Author: Suketu Mehta
Maximum City is a first person account of the largest metropolis of India: Mumbai (formerly called Bombay) and people that give the city its unique character.
Book stands out because of the thorough research done by the author and the first eprson narrative which takes the readers to its locations and brings them face to face with its characters.
Author starts with an autobiographical chapter, tracing his family history and how they came to Bombay and then presents his own journey as a young boy from Bombay to New York and his experience of muted alienation there. He briefly takes the readers through his reasons to come back to India and Bombay as an adult, with his wife and two kids.
With this starts the exciting, involving struggle of the new settlers in the giant metropolis – struggle for finding space, struggle for resources and struggle for acceptance.
The first chapter ends on a positive note, leaving a sweet taste in the mouth of the reader, perphaps as sugar coting of the next chapter which describes the 1992-93′s Bombay riots with all its gruesome details.
I skipped this chapter and read it right at the end and I would recommend readers without a taste for gore to do the same.
Author then covers the physical Bombay – the buildings and the laws governing them to explain some, or most of the problems facing Mumbai’s inhabitants and possible solutions. He then moves on to the law’s uphelder’s – the Mumbai Police force, by detailing his interactions and observations with one of the comissioners of Mumbai police, various crime reports and criminals.
After scripting the lives of the law’s uphelders, the author moves on to the other side of the fence and gives the reader a close look in the lives of the law breakers – the criminals and people from the Mumbai’s notorious underworld called ‘bhai’s (meaning big brother). The chapter has some gory parts, but is enjoyable, like a gangster movie.
Then author takes a short detour and acquaints the reader with famous food joints of Mumbai – not the swankiest, but the ones loved by its people.
And then he moves on to detailing more voyeuristic pleasures the India’s city of sin has to offer – the dance bars and its girls. The author details the life journey of some of the top bar dancers he met in an interesting way, sharing the sad and joyous parts of their lives, making them human and understandable.
Then comes the most glorious part of Mumbai – the part which forces thousands of people to run away from their homes, their jobs to Mumbai – to be a part of its Film City fondly called Bollywood. The reader is taken through the film world by the eyes of the stars that make it shine. Successful actors, directors, their dreams, fears and frustrations. And another view of the same world is presented by wannabe actors, aptly called strugglers.
Author takes care to cover a story of a family living in the slums of the city and of a youth who has run away from his home and come to Mumbai to complete the kleidoscope.
He ends the book with a story of a Jain family renouncing the world and becoming monks, their thoughts and reaction of the society and their extended family.
This book, gives a rounded view of the multi-faceted city of Mumbai, touching upon many of the different hues it offers to its visitors and its residents.
All in all a highly readable book.