There are about as many articles written reviling hipsters as there are cross processed-looking photographs taken on an iPhone of someone’s feet. (Ironically, I was hating hipsters before it was popular to hate hipsters. Boom tish tish.) Truly, I sincerely had nothing against the plaid shirt-skinny jeans-wearing Zooey Deschanel clones I saw all across the USA. I looked at them with an air of gentle parental indulgence. “Frolic away, beta,” I wanted to tell them, “I too was a misunderstood early 20-something.” It was only when they started to infiltrate my spaces in Delhi and in Mumbai that I started to get a little cross.
But what is a hipster anyway? Wikipedia speaks of a “subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers”. In Time Out New York, in an article titled “Why the hipster must die”, author Christian Lorentzen says: “Under the guise of ‘irony’, hipsterism fetishises the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to 34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era — Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge.” He goes on to add: “Of course, hipsterism being originally, and still mostly, the province of whites (the pastiest of whites), its acolytes raid the cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity in the pot.” In an article in Adbusters magazine, called “Hipster: The dead end of western civilisation”, author Douglas Haddow says, “An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilisation — a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal.”
Which brings me to my point. If the whole theme of being a hipster is to reflect on days gone by and be a sort of counter-culture, as it were, for the mainstream, what the heck are young Indians doing embracing it? If it’s just a fashion statement, they’ve missed the point. If it’s to sepia-tint the glory days of some other country, they’ve missed the point again. In order to truly be an Indian hipster, you should be wearing a khadi sari/kurta-lungi and be really against any form of Western influence. I don’t see very many of them doing that.
The walls surrounding Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village are a study in hipster-ism: papered three layers deep with posters announcing some new theme café (nothing in Hauz Khas Village can just be, everything must be properly ironically twee or with a purpose) or new classes. When you walk through it, the shop windows bustle with kitsch: a plastic purse with an old Bollywood actress screen-printed on it; junk which has now become “antique”. You wonder: who’s actually buying these things? And then you look around, and there you are. It’s perhaps the only place in Delhi you can parade about in shorts – which is fantastic – but must the plaid untucked shirt and the horn-rimmed glasses go with those shorts? In Mumbai’s Bandra, hipsters are slightly more spread out — but hit any bar and the truth is the same.
It’s not even like India’s hipsters are rebelling. Their music is staunchly mainstream, not all their laptops and gadgets are Apple, and they tread a fine line that the US hipsters don’t have to bother with — the one where they live in a traditional country and try to live in a modern way. In Iran, not so long ago, “hipsters” and “emo boys” were stoned to death because the people around them couldn’t handle the way they looked. That was completely shocking, and made me want to shake the next over-large-spectacles-wearing person I saw and say, “That is what people are willing to do for their style! Are you?”
I’m a moderate sort of person. I like that Indian cities have a variety of international services available, and I like that at any point I can tap into my “Indianness” and be that. I wear dresses or jeans or salwar kameez. I’m happy, basically, like most of the other people I know, slipping in and out of identities — and here someone would argue that being a hipster is an identity too, but that’s where it gets a bit mixed up. Being a hipster is not “an” identity; for many “real” hipsters it’s “the” identity. No other one can exist in the pocket of your skinny jeans. With so many cultures to choose from, why, why, why, Indian youth, are you picking the most annoying one?
Reddy Madhavan is the author of You Are Here and the editor of the Delhi edition of Brown Paper Bag (bpbweekend.com).
Every week, Eye Culture features writers with an entertaining critical take on art, music, dance, film and sport