Even after visiting Mumbai quite a number of times, I’m still only scratching at a small part of the surface when it comes to understanding this dynamics of this incredible city, and it wasn’t until I read Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found that I was able to start piecing my fragments of knowledge together.
Written by Suketu Mehta, who returned to Mumbai 21 years after leaving the city at the age of 14, the book provides a vivid portrait of some of the most compelling facets of Bombay life, taking us from the glitz and glamour of Bollywood and the brutal gang wars of the underworld to the city’s Byzantine politics and the poverty of its slums.
While clearly showing his obvious affection for Mumbai, Mehta is not afraid to hide his impatience and anger at the frustrations he encounters in daily life. In my favorite passage in the book, he’s also very revealing the contradictions afflicting not just Mumbai but also the whole of India as the country strives not just to achieve but also to leapfrog modernity:
“Long before the millennium, Indians such as the late prime minister Rajiv Ghandi were talking about taking the country into the twenty-first century as, as if the twentieth century could just be leapfrogged. India desires modernity; it desires computer, information technology, neural networks, video on demand. But there is no guarantee of a constant supply of electricity in most places in the country. In this, as in every other area, the country is convinced it can pole-vault over the basics……”
For anyone who wants to learn more about India and its most important commercial city, this book is definitely recommended.