Amid the bustle of Dadar’s Narial Baug, with its joggers, couples and playful children, 19-year-old Deepa Unnikrishnan strides purposefully towards 13 men standing in a tight circle.
The chartered accountancy student has travelled two hours to get here. Adjusting her spectacles, she greets the men, then waits as the first cue of the day is issued — James Bond.
As the others clap or stomp their feet in rhythm, fellow group member Ashwini Mishra aka A-List breaks into freestyle rap about 007, spying and women.
When he stops, the rapper next to him picks up the thread, and so it goes, the extempore rapping continuing for the next three hours, much to the amusement of passersby. In hip-hop lingo, this is a cypher or a rap jam.
Group members call themselves Cypher Maniacs, after the Facebook page, Cypher Mania, through which they met. Most of the attendees are regulars at the group’s weekly meetings.
Unnikrishnan joined seven months ago, after a friend sent her a link to the Facebook page, which was set up by Mishra aka A-List in March 2012.
“I wanted to connect and jam with fellow rappers in the city,” says Mishra, 28, a corporate communications executive. “All of Mumbai’s good, amateur hip-hop artists stay online or within their own small crews. I realised that if we had an online platform, we could find each other and meet face-to-face for freestyle rapping and beat-boxing.”
At a time when relationships are increasingly migrating online, Mishra’s Cypher Mania is among a growing number of niche groups moving in the reverse direction — using online platforms to find like-minded people, then creating offline platforms for those people to meet in the real world.
This approach works especially well for people with niche interests, unlikely to find fellow enthusiasts within their circle of friends and acquaintances.
Other such groups, therefore, include Katha Cues, for amateur storytellers; MathsJam – Bombay, for math lovers; Mumbai Tango Milonga, for tango lovers; and SwapBook!, for bookworms.
“Till I attended my first cypher, I didn’t even know that the city had amateur rappers like me,” says Unnikrish-nan. “An offline platform means we can interact in the real world.”
The life cycle of digital media is determined by a curve of adoption, believability, trust and embrace, says social media consultant Rajiv Dingra. “Today, people using social media are real people with real identities, which means they have embraced it fully,” says Dingra. “This also means that they can extend their online friendships offline.”
Also contributing to the growth of such groups, he adds, is the fact that moving in different friend circles, dividing your time between various hobbies, has become the new cool thing.