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"Bombay is the future of urban civilization on the planet. God help us," writes Mehta, in this startling, provocative look at "the biggest, fastest, richest city in India." Mehta spent much of his childhood in Bombay (now Mumbai) before moving to New York with his family. As an adult, he returned there only to be confounded as he sought to reconcile the city of his youth with the teeming, filthy, and yet sometimes alluringly exotic metropolis before him.
What he finds is a city where one always waits in line, yet one is always in a hurry. Where one cannot function without complicity in an intricate system of bribery. Where one must learn (precisely) in which place commuters must stand to exit a train, lest they be trampled by the hordes rushing into the car before it speeds away.
Through Mehta's eyes, readers observe the individuals who call Bombay home, including the writer himself. We meet a dancer who works in Bombay's sex industry and a director navigating the complex world of Bollywood. Corrupt officials parade by, as do gang members who nonchalantly affirm their murderous pasts. As a traveler to Bombay, Mehta felt he was watching the "extreme" of life. Fortunately, readers can share his wildly entrancing journey back "home" from the comfort of their own, more tranquil households. (Holiday 2004 Selection)
The gentle -- and genteel -- world of Mehta's remembered childhood no longer exists. Mumbai is overpowering, exhausting, violent and chaotic -- an unrelenting megalopolis that embodies John Kenneth Galbraith's famous (and patronizing) description of India as a ''functioning anarchy.'' Giving depth and shading to such a complex subject, Maximum City is narrative reporting at its finest, probably the best work of nonfiction to come out of India in recent years -- at least since the start of the miniboom in Indian writing for export, which has been notable mostly for its fiction.
The New York Times
Modern Bombay is home to fourteen million people, two-thirds of them packed into neighborhoods where the population density reaches one million per square mile. Its official name is now Mumbai, but, as the author points out, the city has always had “multiple aliases, as do gangsters and whores.” Mehta, who lived there as a child, has a penchant for the city’s most “morally compromised” inhabitants: the young Hindu mafiosi who calmly recollect burning Muslims alive during riots twelve years ago; the crooked policeman who stages “encounter killings” of hoods whose usefulness has expired; the bar girl, adorned with garlands of rupees, whose arms are scarred from suicide attempts. Mehta’s brutal portrait of urban life derives its power from intimacy with his subjects. After clandestine meetings with some of Bombay’s most wanted assassins, he notes, “I know their real names, what they like to eat, how they love, what their precise relationship is with God.”
Bombay native Mehta fills his kaleidoscopic portrait of "the biggest, fastest, richest city in India" with captivating moments of danger and dismay. Returning to Bombay (now known as Mumbai) from New York after a 21-year absence, Mehta is depressed by his beloved city's transformation, now swelled to 18 million and choked by pollution. Investigating the city's bloody 1992-1993 riots, he meets Hindus who massacred Muslims, and their leader, the notorious Godfather-like founder of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party, Bal Thackeray, "the one man most directly responsible for ruining the city I grew up in." Daring to explore further the violent world of warring Hindu and Muslim gangs, Mehta travels into the city's labyrinthine criminal underworld with tough top cop Ajay Lal, developing an uneasy familiarity with hit men who display no remorse for their crimes. Mehta likewise deploys a gritty documentary style when he investigates Bombay's sex industry, profiling an alluring, doomed dancing girl and a cross-dressing male dancer who leads a strange double life. Mehta includes so-called "Bollywood" in his sweeping account of Bombay's subcultures: he hilariously recounts, in diary style, day-to-day life on the set among the aging male stars of the action movie Mission Kashmir. Mehta, winner of a Whiting Award and an O. Henry Prize, is a gifted stylist. His sophisticated voice conveys postmodern Bombay with a carefully calibrated balance of wit and outrage, harking back to such great Victorian urban chroniclers as Dickens and Mayhew while introducing the reader to much that is truly new and strange. Agent, Faith Childs Literary Agency. (Sept. 26) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Bombay-born Mehta, a screenplay (Mission Kashmir) and fiction writer, was transplanted to New York at age 14. In 1998, he returned to Bombay (now Mumbai) for two years and this is his account of the people who make up this mega-city (it will have 55 million inhabitants by 2015). The cover pictures a crush of passengers alongside a suburban train, and one wonders who they are. Mehta gets beneath their skin, so that they spring to life more vividly than any fiction character. He introduces the leader of a branch of the Shiv Sena, gangsters from Mumbai's underworld, a bargirl from the demimonde, slum dwellers, police officers, a movie producer, a struggling actor, and a 17-year-old runaway poet who lives on the pavement. Although his characters do not really represent a cross-section Mehta merely skims the middle and upper-middle classes his book is utterly fascinating. Essential for anyone wishing to understand present-day Mumbai. Ravi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
An ambitious portrait of the megalopolis-one that, like its subject, contains worlds but is too big and too crowded for comfort. Bombayite-turned-New Yorker Mehta, a writer of fiction and film scripts, returned to his native city for a two-year stint in 1998, and his experiences form the heart of this excited report. "Bombay," he writes, "is the future of urban civilization on the planet." He adds: "God help us." From its birth as an entrepot, the island city-its booster considering it the next Singapore, "relieved of having to bear the burden of this tiresome country," Mother India-has swelled unimaginably; the population in 2005 is expected to reach 27.5 million, and "by 2015, there will be more people living in Bombay than in all of Italy." Much demand and little supply yields challenges-Mehta had to pay $3,000 a month for a so-so apartment-but at least, Indians say, no one starves in Bombay, which is why the place adds 500 residents every day of the year. Mehta can be both learned and obscure-at one point, he writes, "I chase plumbers, electricians, and carpenters like Werther chasing Lotte"-but also very funny. Yet, when he wanders from the leafy, comfortable districts into the criminal and sexual demimondes of Bombay, he is transfixed and a-swoon, as when he writes of one batch of gangsters: "Why am I not tired of listening to them? Why do the nine hours pass by effortlessly, as with a new lover?" Similarly, his account of the making of a Bollywood film contains plenty of interest and humor (Hollywood demands that a musical's song fit the plot, he writes, but "Hindi movies face no such fascist guidelines"). Still, at 80 pages alone, it goes on much too long. Bombay is the only cityin India, Mehta observes, where more people want to lose weight than gain it. Though this overlong work could stand to shed a few pounds itself, it's rich with insight and unfailingly well-written. Author tour
“Stunning. . . . A powerful, arresting work. . . . Marvelous.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Narrative reporting at its finest, probably the best work of nonfiction to come out of India in recent years. . . . Mehta succeeds so brilliantly in taking the pulse of this riotous urban jungle.” –The New York Times Book Review
As each individual story unfolds, Mehta also recounts his own efforts to make a home in Bombay after more than twenty years abroad. Candid, impassioned, funny, and heartrending, Maximum City is a revelation of an ancient and ever-changing world.
“What Dickens did for London, what Joseph Mitchell did for New York City, Suketu Mehta has done for Bombay. . . . A candid, extensive, and wholly entertaining portrait.” –San Diego Union-Tribune
“The ultimate insider’s view of Bombay, a roiling and vigorous account that delivers on a seemingly impossible challenge: how to limn the diversity and sprawl of such a place in a single book.” –The Seattle Times