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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Now reading... (with thanks to Lotus)

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta (originally discovered by way of Lotus Reads). So far, while certainly educational, the reading is almost like following the adventures in a novel. Excellent.

Mumbai (what was once called Bombay) is, in a strange way, a model city. It is an example of what can happen when too many people and too rapid expansion occur with too little foresight. And foresight is not a strong characteristic of governments or political parties anywhere in the world. Thus, Mumbai reminds me of examples of futuristic cities in some science fiction novels: A place where events have gotten ahead of themselves, where additional layers are added onto faulty foundations, where great technological advances and unimaginable poverty exist side by side, where space is at a premium and dependable infrastructure at a minium, where crime is often the only way to improvement, where the crucial necessity of water is difficult to come by and often contaminated, where those who work tirelessly for improvement are met with impossible odds. Where giving up and throwing up one's hands would be easier than battling what must seem inevitable. It is an example that the world should be paying attention to if there is to be hope for the future. For many of the problems this Maximum City faces exist all over the incipient form and in smaller locations. Mumbai is a wake-up call of sorts.

Mehta's voice is comfortable, skilled, ironic, witty. I'm reading about events that have escaped my notice in my comfortable suburban world, but that have had huge effects on millions of people in Bombay. I'm reading with more comprehension than might have expected because Mehta manages to balance the humanity, the history, and the political so well.

Again, I read non-fiction much slower than fiction; yet, each time I pick up this book, my hands eagerly seek out my place, and I'm soon immersed in Mehta's Bombay.


  1. Hi, Jenclair!

    Oh, I'm thrilled to bits you've started "Maximum City" and happier still you're enjoying the read so far! I have peeked at it and read a couple of chapters but in no particular order. Everytime I miss my Bombay, I open the book and read a little and even though what Mehta writes doesn't exactly put Bombay in a great light, the words always comfort me.

    Happy reading, Jenclair and I will be looking forward to all your updates!

  2. Lotus - I've been enthralled with it. Mehta doesn't avoid the difficult, frightening, or unpleasant, but his love for the city is evident. As educational as reading this book is for me, one of the things I particularly love is the sense that Mehta is allowing himself to be educated as he researches and writes. He isn't coming at people or events with foregone conclusions.

  3. You have got me so excited about this book! I am so glad Mehta enthralls as well as informs. I just love it when a book does that to me. LOL, yes, Suketu Mehta was clearly quite the "foreigner" in the Bombay he chose to portray. I lived in Bombay for the first 24 years of my life and never really came across too many suspicious elements. Sure, they are there in plenty,but one has to go looking for them. Bombay is mostly made up of hard working people just trying not to let a big city get the better of them. Have you listened to any of the radio interviews Mehta gave NPR, Jenclair? They are very enjoyable and informative, too. Seems like the underbelly of Bombay is becoming a popular subject to write on - two other books, "Shantaram" by Gregory Roberts and "Sacred Games" by Vikram Chandra, which also highlight Bombay's dark side, have done very,very well.

    Enjoying your updates, thank you!

  4. It sounds like a fascinating read. I've just acquired a copy of Chandra's Sacred Games and I suspect that once I've thoroughly immersed myself in a fictional Mumbai, I will be keen to move on to Mehta's non-fictional account of the city.