Monday, August 5, 2013

Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found"

Suketu Mehta's non-fiction "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found" provides a comprehensive view of sprawling Mumbai city that is bursting at the seams. Hundreds of people from all over India and other places arrive at Mumbai daily and try to settle here. This is the city of illusion (maya nagari) and city of sin (paap ni bhoomi) for some and perhaps that is why it is so attractive. Mehta, born in Bombay and later raised in New York, has returned to his birth city towards the end of the millennium to see that it has grown too big to grasp. Yet he does try to understand the city and goes beyond its appearances to find its dark truth. He describes the problem in having basic needs fulfilled, like getting a decent room to rent and managing cooking gas. He meets with the far right politicians; members of Indian underbelly, namely gangsters (both Hindu and Muslim); ruthless cops; bar dancers; Bollywood directors (especially Vidhu Binod Chopra); B-grade movie-makers (much mirth to be had here although of the black humor kind); immigrants dwelling in slums and footpaths and lastly the ascetic Jains who leave their immense property in Mumbai for moksha. Mehta keeps his journalistic deadpan manner of describing things good and bad. He is not judgmental to anyone or anything but he injects ironical observations to unrealistic claims that people make. He is largely sympathetic to the characters that he meets although he takes jibes at people that he doesn't like (Bal Thackeray, for example). This book forces a mirror on the Indians in hopes that they do something to improve the conditions of neglected mass. The only issue against this book would be its length. It runs more than 500 pages and at times gets tedious. After Orhan Pamuk's "Istanbul", it's a very good read. Recommended!  

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