities of contempt. So what’s the problem, boss? Hollering is the atomic glue that holds this tightly-bound nucleus of a city together.
Certain people have been telling me that Mumbai lacks “etiquette”, which I’m told is a French word for “uses forks”. That may well be true, though whatever anthropologist types did the measurements probably did not count the three spoons I use to eat idli, if you include the one I throw at the waiter. In the midst of all that I sometimes forget to say “thank you”. If the French had to breathe our air, they would spit, too.
Where I get off that strictly proverbial train is at the suggestion that this city is inadequately humane. Again, it’s simple math: we have a perfectly sufficient amount of humaneness, but too many humans. So we get less per capita. It’s like a Virar local, or so I’m told. If you fit, great; otherwise, you get pushed off. Also don’t try getting off too soon.
Amid the overcrowding, poverty and filth—I’m not a monster; I do see it, if dimly, behind my tinted windows—it’s reassuring that there are other people, somewhere, who share my problems.
My grandmother, who immigrated to America at age three in the steerage of a boat, liked to say, “Problems like yours, I should have”. She wouldn’t say it to the school-kid me, presumably because she didn’t want to be pushed around by Kevin Moore during recess. This was years ago, of course—before I lived in a walled villa and owned several SUVs and was escorted everywhere by a complement of armed guards. But I remember that phrase because it’s easy to forget that we’re most aspirational in our suffering.
That’s why this “first world problems” meme is one of the few things that cheers me up these days. Sometimes it’s like reading a diary entry in a journal of my secret thoughts that I hired someone competent enough to write for me.
I have no idea what “meme” means but I’m not surprised that other people, when they read these things, also shout, “Me! Me!” at their touchscreens out of a deep sense of identification. Some of them may also, like me, practice the pose of that iconic woman, clutching her forehead in order to wring more symbolic value from her whiteness.
Much as I appreciate the effort of archiving my daily annoyances, I do detect a cynical undercurrent to the labelling. Am I, a resident of a developing nation, somehow forbidden from sharing in these problems? Are my Mumbaikar nuisances somehow less pointless than a Canadian’s? That’s just not fair: they’re as pointless as anyone else’s, thank you. I have a real problem with people trying to judge my problems. In Mumbai, our problems are not “first world” or “third world” but Essel World: a crushingly long ride, followed by disappointment and, every so often, Water Kingdom.
Here’s a little known fact. The inventor of the “first world problem” genre is neither Cheezburger Network nor Paul Krugman but Franz Kafka, whose 1922 story “A Hunger Artist” speaks volubly—but does not holler—to our present condition as Mumbaikars. His character explains that he fasts for 40 days at a stretch “because I couldn’t find a food which I enjoyed. If I had found that, believe me, I would not have made a spectacle of myself and would have eaten to my heart’s content, like you and everyone else.” Yes, and try getting a reservation at Hakkasan on a Friday night.Tags: First World, The Holdout, Third World