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Book Review - Maximum City By Suketu Mehta

Chitra Parayath

Suketu Mehta’s Bombay (Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found)

Mehta  left Bombay to move into the west twenty-three years ago, but he never really left the city he loved, his Maximum city.

This tapestry of tales is his ode to his beloved city Bombay, at once exasperating, exhilarating and like no other metropolis. Mehta possesses that rare ability to become one with his characters and their lives, even as he relates life stories, he lives the lives of his protagonists- in the process, affording us a glimpse into the lives of Mumbai’s denizens.

My intention is, what can I do for my country? Not, What has the country done for me?
Chotta Shakeel  (page 345)

Mehta invites us into the violent worlds and minds of philosophical mafia dons, into the innocent thoughts of a stripper, into the indifferent soul of a policeman among other improbable literary places.

Maximum City serves as a lesson in urban history, a treatise comprising tales of love, despair and hope, of familial affections and political bloopers.

“Migration has to be controlled. The Bangladesh Muslims to be driven out not only from Mumbai but outside the country, back to Bangladesh. These are my straight politics.”
Bal Thackeray (page 100)

In the seven years that it took him to write the story, we hear Mehta’s own story: of the mixture of fascination, revulsion and gentle passion he feels for the city that never sleeps.

“I will do in Bombay; my karmabhoomi is in Bombay.  I have no fear of the footpath. Now that I’m on the road, I’m on the road.” (Page 488)

He talks with Hindus who massacred Muslims during the 1992-1993 riots, meeting with, in the process, Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party, Bal Thackeray, "the one man most directly responsible for ruining the city I grew up in."

To experience Maximum City is like a trip to the Metropolis, teeming with gangsters and ascetics, and to have Mehta as a travel mate is positively uplifting.

After Mehta co-wrote the script for the Bollywood blockbuster Mission Kashmir, director  Vidhu Vinod Chopra urged him to work on more scripts. "Forget about your book," he said. "How any people read books? Millions watch cinema."
We recommend that millions read this book!

Suketu Mehta is a fiction writer and journalist based in New York. His work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Granta, Harper's, Time, Condé Nast Traveler, The Indian Express, Man's World, Himal and India Magazine.

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