Maximum City: Catharsis for an NRI Bombayite

Kashyap Deorah, IITian and Returning Indian Entrepreneur,  with a yen for start ups from his college days through to his sojourn in Silicon Valley is now back to his roots in hometown, Bombay. Here are his views on 'Maximum City – Bombay Lost and Found', a 542 page tome by New York based journalist and writer, Suketu Mehta. 

This book was tailor made for me and I took it very personally. As a teenager brought up with Hindu middle-class values in a business family of the Bombay sub-culture, and then an NRI, ever since I woke up to find out I grew a brain; I still have an intimate connection with the city in my personal and professional lives. The book was exceptionally cathartic for me and it was easy to identify with its stories. I share much the same frustrations and longing for my Bombay (now Mumbai) as the author, and empathize with the author's passion about the subject.
The personality of a city, especially Bombay, is best described in stories. Bombayites love to hear and tell stories about her people. Why else would Suketu Mehta write this book and why else would his interviewees recite their stories openly, both at great personal risk, unless they were all Bombayites. On the same note, Bombayites love him for writing this book.

The stories in the book and the book itself illustrates what all Bombayites know deep down inside. We are a city where people's law prevails, survival of the fittest is the law of the land and all moral/fairness judgements are based on class-based democracy. This fact determines all our risk profiles. Suketu Mehta has powerful friends. His heart is at the right place. Therefore, he's safe.

Suketu Mehta is not as much an intellectual economist as he is a homeboy with good journalistic skills. He picks some of the top macro phenomena affecting the city, and illustrates them through the micro view into lives and stories of the people who represent the phenomena. This writing style delves somewhere between non-fictional documentary and fictional novel. It alternates between using real and fictional names without full disclosure about when. Although the book is honest, factual and revealing, please draw your judgments responsibly. Doesn't that go for everything you see and experience in the world of Mumbai? After all, Suketu Mehta is part of the very system that he writes about, admittedly so.

The book is a snapshot of Mumbai in the 90's, and most (not all) things transpose across to the 2000's. It would make an "outsider" cringe and an "insider" gaze endlessly into the void. It makes for a good read along with the novel Shantaram. Be prepared though, both are fat books.

Watch this space for more from Kashyap

Review cross posted in Kashyap's Glob

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