Culture Shock – (1) NewBo V/s SoBo

Culture Shock

– Rahul Iyer –


My friends kept asking me now and then how was the work on my first novel “It’s all for the girl”, going on. I nodded my head and said, I have not managed to go beyond four chapters. So I just pray to God and hope that even this does not get stranded mid-way like that. While the work on the first is slowly resuming, I thought of writing this blog/book/novel about culture shocks.

Ever wondered that there are so many situations, across places, amidst people that one feels a complete UNFIT. Just like a tight tee seems unfit on a bulky woman, a slipper worn on formal attire seems a complete mess, similarly there are tricky situations which leave you embarrassed and shocked. The person either ends up being a joke in front of people and society or ends up learning a lesson for life. Either they manage to evolve and slowly overcome their shocks or just end up going through the same Culture Shocks time and again.

Imagine, a typical Tamilian conservative yet modern lady marrying a guy from the Army and then the entire process of adjusting in the new house amidst new people. Imagine a young Tier-II city guy entering an unknown territory an unknown land and not realising that this is not the country he belongs to. Imagine a situation where in the same city, you find people giving you the biggest shocks because of the way they live, the way the dress and the way they talk. These are just some of the examples that this book attempts to cover. Some situations may be hilarious, some pitiable and some just meant to be the way they are.
Some would release your tension and some may just make you think or some may just give you a “CULTURE SHOCK”.

-Rahul Iyer-


 1. NewBo V/s SoBo

Well, to start off this saga about culture shocks, let me begin with my own story. It probably was the first experience in my life witnessing something like this. And when it came it did scandalize me at least for that moment. It is probably this very story, which has also been an inspiration to write the book itself.

For twenty five years, I have stayed in Mumbai and have grown up in the suburbs, in a place called Vashi. Over these years, I and my fellow friends (staying in nearby areas of Vashi, Sanpada, Panvel, Ghansoli etc…etc…) have been subjected to being called as Outcasts and non Mumbaikars. They say that just by the name being Navi Mumbai you cannot call yourself a Mumbaikar. So yes, here we are – NewBo.

And the “other” people are the SoBo. For me SoBo is a term not just synonymous to South Mumbai (the elite and posh locales of Colaba, Marine Drive and Malabar Hill). For the sake of the story SoBo along with the above places, extends to Bandra, Andheri, Santacruz and many more places stopping somewhere at the border of the suburb called Chembur.

So while the ongoing, endless debate over Facebook continues over which is better, let us come back to the story.

This dates back to 2010 winter. I was preparing for my CAT exams and a whole lot of other exams that come with the package. I had just quit my job at a leading investment bank and was thinking about the road ahead. I had finished my graduation in commerce from a college in the suburb itself (for 5 years, I was in the same college) and that was one reason that kept me away from going to SoBo. Also at that point of time, unless there was a genuine reason, my conservative parents restricted me from roaming and whiling away time (like all typical South Indian Tamil speaking Iyer parents!!). Meanwhile a job of teaching students at a coaching class kept me busy for the rest of my day post college which ended around 5 PM.

I always wanted to experience the life of a non suburb Mumbai college, but again like a chammatu pullai (an obedient son as they say in Tamil), on the advice of my parents, I chose a college close to my house. I used to have dreams and vision about the posh colleges, and wondered if they were like the ones shown in Hindi films. Least did I expect, that on that 2010 winter, a nightmare would await me.

For us NewBo guys, hanging out over the weekends meant, mostly catching up with the new movies in town in the new multiplexes and hanging out in malls like Inorbit and Raghuleela which slowly were establishing themselves in the suburbs. Again if it was a movie, there were restrictions that we should not be watching a night show especially if there were girls on board. On other days, spending time eating street junk was the agenda. At the college, I remember faintly that though there was no formal dress code as such, girls used to come dressed in their salwar suits, churidars and jeans and simple t-shirts. By simple, what I mean is there were no “MESSAGE” wala tees which people wore.

Guys also never shied away from displaying their fashion sense, but were restricted to faded jeans and cool t-shirts. Hanging out near Raj Dairy for a quick smoke and a cutting chai was cool. It also meant getting samosa pav for the girls who chose to stay over at the class to “talk” as usual.

For certain reasons, we ended up following the 75% attendance norm, and the classroom at least for some professors used to be full. Whether we were in class or not, we were definitely seen in the college premises.

The moment a plan of heading to town was made, I used to back out citing work, but I always saw that the other guys were as excited as a guy meeting his date. And so were the girls. So while they used to head down SoBo, I used to end up asking about their superb experiences, the next day and would be amazed at the answers. “You just missed it,” “It was okay,” “That girl was looking horrendous, wonder how she could go around like that,” these were the typical answers that I got. It got me into a small bundle of confusion and I thought maybe a time would come, when I get to decide on my own opinion.


It was my NMAT paper (one of those MBA syndrome drama) and I was at this plush college called Narsee Monjee (NM) which shared a campus with its counterpart Mithibai. The first shock I got was when I alighted at Vile Parle station. I saw this girl, fair skinned, milky white, wearing a blue jeans hot pant, a sleeveless strapped t-shirt carrying a golden bag, big enough resembling the size of a suitcase and wearing heels which were roughly around three inches above the ground. People at the station were staring at her for obvious reasons. I walked past her and called for an auto. As I got into the auto, the same girl came from nowhere and said, “Excuse Me? Are you going towards NM? If you don’t mind can I share the rick with you?” It surprised me.

How the hell on earth did she realize that I was going to NM? I reluctantly though allowed her and gave her a weird smile. I just asked her, how did she know that I was heading to NM? She said that most people today at this hour with a book in hand and a bag behind their back would only go to NM. I did not know how to react (for the way she answered would put any blonde to shame). As we reached the gate of the college, I removed my wallet and was about to pay, when she interrupted and said, “I’ll pay. It’s okay”

“No, that’s fine,” I said. But the girl refused to budge. She removed her wallet digging deep inside her golden bag, and out came a Rs. 500 note. The auto guy flatly refused to take the note and said give change. And she started arguing, saying that you give a ride to so many people and never have change. While her argument with the driver continued, I told her, “it’s okay mam, I said I will pay. No issues.” She smiled and said “Thanks yaar, these bloody auto fellows are pathetic.” As she walked away, I could hear a splurge of abuses flowing from her mouth. I was getting late, so I paid the auto guy and I was surprised at the way he smiled.

“Inka toh roz ka nataak rehta hai. Chutte paise toh rakhte hai nai aur seedha 500 ka note dikha dete hai, amir log lumaish karta hai paison ka, aur rickshawwale ko ulta gaali deta hai!” (These people have a problem every day. They never keep change, flaunt their richness and on top of it yell at the rickshaw fellows). I felt pity at the plight of the auto driver. I smiled and walked away.

I walked towards the campus and wondered that at least girls in NewBo don’t talk like this. And the biggest thing is I don’t remember any one straight away handing a Rs. 500 note to a rickshaw guy for a meagre Rs. 22. And it was in SoBo that this flaunting culture exists, big time. That one culture shock was just a small trailer, there was however more to come.

Post the exams, I came out of the campus and made my way to a small food joint at the opposite of the college. I was terribly hungry and asked the guy to make a sandwich. What I saw around me, gave me another culture shock.

Smoking is injurious to health. But here I was seeing people smoke cigarettes in a matter of seconds. What was even more a shocking sight was in that one particular group where the women out powered the men. I guess maybe it was some sort of a competition on who smokes up the maximum. That was the very first time in my life that, in so many years I saw a women smoking a cigarette. It was hard to believe but over the years I have got used to it.

As I gobbled up my sandwich, another young girl came by and took a huge parcel. The man at the cash counter said, Rs. 260 or something. And again, what I saw was, the woman removing an Rs.5oo note and handing it. After the woman left, I just asked the guy, “Yahan pe 5oo ke neeche baat hi nahi hoti kya?”

The waiter was smart enough to get the hint of what I was asking. He smiled at me and nodded his head and said, “Bade Log Hai, Sirf Paise Dikhana Jaante Hai.” I somehow found his and the auto rickshaw fellow’s words similar.

Everywhere I went, I could only see money flowing. Talks about the latest sale at Pantaloons, Levis and hanging around the weekend at clubs and talking competition about whose dad is whom, were getting a bit too much.

NewBo was never evolved to such an outlook, and no wonder did I realize that why my friends wanted to spend their time at SoBo. Yes there were beautiful girls to stare at, whom one would find even at NewBo, but there were many other things to stare at as well. There were Brands, Lifestyle and more importantly Money.

For a while I thought, what could be the pocket money of these kids? With their wallets shining bright of crisp notes withdrawn from the ATM, most of it being burnt away awfully in smokes and booze of the elite kind, some which is being flaunted to meagre earning auto drivers and snack counters only to throw their power and status was a bad sight. While I know there also existed the middle and upper middle class, who might not flaunt their richness as their fellow SoBo counterparts, my eyes could see only the spoilt brats.

That was a major culture shock which I got. Maybe an eye-opener or maybe just a different perspective of what life is at the other end of the street.  What was worse, when a friend who grew up in NewBo, was trying hard to adapt in the SoBo culture. She came out of nowhere puffed up in smoke and on seeing me, walked up and with an unfinished cigarette offered me a drag. I said, “I do not smoke.” The look on her face is hard to describe. Without wasting much time, she said “Okay, I need to rush, see you later. Byee!”

I realised that, she was no more the NewBo friend and had evolved and mingled into a new culture which gave her the new SoBo identity. It did not come to me as a surprise with the smell of money that was in the air.

That was a culture shock – That one Sunday in the winter of 2010. The war between NewBo and Sobo continued and is on. I boarded the train and came back, back to NewBo where I belonged.