Sunday, May 18, 2008

Maximum City: Bombay Lost & Found by Suketu Mehta

I was never interested in Non-Fiction. I found Non-Fiction very disengaging for it is not a story per se where you are involved with the characters and their lives. Obviously, it was completely my personal opinion.

I picked up Maximum City from a Book Stall outside Andheri Station in Mumbai. I was intrigued by the subject. I really wanted to know more about the city where I embarked upon my professional journey. I stayed in Mumbai for over a year but still know nothing much about it. I have stayed in Jharkhand, Orissa, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune and Mumbai; and I can say Mumbai is different from any other city in India. It has a very inexplicable air about it. Mumbai is like a small world in itself. I think people have taken Johnny Walker’s “keep walking” a little too seriously. They just walk, come rain, come blasts, come what may.

I found Maximum City deeply engaging, for it was also a story, the writer’s journey into the interiors of real Mumbai -- in fact, it is like a bunch of short stories clubbed together. You get all the masala in this, there is Bollywood, there is politics, there is religion, there is even a bar girl. But what I remember, most vividly, is about a Jain family, who renounce everything. I came to know about certain Jain customs which were deeply discomforting and startling; difficult to comprehend and empathise. I do not understand why a man and woman who have all the riches in the world would renounce everything, even their children and each other, to lead a life of nomad. The daughter and mother; and the son and father can be together but people from opposite sex from the same family, cannot see each other for the rest of their lives; they eat what people give them and have chosen to live a life of abstinence. There are several other rituals related to this “custom” which are even more complex. Read the complete review here.

Then I also read about the life and thoughts of this young man, who is aligned to a certain Political Party. It was shocking to read about his thoughts. It was reminiscent of what I saw in the documentary called Father, Son and Holy War by Anand Patwardhan. To quote verbatim from Patwardhan’s website, “In the politically polarized world, universal ideals are rare. In India, as in many regions, the vacuum is filled by religious zealousness. Minorities are scapegoats of every calamity as nations subdivide into religious and ethnic zones, each seemingly eager to annihilate the other or extinguish itself on the altar of martyrdom. FATHER, SON AND HOLY WAR explores in two parts the possibility that the psychology of violence against "the other" may lay in male insecurity, itself an inevitable product of the very construction of "manhood." All of Patwardhan’s documentaries are worth a watch.

Coming back to Maximum City, it is like voicing my own doubt, 'Mehta asks in frustration, “'Why do people still live in Bombay?''. (I have asked this a thousand times to myself when I was in Mumbai, and hundred times to people who continue or dream to live there). Mehta says, ''Every day is an assault on the individual's senses, from the time you get up, to the transport you take to go to work, to the offices you work in, to the forms of entertainment you are subjected to.'' (I could not agree more!).

So to explore the lives of people who make Mumbai what it is, go ahead and grab a copy.

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