Saturday, January 10, 2009

Maximum City

Bombay Lost and Found, the by-line for this book is a little misleading. What I hoped would be a book of life and experiences in Bombay was actually his two year research on different aspects of the city - but I was not disappointed.

Maximum city neatly compartmentalizes Bombay into underworld, Bollywood, bar-girls, politics- all this interspersed with Sukhetu Mehta's own personal anecdotes. The book's beginning is what is easily relatable to any non-Mumbaiite moving into the city. Thereafter, it is a Mumbai I probably would never have gotten to know - and maybe, some of it, I don’t want to know - except through movies, and maybe the newspaper. The rent Act, the crazy hype over the West (West Mumbai), why New Bombay failed, the lack of solutions to Mumbai over-population situation – we have questioned all of it at some point in time. And he lays the answers or at least the history for us. His portrayal of some banal scenes from life, like travelling on an overcrowded Mumbai train, dealing with your plumber - yes, you have seen all of it. Yet, the book has managed to throw a different angle to it.

What makes the book's narration of some of the already beaten-to-death-aspects of the city is the interesting characters the author meets and how he has beautifully fleshed out each character's life, dreams, aspirations, their philosophy and what makes Mumbai tick for them. I loved his portrayal of Babbanji’, a 16-year old who runs away from Bihar to Mumbai.

I won't call the book an easy read. It's voluminous, and sometimes like a text book. The author's style is vivid, and so graphically descriptive that it borders on repulsive and disgusting on many occasions- but that is probably what helps drive the truth home. However, his narration is simple and flows beautifully. He has managed to simplify a complex city, complex people and complex country (to some level) and present the nuts and bolts of it engagingly!

4 comments:

the twenty second line said...

i went through a few pages and felt the same way. you said it it is a text book and a real bor-ring one.
And the author has got a prize! and a big one !.

he is from south bombay and then grew up in NY and he wanted to write a book - so went back to bombay for a couple of months - did some research, talked to some people and like the slum dog movie wrote a book on bombay - and he has a prize !

Ms.N said...

hey ttsl -

i agree with u on one part. he tries to talk as if he is rediscovering his city - but its mostly research and his findings.

Also, i found the part where he is going back very unconvincing. like he had to justify why he is going back...

however, the book is brutal. and it defninitely gives an insight into the lives of many, about whom we dont always stop to think and ponder about. i guess that is the part i like about it.

whether it merits a prize - no comments.

wtml said...

Shantaram appealed to me more in describing Mumbai.. It became my guide..

Maximum City is well written and all, but.. it felt distanced and detached..

How you doing? :-D

Ms.N said...

wtml,
Hey!!! how are u ... yes, i do agree tht MC was a little bit of a text book. ive heard many a travellers tell me the same abt shataram - maybe will pick a copy soon!