Maximum Story

I’ve mentioned Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta in a previous post, but thought it was worth its own post now that I’ve finally finished it.

We learned about this book on our 2006 trip to India, but it took me over a year to finally get to it.

The book is Suketu Mehta’s collection of stories from his return to India after 21 years. He’s an insider and an outsider all at once. He shares his own experiences (say, in trying to rent an apartment, or get his kids into a decent school) but also picks a number of different subcultures (life in the slums, commuting, gangsters, Bollywood, sex workers, homeless artists, religion, politics, law enforcement) and goes deep. He develops intense relationships over time and tells the stories of the characters he encounters, many of whom live outside the norms that most of us could tolerate. He goes deep enough that as a writer, he’s pulled into writing a screenplay for a Bollywood film.

Although he goes into these subcultures as individual forays, many of the threads overlap (Bollywood and gangsters, the police and politics and religion, etc. etc.) and collide and so a more complete portrait begins to emerge.

I really appreciated having my own experiences contextualized by the author’s similar (if much more extreme) personal experiences and subsequent explanation, and then the opportunity to see so much further into the city, as an icon of Indian life. This is classic participant-observation. What’s the Hindi word for gonzo? How’s about gonzoti?

There’s a lot of exuberance about India nowadays and I think that needs to be tempered with some other perspectives. It’s not necessarily an easy place to live, work, visit, or develop.


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