Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Maximum city by Suketu Mehta

For someone who within in a span of couple of years had met Ajay lal(the cop who solved the bombay blasts'93), bit of bollywood, a cross-dressing dancer, RSS local chief, Chota Shakeel, mumbai bar dancer so on and had detailed discussions with them, Suketu Mehta writes very little in terms of his own inferences or view points. But in the few instances he does, he sounds so juvenile against the mammoth of experiences he has just had, I was glad of all the other times he didnt.

Maximum city is pretty much a transcription(obviously selective) of his interactions with several personalities of Mumbai. Quite truthful, it is almost as if you meet these people. It isnt a well written book but is rich with details that is enough to keep you engrossed. He doesnt give you his conclusions. So you still have the wee bit of uneasiness about Ajay's relatively affluent life style on a government Salary. At the same time, you know Ajay is an efficient cop. It is upto the reader to draw their conclusions or not even draw one.

At the beginning of the book,when Suketu, an NRI talks of this experience as an exercise in finding his roots, I yelled BS in my head. I have always found this roots business quite pretentitious unless one is an Alex Hailey. In any case, this is hardly Suketu's roots. It is more of sure money making exercise. Nothing wrong in it if only he had been candid enough.

But he has done work that is worth the money. While trying to befriend an RSS small unit chief, they ask him along for nature's call. It is also a way for them to check out if he is truly a hindu. Suketu is one but that just describes how fanatical these people are and how close he has gone to the edge.

He was also a close confidante of Vidhu Vinod Chopra for those couple of years. The highlight of that episode was when Vidhu, sitting in Amitabh's house after a short interaction with Big B himself asks Suketu, "Do you think he wears a wig?". That was the same question Dad had asked me few years ago after watching Kaun Banega Crorepathi. Must be a men thing, atleast my Dad has enough hair and going by his family genetics will always have, still he observed the wig. I think Amitabh wears a wig except he doesnt wear the usual goundamani or the tamil actor's generic one. He goes in detail describing the nexus between the underworld and bollywood, the underworld in lot more detail, tracks in particular few people, quite a fascinating read.

I found the whole ending with the Jain Merchant renouncing the world, too cliched.

The parts he explored in the Mumbai are present everywhere from New york to even our own Madras except there is very little chance of us, the middle classy, suburbian people realizing it. Every city has a book like this.


  1. Ya...the finding my roots part of the book was basically BS'ing!!!

    But there is something about the Bombay under-belly that makes so many people revisit it...

    It is a view of Bombay that I never had when I was there, and probably will never have if I return there...I'm thankful to the book for that..

  2. The book has been lying on my shelf for a while now and yet I am too lazy to pick it up and read.

    Talking about Big B's wig, he went bald during the shooting of Khudha Gawa way back in the 90s it seems. I remember seeing the bald patch on his head on one of those film fare award functions on TV long ago.

    It used to be a wig and then hair transplant said some newspaper a few years ago.

  3. The parts being present in every city is konjam impossible I guess. The writing was never great but he sure provided some great insights. And I can't help but wonder why the whole name changing was necessary for Ajay Lal. Everyone knows who it is!

  4. Kaushik:
    Yeah, this guy was in India till he was 13, so where is the need to find roots, fancy terms, me thinks. he doesnt sound deep enough to BS as much.
    Once you start reading, I am sure you cant put it down, every one's exp. says so.
    Hair transplant, huh? wonder why news channels havent done a piece on this, i mean if his cold can make breaking news..:)
    Scales vary ofcourse... i was shocked to find(from pollathavan) how organized the bike thirudara industry was in namma chennai.

  5. Hey

    Have reuploaded the collage