So far, we’ve established that memes are quite the merry-making mechanism. From feeling good to doing good, memes seem to have affected minds in every way possible. But at what point do they go from changing mindsets to impacting real change?
For Goan meme/troll page A** Nhu Mare? (roughly translated to “Are you fucking kidding me?”), that turning point came in 2014, when it used its popularity to raise awareness about the garbage left behind by crowds attending the Indian Super League matches in Goa, and even managed to organise a mass clean-up. An action inspired by a meme that showed a Japanese man cleaning up a stadium, the page’s co-founder and English teacher, Gaurav Padte, 22, says “We realised how dirty the stadiums were and put it up on our page. What started as an effort by just three people caught the attention of a much wider audience, earning us retweets from Kerala Blasters FC and even Narendra Modi!”.
This remains one of their biggest attempts towards improving conditions in the state, with the page holding regular blood donation camps, food and cleanliness drives especially in tourist-thronged areas like beaches, bus stands and forts. “Memeing makes you feel happy, but this sometimes leads to people becoming complacent, which we wanted to change with our page.”
Originally created to combat Goa’s stereotypically ‘sussegad’ (chilled out) mentality and to popularise the local Goan language of Konkani through relatable shitposts, Padte and his friend Pritesh Pro—currently a 24-year-old law student who goes by the alias of FBI—first thought up the idea in 2012 when they were still high school students.
“We were in the 12th grade when we realised the reach our local content was getting, so we decided that rather than just being the first Konkani meme page, we also wanted to make stuff that was more meaningful,” says Padte, whose page now regularly features socio-political issues driven content that is also locally relevant.
When a house burnt down in the village of Aldona in north Goa, the page’s creators responded with a call-to-action also because they felt the government response had been inadequate. “We managed to help restore the owner's house and raise Rs 35,000 to help the lady out. We are inspired by pages like Being Indian, but want to use a similar model to talk about local issues and even point out that we are all in some way to blame for what happens in a political scenario,” explains Padte.
A big believer in witty captions and comebacks, Padte is currently on a break from social media, handing over the total responsibility to his partner after six years in the meme market. Having currently taken up a job as a Higher Secondary School English teacher, he points out the connection between memes and teaching the language. “I often use political memes and PewDiePie meme reviews to discuss topics with my students in a way that is relatable and fun for them. It really helps them connect better to the subject.”
When asked about where to draw the line on a meme being offensive and troll-worthy, he firmly stands his ground, saying, “Sometimes we need to piss people off. It’s a job hazard. But, all online arguments should be taken in light humour and not be made personal. Being able to make a joke doesn’t prove you have a sense of humour, being able to take one does.”