World biz and more as seen from India

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Maximum City of INDIA!!!

Here is what I feel about one of the most beautiful books that I've read in the past two years!

Editors of popular news papers have started acknowledging the phrase, 'Maximum City' as synonymous with Bombay. If Harry Potter has enchanted the youth, Suketu Mehta's Maximum City has charmed many a reader with its beautiful account on the most sought after city of the second most populated country in the world.

Being a Mumbaikar (formarly a Bombayite), you are not surprised or flummoxed by the idiosyncrasies of the city that have been verbosely described in the book. But, you nod in acknowledgement to the author's opinions time and again as you can relate with this NRI who has painstakingly researched his first work.

A writer's uniqueness can be gauged by reading the first few paragraphs and more often than not one can safely predict what to expect in the subsequent pages especially if it is a work of non fiction. But, Maximum City can catch you off guard. The city of dreams is introduced to the reader in a very gentlemanly manner. The initial paragraphs obey the Queen's English rules. But no sooner do you reach page 11 than you realize how difficult it must have been for Suketu Mehta to restrain himself from using the language that the average Mumbaikar wants to read. What follows is a treat to the eyes and a mockery of the purveyors of authentic use of prose. Mehta respects the reader and writes in a colloquial manner. To an outsider, the book is incomplete without a Hindi English Dictionary.

How does one define Mumbai? Is it the gaping pot holed roads where a Mercedes would be humbled or is it the city of the poor which houses a fourth of its denizens on footpaths? Is it the place where the underworld and the police survive equally well even after having bullets for breakfast or a place where carnal opulence breeds the dance bars which satisfy the hunger of the elite and the thugs alike. Suketu Mehta has it all covered.

"For every selfish politician, there is a dedicated hero", Abraham Lincoln had announced about two centuries ago. Mehta reinstates this by dedicating chapters to Thackeray, the self proclaimed Godfather of Mumbai and Arun Lal, the man heading the city's Special Task Force, second only to the Scotland Yard.

The slime of the slums, the soporific bar girls dancing to the tune of 'ek do teen' in the wee hours of morning, the indomitable spirit of Sanjay Dutt fighting crime, lies and threats, the frighteningly under qualified censor board and the paragon of unprofessionalism - making of a hindi philum have merited huge portions of the book. To a person from Bombay, there is nothing new that Mehta has to say, but the matter of fact style that he chooses to word his experiences without glamorizing any of his trysts with different characters from the city is what makes the book so special.

Mehta makes writing look very easy. George Orwell would turn in his grave if he were to read some of Suketu's idioms. Had Satyajit Ray edited the book, a fourth of it would never have seen light of day. But I am glad that Mehta's Bombay is raw and real. I would not trade a single page of the book for its prolixity because every page fulfils its purpose, every view has been thought out loud and seconded by facts which the writer has diligently saved on his laptop which was a constant companion throughout his visits to the cops, the villages, the dons, the politicians, the footpaths, the dance bars, the hotels, , , , ,

None of the essays end with oomph or move you to tears and Mehta succeeds by following the theory of moderation. He could have allowed himself to be carried away and the book would have ended up like another hot selling fairy tale. Some of the essays may even seem incomplete and the reader would want to know how the life of the split personality, Manoj aka Honey ends, or what future has in store for the 20 year old Monalisa, the innocently mature prostitute. How long would underworld test the patience of Arun Lal? Though every essay has a distinct identity, it is not mutually exclusive from others. Yet every topic is laid thread bare and you allow yourself to get intoxicated and disregard other essays while reading one.

I loved it… You go read it!!!