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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Maximum City Miniscule View

Citizen Gautam Naik reviews book Maximum city by Suketu Mehta
After a long wait (mainly due to warnings from those who had read and knew me well), i had a chance to lay hands upon a much critically acclaimed book called Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. In many media quarters and references, Mumbai has been named as Maximum city. The awards etc have also been given for this writing and this book is supposed to be critically acclaimed (as every book is nowadays).

Let’s start with good points about the book. It’s very interesting read. Never he lets down reader off hook and disinterested (except maybe last few episodes) and that’s an achievement for nonfiction. The characters and topics are chosen carefully and they cover many salient points about Mumbai. Daily life, Politics, Bollywood, live entertainment, Underworld, food , transport, people all aspects are covered except maybe cricket which is a nostalgic for true Mumbaikar and as PL said its more game to be talked than played in Mumbai. The author has put in lot of effort in connecting to people he wanted to cover. Language is simple and yet crisp. The cynicism and paradoxes have been expressed very beautifully. Also he has taken correct digs at corruption, contradictions in public persona of an Indian which is national phenomenon not restricted to Mumbai. Delhi would have added more spice to the view of India from NRI returnee angle.

That ends the good point about book. But the main problem I have with the book (I mean views of author) is his simplistic attribution of problems of city to a single phenomenon. Author has tried best to portray his own views to be narrated by people who are subject of his discussion. Curiously he takes real names of real celebrities and officers where as he uses pseudo names for ordinary people. The celebrities are either promoted or denounced based on his personal bias. The protagonists who are ordinary people get sympathies based on which political affiliation author subscribes to. Let’s approach the biggest flaw. The author attributes rise of Shivsena and its rise to power since mid 80s in city till it controlled state govt in 95 as main problem city has faced. Before he left for US his "Bombay' was different than the "Mumbai' he saw in mid 90s. That’s a very simplistic view. He feels all previous congress governments and government post 2000 were corruption free. The society has changed due to shivsena. Police got corrupted owing to shivsena. Housing problems were introduced by shivsena. Underworld and gang war was created by Sena. Transport problems arisen due to sena. Better films cannot be produced because of shivsena. Sanjay Dutt is a better person than Amitabh. Vidhu vinod and Mahesh Bhatts are the only respectable film directors who mean business and have right opinion on everything while rest produce candy floss. The underworld dons are victims of system created by sena and have all sympathies of author. The dec92 riots are because of police oppression of minorities and jan 93 were caused by sena without any concrete proof of Hindu persecution and the great saviour of minorities Saint Shree Dawoodji Ibrahim had to kill innocents on a march friday in order to create equilibrium and it was the need of the day. Shri Shri Chota shakeel is the most respectable member of Indian Diaspora involved in saintly activities in Mumbai. Chota Rajan has false facade of being patriotic Don (as if we care). Sena supremo is flawed leader with flaw vision messing up with the maximum city. He is the most responsible person for ills of this Maximum city. Sir you are oversimplifying problems. If you want to go to roots you have to start with fact that neither Muslims nor Marathas ruled Mumbai. Mumbai was created by British. Though there is right mention of House rent act and fire in 1947 creating housing problems and expanding city. You have to understand dynamics of United Maharashtra movement, you have to understand the mill workers unrest in early 80s, and you have to understand demographics which have resulted in shivsena being in power for nearly 3 decades in Mumbai. You also have to note state politics involves western Maharashtra, vidharbha, konkan and marathwada as well. You need to understand high command politics which result in fact that battles for Mumbai have to be fought in Delhi. You need to understand the main event which was liberalization which for me is the turning point. You need to understand migrant influx. Mumbai is defenceless and welcomes all. US which is world's intellectual capital has strict immigration laws filtering out best. Mumbai welcomes all and sundry. Resources are limited. Reason Mumbai attracts influx is open society, economic avenues, and hope which are the greatest strengths of this beautiful city which are now converted into weakness. Shivsena occupied political vacuum created by all these parameters. They are no different from any other political outfit except for being forthright and clear on communication of its agenda as compared to so called secular parties who have one public statement contradicting private politics below which is as communal, casteist as author claims shivsena to be.

There are other minor flaws as well but am running out of time. However interesting read this books offers very miniscule window to city with a singular view point and agenda which is very commonplace especially in English speaking media, art, and society. They have same bias, same criticism, and same targets. Time for all to recover from jaundiced view. Mumbai city is Kaleidoscope. It can be ugly and beautiful in single view. It can be vibrant and dead in single instance. It can be part empty, part full. No one has maximum view to this Kaleidoscope. That’s the essence of Mumbai. Ask any true Mumbaikar. Having lived in Mumbai in same time span author depicted, I know it firsthand though have been out of real Mumbai touch for last 12 years. Only have to pass highways to reach international airport. And I admit that’s a very miniscule view which is same case with Mr Suketu Mehta....

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