Friday, April 22, 2011

Bombay, What Are You?


Maximum City: Bombay Lost & Found
By Suketu Mehta
Penguin

It's perhaps the only city in India that represents the entire nation in one single sweep across seven reclaimed islands. Yet, Bombay (Mumbai now) is also a city that tries to project itself as being different from its mainland protector. That was until the mainland struck back.

In a riveting, mentally exhausting yet enlightening description of India's financial nerve centre, Mehta takes us on a journey through the underworld of Bombay, into its nightclubs, into his own home and finally, into the neo-politics that changed the city for ever.

The narrative is engrossing to say the least. But it also leaves your mind numb. At several points, I've had the desire to close the book because I just could not bear it anymore, but every time the writer would come up with some tiny tidbit that would take me back to my days in Bombay and keep me going. At several places, I connected strongly, and at others, Bombay seemed like an alien city. Perhaps that is befitting of a city as diverse as Bombay.

The best part about the book is the first-person narrative it gives on a wide range of issues. So, the author personally meets ganglords based in Bombay, bar dancers and Bollywood biggies and takes us into their world. His description of the Shiv Sena as a party without ideology is thoroughly accurate.

The bottom line: Maximum City is a fabulous read for all, particularly for those who live or have lived in the city. But be warned: this book is not for the faint-hearted.

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