When you’re a hardcore Mumbaikar, and you’re wondering where you can get ‘cheedai’ in Mumbai on a Friday night, you can bet your smartphone you’ve been on Twitter.
If you’re on Twitter and have a proclivity for humour, chances are you follow at least one of the ‘Tam crowd’. While some of them are universally acclaimed as some of India’s best bloggers (Ramesh Srivats, Krish Ashok, Anand Ramachandran - before he quit Twitter - for starters) – it’s the atmosphere created by various ‘Chennai-Madras friends and acquaintances’ which makes any Twitter timeline replete with machaans and dais.
Many of the much-loved hashtags the Indian Twitterati indulge in originated south of the Vindhyas. Each have their own in-jokes, and you’ll never find a straightforward reply if you ask what the hashtag means, and it’s easy for a newbie to be overwhelmed.
The #youprefer meme, for instance, rhetorically asks you which of two names or things (which may be similar only phonetically) you would, well, prefer. “Lok pal, pen pal #youprefer” would be an example. The humour is random and not supposed to induce ‘ROFLs’. There’s an almost Pythonesque quality to the surrealism of it all.
Many popular memes start as jokes between two people, or sometimes, even two Twitter friends in real life. Twitter acts as a platform to popularize it, and for cliques hungry to do ‘timepass’ to be formed. Anand, who authors one of India’s most popular satire websites, Son Of Bosey, agrees. “Twitter is just a medium. Things like memes and cricket are things that are very conducive to opinion and comment – in person or on any medium.”, he says.
As with any internet phenomenon, when the in-crowd deals in esoteric language, soon everyone wants in. Before you know it, these memes go national and people all over slowly started replacing ‘dude’ with ‘machaan’ and ‘abey’ with ‘dai’.
The number of enquiries about what each hashtag meant keep going up. Case in point - the concept of ‘manoj’, which is essentially a mild SNAFU, coined after seeing a certain former Indian all-rounder make an on-field blunder. Today, #manoj is used to describe any such situation in real life. Examples: “the author’s Android phone recently #manojed”; “The Indian team #manojed in England.”
“Things like #manoj and #youprefer have slipped into everyday lingo when I talk to my real-life friends as well, some of whom are startled and ask me what I’m talking about!,” says Mumbai-based Mahesh Sethuraman, who goes by the monicker @cornerd on Twitter.
It’s not just lingo that makes it mainstream – popular South culture has an influence too. There is a wide array of jokes poked at Tamil movie stars, making national icons out of people such as T Rajendar, who has had blogs and songs made in his ‘honour’, the most famous of which is Krish Ashok’s garage band Parodesey Noise, which has over 70,000 plays on SoundCloud.
“The conception of Parodesy Noise is the inception of prognostication on the eruption of T Rajendar's discombobulation with corruption,” says Ashok, who is probably India’s one-man answer to Reddit.
I have a theory that Kolaveri took off because of the strong Tamil population on Twitter. It was picked up by these guys, shared and soon everyone shared it. The media, of course, helped by telling everyone it was an online phenomenon and then there was truly no looking back. But that oh-so-vital initial push? Probably came from those who can pronounce ‘sambar’ properly.
And while we’re on accessible culture - people from other states who find jokes on concepts such as the annual sacred thread change, avani avittam, too much to handle, are probably attracted by the eateries the state has to offer.
Just ask Mumbaikar Dharmesh Gandhi, who spent half an hour asking people where he can find cheedai (a fried-rice-based snack) in Mumbai. Dharmesh has a lot of virtual friends in this group, even if he can’t understand everything, and attempts to participate in memes and hashtags.
A risky question to ask is, are the guys from down South smarter and funnier than everyone else? (And let’s not instigate another ‘Open Letter’ scenario here!)
Possibly not – there are enough representatives that the rest of India has in terms of bloggers and Twitterati to show they’re not behind by any means. But no-one seems to have managed to create so dominant a collective presence as the ‘Tam bunch’.
“With all these memes and other nonsense, we’ve managed to create a huge entry barrier for others – it’s amazing snob value”, opines Mahesh. Chennai blogger, Lavanya Mohan agrees. “There are an alarmingly high number of South Indian bloggers and writers on twitter, so these memes end up becoming something like public inside jokes.”, she says.
How have the rest of the country greeted this? Quite well, if you ask Dharmesh. “I usually get very curious as to what do certain words and memes that the Southie band on Twitter comes up with. I usually ask them too. If it's not too complex, I use it.
For example, I have started using #kogul (pronouncing any word with a severe South Indian accent) a lot. Apart from that, 'Dei' and 'pavam' have entered my daily usage too. So, it is a lot of fun. It does not irritate me, no." What also helps is that the jokes tend to be insular and non-intrusive until others decide to participate in them.
While hashtags are unlikely to slug it out with IIT coaching center merit lists over which section of society is more intellectual, there is no doubt that new media is helping young Tamil junta carve out a niche of their own, even if it is inadvertent.
As someone (who wishes to remain anonymous for the sake of his safety) once tweeted out, “Twitter has done more for Tamil culture than Chennai politicians”. Tr00, that.
Five Tam funnies you should follow:
Krish Ashok aka @krishashok
The multi-talented Ashok has delighted his followers with Tumblr memes (such as TamBrahmRage), songs (with Parodesey Noise and the Linguini Stotram) and his own blog.
Ramesh Srivats aka @rameshsrivats
He can make a pun out of anything. Retweeting him is the most futile exercise on Twitter because everyone follows him anyway.
Lavanya Mohan aka @lavsmohan
One of the best young humour writers in the country. Her blog has been paid the highest compliment by being plagiarized.
Aravind Murali aka @onejubb
The height of randomness. Please follow only after taking a crash course with the other mentioned handles.
Narendra Shenoy aka @shenoyn
The king of self-deprecatory humour, with interests such as Hindustani music and chess. It’s his tweets on the antics of his sons and his tussle with his wife that will leave you in splits, though. Wodehousean blog.
(actually he isn’t exactly FROM Chennai, but he’s too integral to the circle to leave out)
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Deepak Gopalakrishnan aka Chuck is a Mumbai-based cartoonist, blogger and green chilli aficionado.
He tweets here