Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Rate this book
A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. He approaches the city from unexpected angles, taking us into the criminal underworld of rival Muslim and Hindu gangs, following the life of a bar dancer raised amid poverty and abuse, opening the door into the inner sanctums of Bollywood, and delving into the stories of the countless villagers who come in search of a better life and end up living on the sidewalks.

As each individual story unfolds, Mehta also recounts his own efforts to make a home in Bombay after more than twenty years abroad. Candid, impassioned, funny, and heartrending, Maximum City is a revelation of an ancient and ever-changing world.

542 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2004

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Suketu Mehta

28 books213 followers
Suketu Mehta is the New York-based author of 'Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found,' which won the Kiriyama Prize and the Hutch Crossword Award, and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, the Lettre Ulysses Prize, the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize, and the Guardian First Book Award. He has won the Whiting Writers Award, the O. Henry Prize, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for his fiction. Mehta's work has been published in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Granta, Harpers Magazine, Time, and Condé Nast Traveler, and has been featured on NPR's 'Fresh Air'.

Mehta is Associate Professor of Journalism at New York University. He is currently working on a nonfiction book about immigrants in contemporary New York, for which he was awarded a 2007 Guggenheim fellowship. He has also written an original screenplay for 'The Goddess,' a Merchant-Ivory film starring Tina Turner, and 'Mission Kashmir', a Bollywood movie.

Mehta was born in Calcutta and raised in Bombay and New York. He is a graduate of New York University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
3,295 (30%)
4 stars
4,433 (41%)
3 stars
2,342 (21%)
2 stars
538 (4%)
1 star
178 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 773 reviews
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews6,943 followers
November 12, 2014

Maximum City: In A Theatre Near You

A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. - The cover boasts, without blushing.

Assume that you don’t know Mumbai. You have never lived in Mumbai. You might have bought ‘Maximum City’ thinking you would get a comprehensive idea on how Bombay works. But yet, the Mumbai you know and the Mumbai Suketu Mehta ‘finds’ are uncomfortably similar. Why? Both comes from Newspaper headlines and Movie stories - it is the sensational Mumbai, the most interesting parts, perhaps even the parts with most vitality. The ones always on the margins, and yet always in the spotlight. Viewed mostly indirectly. Mehta gives a rare and more direct view, but yet fails to capture a perfect shot, or even a good-enough one.

Isn’t it hard to imagine reading such a huge (and largely admired) book and find towards the end that nothing really surprised you, that nothing was revelatory - and this about a city you have never even lived in? Is your own insight so great, or maybe the book is perhaps a bit shallow? Surely, the second is the more plausible option. Sometimes presented in a slightly new light, a shift in perspective here and there; there are benefits, but much less than the effort put, by you as a reader, into the book warrants and demands, especially in 600-odd page non-fiction book.

In two and a half years, Suketu Mehta read a bit deeper than than the headlines, but not much broader, into the life of a city, was satisfied. And left.

It is a lot of pages. It give the impression of great depth. Typically it would take a long time to read. But you might find yourself with no real insights, nothing really new. Like adding detail to news stories - you might even feel that if you had investigated all the news stories a bit more this is what you would also end up with, and with less effort than reading a self-righteous book for it. Also you wouldn’t have had to put up with a reporter trying to be a saint. Or with endless commentary on a really bad movie.

It is quite plainly written for the outsider, for the western audience. Mehta himself is hardly a Mumbai native, having spent most of his life outside India, as thorough an NRI as they come. This is quite tritely defended by asserting that an external perspective is necessary to see things that we otherwise accept too readily in a fresh perspective. That would have been fine, if the fresh perspective was indeed there.

Also, it would have been really nice to speak a bit less of Mission Kashmir . By the end, you would be more sick of the movie than if you had actually been forced into watching the atrocity.

Suketu can justify the sensationalist approach by saying: These are not normal people. They live out the fantasies of normal people. Since I couldn’t do it in my own life, I followed others who did and who invited me to watch. I sat right at the edge of the stage, scattering these pieces of paper over them as payment.

In short, as voyeuristic as any Bollywood movie; and also a very narrow view for such an undertaking with such possibilities. It is a waste of time, pure and simple. I regret reading the book and for a change I don’t even want to advertise my reading in my shelves. This book is making its way into a second-hand bookstore some time soon.

The book is split into three sections: 'Power' (Politics & the Underworld), 'Pleasure' (Dance bars, Red Light Areas and Bollywood) and finally 'Passages' (meant to show the nature of Mumbai as a pass-through city, as a non-destination - illustrated by Slums, Migrants, Religious Renouncers, etc).

In each section, Mehta showcases the everyday problems of the people who inhabit that world (whether it is petty politics, gangways or prostitution) and humanizes them. Here the mission is very 'Orwellian' (in a different sense from how that word is usually employed - see here, if curious) and to a large extent Suketu succeeds in showing the human side of each of these most reviled frayed-edges of the city. Towards the end the book does unravel quickly into a series of almost random snapshots. It might be a catchy cinematic technique to employ, but it doesn’t fly so well. Our movie makers do love to experiment, in all the wrong places.

Unfortunately, however, Suketu is not satisfied with mere reporting. He wants to go beyond and hold forth on big problems and big solutions. He indulges in giving simplistic and grand-sounding summations of all the major problems, their causes and the solutions, all in one package. He ends up with cringe-inducing all-purpose assertions like:

The reason Bombay is choking is the Rent Act.


The root of the problem is that there are simply not enough policemen for this exploding city.


A Mumbai Vs Bombay encapsulated as a Ghatis  Vs Bombayites war. (Ghati meaning hill-people, or the derogatory term for Marathi natives)


Why are so many bad movies made in India?
The government can stomach a documentary film about the riots but not an emotional, mainstream one. The Enlightenment hasn’t reached these shores; it carries no weight.


And for a grand conclusion? -
One blue-bright Bombay morning, in the middle of the masses on the street, I have a vision: that all these individuals, each with his or her own favorite song and hairstyle, each tormented by an exclusive demon, form but the discrete cells of one gigantic organism, one vast but singular intelligence, one sensibility, one consciousness. And if I understand them well, they will all merge back into me, and the crowd will become the self, one, many-splendored.

What could be more novel. Right?

Such a hopeful title: Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. Makes no sense, of course. But how does that matter. It is important for a good Masala Movie to have a catchy and evocative title.

After all, the whole book is in many ways a movie-making experience converted into a book, by a hitchhiker. So, we get a book obsessed with the very things Bollywood is anyway obsessed with, showcasing the same things that media wants us to lavish attention on. It only confirms your suspicions. Plus gives the heft of a book to back you confirmed ideas. Mehta’s prose is smooth, his insights hit half-way home now and then, but there is nothing to commend the whole exercise. What was lost and found, again?

It is truly a neither-here-nor-there work in the end: not content with providing incisive and up-close reporting of Bombay’s lives but also not going the whole hog and trying to understand the core of the city’s issues. For example, after spending untold pages tagging behind murderers and petty-criminals and criminal-politicians, the author concludes the section by saying that he has had too much of it and would prefer not to think about the horrors any more. And proceeds to wade into the pleasure section. How does a reader react to that?

Why has it been such a success? It is raw, unapologetic and crass at times (and it is okay to enjoy a B-movie if it is in the form of a respectable book). It does have a few good moments, few and far between but sparkling ones nevertheless.

Why is it a failure? If answered in a mere two and a half years, clearly there were not enough big questions, or big enough questions.

To read a better review, see here.

To read a better book, see here.
126 reviews96 followers
July 30, 2019
It is considered a great book by many on Bombay – now Mumbai. The writer shows us what makes this city unique and different from other big cities in India. He goes on to give very detailed information on how the city operates. It is the mafia, slums, Bollywood, corruption that makes the city a 'Maximum City.' There are certain sections of the book that I enjoyed reading. When this book was written, there were powerful politicians who ruled the city. One name that immediately comes to mind is that of Bal Thackeray. Mehta's meeting with him, as it was described in the book, is an interesting one. Even though Bala Saab was an extreme right, pro-Hindu politician and journalist, he did not know where his house was located in Bombay. He did not know the geography of the city. This is scary to know in the sense that people who become so powerful and have the destiny of millions in their hands could be so monumentally ignorant. Another fascinating trope in the book is where the author talks about mafia and slums. Almost everyone in Mumbai, especially the privileged, is marred by the presence of mafia– in direct and indirect ways. Half of the book is the study of mafia and its connection with Bollywood. For instance, he writes about 'Bombay Blasts' of 1993 and the well-known actor Sanjay Dutt's involvement in it. The book, in very conspicuous ways, tells us how class, caste, and even the knowledge of the English language help one to survive the city. Of course, one knows this because this true for most other Indian cities too. However, it is the underworld that put Bombay in another zone. Also, Unlike other urban centers in India, Bombay is the business center. It is the work that matters here and not the protocols. But unfortunately, bureaucracy works here in the same ways as it does in other parts of India; it crushes the poor and works only for the tiny few. One must add that the city also has some pluses such as it is safe for the women. So many societal rules and traditions that are stringently followed in the rest of the country are less in vogue in Bombay. However, the city has its own problems, its own character that makes it at once enticing and diabolic. One notices this binary. Perhaps, it is the diabolic features of Bombay that appeal to Mehta. There are books that you read, and you love them, and then you write reviews. There are other books that you read with effort, and then write reviews with even greater effort. I guess for me this book is too big and in parts, it becomes boring, very boring. I wonder how come so many people claim this book to be the greatest book ever written Bombay – now, Mumbai. For instance, I find such claims rather absurd because at least I know of one other author – Manto – who wrote brilliantly on Bombay. Unlike Mehta, Manto wrote on the city as one of its members. Mehta's gaze on the city is that of a disinterested (western) anthropologist on his own city. At times this is a plus, and sometimes it reeks of snobbery and self-hatred
Profile Image for Praj.
314 reviews791 followers
March 28, 2011
Circa 1992. It was a regular school day on a lovely December morning(winters are warm not cold in Bombay).With just an hour left to mid-morning recess, there was a sudden flurry of anxious announcements calling certain students to report immediately with their belongings at the Principal’s office. After being little nosy about the happenings I go back to my daydreaming. Suddenly, I see my mother hurriedly demanding that I go and collect my younger sister from her classroom. As I walk through the school compound frantic parents rush in and out of the school premises with their children. As we walk towards the car I see my father tensed and horrified to some extent. He had just escaped death(which we knew later that evening. Four men had hurled bombs in front of him at a nearby housing development while my father was driving through traffic). A riot had broken in the streets nearby as we frantically rushed home, I could see shutters closing at the speed of light, people scattering, some flinging acid bulbs and destruction of harmless developments. That was the day the Hindu-Muslim riots let a demon loose for which innocents had to pay with their humble lives in the coming horrendous months. I still remember those days vividly for I have been a front row spectator to the bloodshed occurred in the name of religion ignited by few political rivals. I lived among trepidations that lasted for years to come by. Lost people I knew and religion once again became a crucial factor in our mundane lives. The citizens of Bombay (I resist from calling it Mumbai, always) bravely faced those murky days, which I witnessed closely with resilience and banishing all prejudices imposed by political cults. Over decades the city has seen its share of political violence and inter-religion hatred, but its people have always made it through with smiling faces.

Thus, when an individual who summons his exploration of a nostalgic hometown proclaiming that he has seen enough murderers and questioned their virtues, it irks me.I am not denying factual comprehensions of this book, as it would be utterly preposterous to overlook the shame that Bombay once faced or has not being able to strike an equilibrium in honored survival, however I do question the validity of his sentiments to a place he calls “Maximum City” where he once unreservedly wandered as a kid. Mehta says he left the city in 1977 only to be back after 21years to find him in a state of utter shock. There is no falsehood, no dramatic sequences to define the underbelly of my home city, nevertheless I get annoyed each time I open the pages and read those words. Rarely a book touches me on a personal note, but these words dishearten me as they are negative of a place and its people who strive hard for a living. Fair enough, there are vast discrepancies in the standard of living. There are some who die homeless in scorching heat whereas others never travel without an air-conditioned comfort. There are some who demand beluga caviar on toast for tea –time and indulge in La Prairie Cellular serums while others barely make it through the day without a proper meal. It is extremely difficult to rationalize these disparities that hit you in the face in the most mysterious ways. But, these do not define all. Why wasn’t there a prose about people striving everyday braving obstacles with dignified audacity to make a better living. About individuals determined to make a dignified and prosperous future come what may. People amalgamating into one joyous mass rejoicing each cultural festival with the same magnanimous excitement banishing all ethnic prejudices.

The chapters on “Bollywood” signify braggart purposes. It is a film industry for crying out loud; an entertainment business where almost all actors are purely performers and not artistic geniuses that venerates the true meaning of art. Nothing can be gained from it rather that a minority percentage of artistes that depart frothy amusement to make assiduous lives cheerful. Most art films (movies depicting social causes and instabilities) do not fare well with common psyche. This very attitude shows the annoyance of a mind resisting it to shun “moralistic virtues” performed by artistes that have been rehearsed to achieve precision. Is it disheartening? Not really. When it comes to choosing authenticity over illusionary realism, the latter is always preferred.

One would refute my caustic words claiming that with my privileged lifestyle I must be the last person to comment on the imbalanced financial and educational status of this city. I have never lived without food, shelter or money. Then how would I know the depth of a suffering. One does not have to be poor to know what poverty is. One does not have to be fraudulent to know what corruption is. I was born in Bombay, schooled here and I presently live in this city all hale and hearty. Unlike the author, I have been away from Bombay for a span of 9 years, while I was studying in the US. But, that does not give me the right to condemn the city mechanics or garner negativity. As you cannot expect a child to stay a child forever, you cannot anticipate a burgeoning city to stay in its purest unscathed form. From what I observed, the author seems perplexed with his distinctiveness. He tried finding a sense of belonging in New York stressed through the binding stereotypes only to come back to the place of his origin and see it modified into a strange land that once again botched a sense of belonging.

Bombay will always be my home come what may. I have traveled around many superior worldly cities, yet the imminent landing announcement at the Bombay airport somehow makes me warmly smile every freaking time. The city is heavily crowded, poverty and richness juxtaposes every road that spirals into politically corrupt governing display of unreliable loyalties and prone to religious debates. But, this does not define its landscapes, its populace. It is a city where dreams are built; life is raw imparting valuable teachings of resilient determination, where people smile even in the most tedious times, ethnicities are celebrated with joyfulness and life is seen at it nastiest and its finest. It is a place where I grew up and took long walks with my grandfather relishing every aspect of this marvelous city. Bombay is not a place full of murderers or politically agitated goons, it is haven of magnificent, soulful people who fight all odds and nurture a ravishing tomorrow. Now, this is what I would term as “Maximum City”.

Lastly, one question that troubles me is why only those who bring together pessimistic opinions are the ones who have stayed away from the core of Bombay nudging stereotypes in a foreign land?

Praj, why after such scathing opinion would you bestow a 3-star rating on this book? Is this you being diplomatic or commiserating the author’s hard slog? Ah, I get it. This book makes you defensive about your home city and makes you affectionate for something you disregarded that this book interleaves in you.
Profile Image for John.
282 reviews65 followers
December 31, 2007
I toyed with creating a new category for this book: "Nonfiction Stranger Than Fiction." But no. Some of the stories and experiences of people that this book chronicles do seem very far-fetched (say, to mention just one out of several dozen, the former newspaper cartoonist who becomes boss of one of the strongest Hindu fundamentalist parties in the country – an Indian Rush Limbaugh – and who provokes some of the most violent riots in the country’s history.) But it is all believable once you recognize that the world is a far meaner, violent, corrupt, or at least a far different place than one would probably imagine living in one of the wealthier countries on the planet.

Although the Maximum City of the title is Bombay, this book is also - and I would say primarily - about poverty, more precisely, the extremes of existence that poverty creates; extremes of tolerance and intolerance, violence and benevolence, community and isolation. Even in chapters that do not directly deal with poverty, such as the excellent chapter on the Indian film industry, the desperate masses are never far from the author’s focal point.

One of my dozen-or-so favorite episodes from this book is "Adjust," a passage about the Bombay train system. Toward the end of this section, a man whose job it is to monitor communal violence and religious flare-ups within the Bombay slums - in short, someone who regularly sees some of the worst aspects of humanity - is asked if he is pessimistic about the human race. He responds "Not at all.... Look at the hands from the train." He is referring to all of the hands that stretch out of the train cars when someone is running alongside the train car, reaching to pull you in. It is one of several very beautiful passages, and all I can do is quote from it at length:

“Your fellow passengers, already packed tighter than cattle are legally allowed to be, their shirts already drenched in sweat in the badly ventilated compartments, having stood like this for hours, retain an empathy for you, know that your boss might yell at you or cut your pay if you miss the train, and will make space where none exists to take one more person with them. And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching for theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or untouchable …. All they know is that you are trying to get to the city of gold, and that’s enough.”
Profile Image for Kavita.
755 reviews362 followers
October 20, 2020
As someone who grew up in the 90s in Mumbai, I lived in my middle class bubble, broken only by the riots and the rampant street sexual harassment. I watched the city take a rebirth with a new name, just one of a re-naming spree around the country. But though I knew that there were things going on, they were just somewhere out there and nothing to do with me. With Maximum City, Suketu Mehta brings those 'things' right under your nose making them hard to ignore.

Maximum City is about the shadow world of Mumbai, the place where politicians and gangsters, filmmakers and dance bar girls, the police and the public, all gather to feed off each other's negative traits. The book is divided into three parts. The first deals with power - namely, the hold of Shiv Sena, Mumbai's political and labour history, as well as the corruption in the police force. The Mumbai riots of 92 and the complicity of the political parties as well as the police was investigated and presented in detail. The gangsters, the gang wars, and their interplay with politicians and the police is also explored.

Then comes the pleasure section, where Mehta talks about the restaurant businesses, the dance bars, and Bollywood. Here, he takes up with a bar girl and develops a semi-crush on her. Hope his wife doesn't read this book! And finally, Bollywood and its struggles with the underworld and the government also makes it to these pages. There are a lot of other titbits in these pages as well. One of my personal favourites is about the Jain family which took deeksha together.

This was a fine work of investigative journalism and Mehta took risks as he cavorted around with gangsters and policemen. I read some negative reviews of the book by other Indians, and it was amusing to see how they were all about how Mehta was against Hinduism and India. Well, the underworld was strong in the 90s and there was religious discord. They were tough times. Deal with it! Living in an elite bubble doesn't make Mehta wrong or negate those lives which were lived under these circumstances.

Today, those dance bars are shut down, the underworld is mostly wiped out, and the 90s is long gone. I have also moved out. But more and more people still pour into Mumbai. The book should be of interest to anyone interested in Mumbai. Just remember that it's only one aspect of life in the city - the darker side. I keep wondering what happened today to these people Mehta chronicled in these pages. That speaks to the excellence of Maximum City. It made me care about the characters, real as they are.
Profile Image for Daren.
1,279 reviews4,361 followers
October 22, 2020
Wow, people love this book, people hate this book! What a coup to have fawning quotes on the back cover from William Dalrymple, Amitav Ghosh and on the cover from Salman Rushdie. How could I not love this book? Mostly because it is 600 pages long!

Really it covers a huge amount of ground. The book is divided into three parts. Power is the first, and this part covers the topics of the authors personal geography and his mixture of Bombay and American lives; then goes historical with the 1992/3 riots and the 1998 elections, then the Rent Act before heading into a number of personal stories - almost character examinations - Bal Thackeray, politician; Ajay Lal (not his real name) Commissioner of Police; before interviews / interactions with various nefarious underworld characters - Moshin, Satish, Chotta Shakeel.
Part two, titled Pleasure where he touched briefly on food before another character session with Monalisa (again, not her real name) - a dancer and prostitute, other inhabitants of Golpitha (the red light district) including Honey/Manoj - a confusing man (with a wife) who dances as a woman. This leads into the Bollywood scene, where the narrative revolves around a large number of actors, producers etc in the industry, as the author becomes involved in co-writing and the making of a movie Mission Kashmir. This section is really convoluted and goes to too many characters - and I am not even sure how many are real and how many are false names.
The third part of the book Passages sees the author returning to his childhood school to be honoured, along with a number of his contemporaries for various achievements. This section tells stories of his childhood, childhood friends, and the bad old days. Two more character studies - Girish, who becomes an assistant of sorts to the author while researching his book. Girish, who lives with his family in a slum, have done well enough financially to move up in the world - to live in a cheap one bedroom flat on the periphery of Mumbai. The last character is Babbaji - a science student who left Bihar to become a poet, and live on the streets of Mumbai.

The themes running through all these stories are corruption, the greed of the wealthy and low value of the lives of the poor. If the book is to be believes, the criminal underworld hold so much power, and responsible for so much corruption and underhand dealing, it is a wonder anything at all functions in Mumbai.

For me, it got way too bogged down in two places - the politics, and the Bollywood people. I have not got a lot of knowledge about these aspects of Mumbai, and this wasn't a great introduction -it was way to heavy to quickly. Perhaps this book is targeted more at people with more prior knowledge in these areas, but then a lot of people who didn't like this book seemed to have experience in Mumbai.

It was an interesting read despite this, although it should have been edited down - about a third shorter by taking out some of the detail.

There were a number of well written parts, such as: P130:
The Rent Act was an institutionalised expropriation of private property. Democracies have a weakness: if a bad law has enough money or people behind it, it stays on the books. This allows the perpetual continuation of the most absurd unreasonable practices.
In America I can walk into a gun show and buy a hand gun for less than the price of a good dinner for two, even if I am insane or a convicted criminal.
In Bombay I can walk into a flat I've rented for a year and stay there the rest of my life, pass it on to my sons after me, and defy the lawful proprietor's efforts to get my ass off his property. In both instances, I have the law behind me.
The city is full of people claiming what's not theirs. Tenants claim ownership by virtue of having squatted on the property. Mill workers demand mills be kept open at a loss to provide them with employment. Slum dwellers demand water and power connections for illegal constructions on public land. Government employees demand the right to keep working long past when they're needed, at taxpayers' expense. Commuters demand further subsidies for train fares which are already the lowest in the world. Moviegoers demand the government freeze ticket prices. The Indian government has long believed in the unreality of supply and demand; what you pay for an item, for a food or for a service, has no relation to what it costs the producer.
Profile Image for Caroline.
498 reviews557 followers
May 20, 2015
In spite of this book being lavished with positive reviews both in the press and here on Goodreads, I found it incredibly boring. I leap-frogged my way through it, skipping chunky tracts as I skimmed its 600 or so pages. The bits that interested me discussed the infrastructure and practical problems of the city of Mumbai, which is massively over-populated, has substantial slums, and has some bizarre laws regarding accommodation. The bits that bored me were the long journalistic reports of the author's interactions with racist politicians, figures of the underworld, workers in dance bars, Bollywood writers, people from slums - plus a long, drawn-out story about a relative who was in the process of becoming a Jain monk. Generally I love stories about people - but these stories just dragged and dragged and dragged. I found them absolutely e-x-h-a-u-s-t-i-n-g.

One odd point of interest was that whilst this book swam around in the underbelly of Mumbai life, I was also being exposed to the ultimate in Mumbai luxury. Whilst reading the book I also happened to be watching a three-part television series about The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. A bastion of exquisite perfection in an imperfect world. It was weird shifting between the top and bottom extremes of Mumbai life, with nothing in between, no discussion of ordinary people doing ordinary jobs and living ordinary lives. I presume they must be in there somewhere.
Profile Image for Anusha Jayaram.
170 reviews57 followers
April 21, 2015
This is one of the toughest books I've ploughed through. That's because every page I turned just ended up increasing my irritation with Suketu Mehta. Let me say this upfront: this the most hypocritical, sanctimonious, pretentious purported writer I have *ever* come across, and Mehta's voice throughout this book disgusted me.

Perhaps even more important to state is this: that this book is potentially dangerous.
To an uninitiated reader, the misrepresentations, and biases (glaringly obvious to me) of the writer would amount to a warped, if not completely wrong, understanding of Mumbai as a city, and even the country as a whole. More on that later, as it will need examples from the book to illustrate the point (yes, this is going to be a *long* review, but I just needed to vent..)

I picked up this book because it seemed interesting: who would pass up a chance at discovering more about a city as vibrant and diverse as Mumbai? And the book comes highly recommended, with so many reviewers heaping praise on Mehta for making "non-fiction seem as interesting as fiction" (this is true, but that's mostly because that's precisely what he *tries* to do in his book)..

Right from the beginning, his condescending tone hits the reader. Along with his complete confusion; he just doesn't know what he wants! He returns to Mumbai from New York, in search of the city he grew up in. This kind of nostalgia could have been endearingly naive. The problem is the sneering outsider's tone he adopts upon his return: the constantly whining, patronising tone. It really is all-pervasive, that persistent note of complaint, running through over a hundred pages of print! You feel like shaking him, demanding to know why he came back to Bombay of all cities, if he was going to get all delicate and fragile and do nothing but complain about the place.
He doesn't know what he wants for his children. He is stuck in a time warp - of the city as it was when he grew up in it. He wants his son to have exactly the education he had while growing up. But his son doesn't fit in, so he complains about his son's school, about the parents of other children studying in that school - because they weren't "inclusive enough".
Subsequently, when it emerges that his son is happier in an expensive school, studying with rich kids, that is a cause for complaint too, because now his son would go on "..to join the ranks of boys that looked down on my younger self."
Nothing can make this guy happy.

As he's worrying about his son growing up looking down on a certain section of society, he displays rank hypocrisy with his own elitist attitude towards Marathi speaking locals:
"..another world whose people came to wash our clothes, look at our electric meters, drive our cars, inhabit our nightmares. . Maharashtra to us was our servants, the banana lady downstairs, the text books we were force-fed in school. We had a term for them - ghatis.. also the word we used, generically, for 'servant'. I was in the fourth standard when Marathi became compulsory. How we groaned. It was the servants' language, we said..."

This elitist behaviour of Mehta's is fine, because who cares about the Maharashtrians anyway, right? But the thought of his son looking down at the kind of kid he used to be himself, the slice of society that Mehta himself had belonged to, now THAT was truly worrying [sarcasm alert]!

Mehta does not seem to be able to identify with ANY class of society, let alone with humanity at large; he merely finds fault with them all, mocking their lifestyles and thoughts with what he assumes to be witty sarcasm. It comes across as empty clamour for attention.
He sneers contemptuously at the rich, their parties, and their lifestyles. He looks down on the poor, cringes at the squalor in which they live, not because he feels sympathy for their predicament, but because he feels disgust. He distrusts them, often implying his low opinion of their behaviour.
As for the middle class, he can only refer patronizingly to them, ridiculing their beliefs and way of life, believing himself to be superior somehow, and a class apart.

And I found the language insufferable. Let me illustrate with an example. There is a line "..given all that up for this fools' errand, looking for silhouettes in the mist of the ghost time."
Really? REALLY? What does that even *mean*? It doesn't even sound one bit artsy, or poetic, if that's what he was going for. Neither does it sound like clear intelligible English.
And the book is full of such attempts at sounding poetic or deep.

Coverage of the Bombay riots is patchy, and partisan. Many lives were lost, and the story can be given any kind of spin the writer wants, merely by selecting what one decides to narrate. There are so many stories of atrocity on both sides. But the impression that comes across while reading Mehta's carefully picked stories, is that of a writer attempting to project himself as that sensitive thinking individual, replete with all its holier-than-thou-ness.
The topic of Hindu-Muslim riots is provocative enough without Mehta resorting to theatrics to grab readers' eyeballs, and more dangerously, their imagination. His prose is needlessly polarising, instead of even attempting to be matter of fact; which is what any unbiased writer would strive for. Sadly, however, Mehta does exactly the opposite, resorting to needles and excessive dramatisation of every instance. He lends religious and political colour to otherwise neutral statements, referring to a cry of "Bharat mata ki jai" as being "..in praise of the Hindu country".
Overall, that chapter gives the reader an overwhelming sensation that this is all about the writer, about how he's trying to project his own image, how he resorts to cheap theatrics to try and keep gullible readers hooked to his story. Because that's exactly how it reads: like an action novel whose storyline has been scripted to polarise the reader, not like a non-fiction book supposedly presenting a neutral fact sheet of events.

Then there's more misrepresentation and hypocrisy in Mehta's depiction on underworld gang leader, Chotta Shakeel:
"Chotta Shakeel, the operational commander of the Muslim gangs, is doing what the government has failed to do. He is extracting revenge for the riots. He is going after people like the ex-Mayor, Milind Vaidya, who was named in the Srikrishna report for having personally attacked Muslims. Shakeel is consulting the report; he is the executive to Srikrishna's judiciary."

Just this much, and no more. To a reader unfamiliar with India, or with Mumbai, this would make Chotta Shakeel seem like an eastern cousin of Robin Hood, or a vigilante, meting out justice where the law of the land fails to deliver justice.

Mehta fails to give the most rudimentary introduction to who Chotta Shakeel actually is: one of the closest aides of Dawood Ibrahim, who needs no introduction, being among the world's most dreaded criminals.

[It was at this point that I decided I would skim through the rest of the book, not read it through. That this book did not deserve the respect of being taken seriously. Honestly, it doesn't even warrant the time taken to read it, but I have my own compulsive I-will-finish-this-book-I-started issues I'm still grappling with.]

Everywhere possible, Mehta indulges in Hindu-bashing, relevant or not. Take for example this discussion on renting an apartment in Mumbai, and the concept of a paying guest:
"There are three personal gods that every Hindu is supposed to revere: mother, father, guest. There is no category for 'paying guest'.."
This sticks out like a sore thumb in a discussion which, until then, was exclusively about the concept of paying guests and the problems they face. You're left wondering how religion suddenly leapfrogged into the picture.

There's (obviously) more fiendish regionalism from Mehta when he describes the changing of "Bombay" to "Mumbai":
"In 1995, the Sena demanded that we choose, in all our languages, Mumbai. This is how the ghatis took revenge on us. They renamed everything after their politicians, and finally they renamed even the city. If they couldn't afford to live on our roads, they could at least occupy our road signs."
What does he even mean by "not being able to afford to live on roads"? That sentence just makes no sense at all. All it does is betray his contempt for all Marathi speaking people, and expose his bitterness and small-minded regional bigotry.

There were many, many more such infuriating passages (if they irritated me this much, I don't even know how much they'd irritate Marathi people who bothered reading this drivel). But it wouldn't make sense for me to quote them all - I could rewrite the book itself..

The sad part is that this book *could have been* so engaging. Had Mehta tried to tie in the socio-political situation with the lives of the people he interacted with, mapped out the effects of economic changes on people's lives, it could have been very insightful. Instead, he frittered away all the resources at his disposal, playing fast and loose with journalistic objectivity in the process.

The later chapters actually cover some very fascinating topics, from encounter killings and the lives of Mumbai city cops to beer bars, and the lives of bar dancers there. Mehta has managed to learn about their lives to an extent that most people would not be able to. And things get interesting for a while.

But then, he gets back to his own self, in the chapter "Memory Mines", and his voice - familiar and obnoxious - washes over you once again.. And you just want to kill him all over again..

It may have been 25 years since he graduated from school, but he shows none of the maturity you'd expect from an alumnus of so many years, when he goes back to his school. His school-boy's resentment disguised as contempt for "toppers" is amply showcased in his hateful passage on state-examinations:

"..Shortly after the state examinations were out, the photographs of the toppers would appear in the newspapers, in ads for the coaching classes where they had toiled night and day. They wore thick glasses and looked enervated from frequent masturbation. . None of them were smiling at their triumph. They didn't look like they'd smiled in a month. And they were almost all of them destined to be parked on bureaucrats' chairs, in government and in corporations, to make life hell for all the rest of us who goofed off in school, went out dancing, and generally had been arousing their envy from kindergarten.."

Now, if THIS passage coming from someone 25 years after they've left school isn't hateful and immature, I don't know what is.

Mehta goes on, in his last chapter, to discuss a Jain family who takes "diksha". But by this time, I was just waiting for the book to end, so I could just go to sleep without my OCD consuming me about having left a book unfinished.
To sum up, I may have been irritated with authors before, but none have made me THIS ANGRY before, for the entire duration for which I was reading their book.
(OK, so Durjoy Dutta might be close competition here, but at least the nonsense he writes is fiction, it lays no claim to being factual. And, as an aside, in my defence, I only read the one Durjoy Dutta book because it was a birthday present!)
Profile Image for Maura Finkelstein.
27 reviews36 followers
August 31, 2007
I'm fascinated by the hype over Mehta's travelogue. This book portrays women as objects, poor people as criminals, and the Bollywood elite as deserving the resentment of a bitter New York based writer who can't quite find a place in the city of his youth.
So I'm struggling to understand what all the hype is about.
This is not, contrary to what reviews would lead us to believe, a book about Bombay. Instead, it's a book about being an outsider, and it does a decent job grappling with alienation and nostalgia. It's also a book about misogyny and elitism, at least as experienced by an unsympathetic narrator.
But as a book about Bombay, I think I missed something critical here. There is the glitz of Bollywood, the glam of dancing girls, the grime of the underworld. But there is nothing about the city: a city that is so much more than the stereotypes Mehta is fixated upon. I felt dirty after reading this book, like a voyeur who realizes the implications of their own gaze.
Profile Image for Yigal Zur.
Author 10 books126 followers
November 11, 2019
Mumbai is a fascinating city. i can not say that i ever liked it. too big, too chaotic but i felt drawn to understand it. Mehta give a lovely view of the interesting and intriguing stories of the city.
1 review2 followers
September 2, 2007
I had heard about the book for a while now but just managed to pick the book few months ago at the airport during a business trip.

I loved the book mostly because I am from bombay as well and just like Suketu, I have moved to Bombay and back few times in my life. Everything in the book was very real for me and there were times when it felt like he literally took words out of my mouth. I would highly recommend this book to Indophiles, Travel readers and even history buffs. There are few things I would like to critique about this book :

A) I think the author's style of writing comes too close to V.S.Naipaul's style and he admits in the prologue that he did prepare for ths book by reading lots of V.S.Naipaul. I am not totally turned off by it because VS Naipaul happens to be one of my favorite authors too but it may be off-putting for other readers.

B) At about two thirds into the book I suddenly developed fatigue and found myself skipping pages and sections till I found something that picked up my interest. For example I found it bit tiring when he goes on and on about the bar girls and at times the narrative became extremely draggy.
I then jumped to the bollywood sections and the momentum picked up.

C) The mood of the book swings wildy from humor to tragedy to violence and at times even engages in sensationalism that I began questioning the "truth" in the narration. But the narrative bounces back by redeeming itself after those brief spells of incredulity.

D) Even though the book is supposed to be non-fiction I found the author very manipulative in style like a fictional story teller. For example he keeps the dates of his encounters with the characters bit nebulous and goes back and forth to some characters using their quotes mixing it with his own commentary to present a very romanticized or sensational story that mirrors his own personal view on the subject. For example it tends to reinforce the stereo types that most of us may agree with such as "Generally the mafia in bombay are most Muslims", "Gujaratis are business minded", "Hindu criminals though equally bad are slight better because they suffer from guilt and are god fearing", "Bollywood stars and directors are shallow and superficial", "Bombay is a filth pit of pollution and shit" etc. This paints some of the characters and situation in bad light without telling you all the sides of the story. Its this style that makes the book seem like fiction at times and honestly for some maybe even the charm of the book.

It may also be that perhaps he had lot of research material to sift thru but he deliberately selected the stories to suit his hidden agenda of coming up with a best seller for the international audience. And he chooses his stories based on his own personal convictions rather than telling them objectively purely from the character's view point.

I read somewhere that after the book was published his relationship with one of the bollywood characters in the book (Vinod the director) soured and they are estranged now.

I personally dont care about this since I am from bombay and consider myself knowledgeable enough to seperate fact from fiction, I just wanted to caution the readers here: Beware the author is extremely intelligent writer and if he manages to manipulate your consciousness and sway your opinions, then its intentional. And maybe that only indicates that he is an extremely good writer. More power to him in that case:-)

I sincerely hope that this book encourages more south asians to adopt this style and genre of writing and we get to read more interesting books on India which is itself on the dawn of transformation and progress. There are millions of fascinating stories and live drama occurring in the streets of india every day that just needs to be captured in a medium that the world may find fascinating and can watch or read about in this century. Don't be surprised if this book is made into a movie or documentary.
Profile Image for Lena.
Author 2 books336 followers
September 7, 2007
This book was a mixed bag for me. There is some great narrative in Mehta's tale of his return to the city of his youth as an adult. His description of learning how to navigate the corrupt bureaucracy in order to get enough cooking gas for his new flat was priceless. But as he begins to delve more deeply into explorations of politics, organized crime and the sex trade, particularly his growing friendship with a bar girl, the narrative outlasted my interest. I really enjoyed certain sections of this book, but it was uneven and I found myself skimming the last third.
Profile Image for Liza.
204 reviews18 followers
Shelved as 'will-i-ever-finish-these-books'
December 7, 2007
I'm having a difficult time finishing this book. I usually read it for a few days and then need a break due to the overwhelming detail and drama that Mehta inserts into his prose. I honestly liked the beginning of the book in which Mehta made me feel as though I could see Bombay: crowding around a street stall for the best food in town, the need to bribe every public official for every little (and big) convenience, the dearth of toilets, the omnipresent din, the rich, the poor, etc. But now I'm stuck on a section where Mehta is fixated upon a beer bar girl. It seems overly "male gaze" to me, especially when the previous section was his expose of the gangwar. He's a drooling, over-eager fourteen-year-old boy--a fourteen year old boy who then goes home to his wife and child and has fancy dinner parties--and I can't help rolling my eyes. I know I'm totally ignorant since I've never been to Bombay, but it's as if someone wrote a book about NYC and just wrote about partying with strippers from Scores and rolling with gang bangers then retired every evening to their loft in Soho. Give me a break, Mehta, and decide whether you're a journalist or a memoirist. You can't be both.
Profile Image for Jashan Singhal.
28 reviews43 followers
November 10, 2018
Take all the travel memoirs, travelogues and any book written on cities all around the world and try to rate them from top to bottom. Guess which book will be at the top? This one. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Bombay/Bambai/Mumbai is a city where I have spent some of the indispensably important years of my life and it is a city of many firsts for me. Surprisingly, this city not being my native home, or where I live currently, is the closest to what I think of as home. The author managed to move me by writing about Bombay in such a redolent style that made me cry, laugh, surprised and just feel nostalgic all at the same time.

Suketu Mehta travels far and wide across the city meeting politicians, police officers, underworld dons, film stars, bar dancers, prostitutes, slum dwellers and any sample point that could help him map out the physical, emotional, political, moral, economical, cultural or ethical space of Mumbai. As Business Standard has already pointed out on the back-cover of the book -
"Maximum City is billed as non-fiction, but has the intensity and vividness of fiction.."
the author has such a keen eye and intimacy with the thoughts, feelings and intentions of the person he is talking to that you cannot help but follow the life of the interviewee (be it a bar dancer or a mafia) with such acuteness that you cannot wait to reach the end.

I read this book almost after 14 years of its publication, and still it felt so garden-fresh and crisp. This book is going to forever be an indelible classic tale of Bombay for years to come.

Towards the end of the book, there was this one line which summarizes Bombay quite aptly-
The reason a human being can live in a Bombay slum and not lose his sanity is that his dream life is bigger than his squalid quarters.

25 reviews1 follower
June 14, 2011
This book is pathetic. All the author did was rent a bunch of hindi movies and rehashed them in detail. I simply can't understand the positive reviews--especially those of Indian readers, who have probably seen these movies over and over. The similarities are so striking, some of the dialogs have been quoted--verbatim. Not to mention the drivel at the beginningof the book-Mr.Mehta should be ashamed of himself for delving onmicro castism. In today's day and age only an incredibly regressive kind can unabashedly discuss marathis, punjabis and so on in such great detail. And by the way, Mr Mehta, the reason you did not know many maharashtrians while growing up is because they are usually found in schools and colleges or in fortune 500 companies! Living in jackson heights you might want to generalise a little about gujaratis too while you are at it. To me, the author has an immense sense of self persecution as he is neither comfortable in a playground in New York city nor is he comfortable in Bombay. What is also inconsistent is his claims of being dissed in manhattan when his son eats kichidi in a playground and then Mr. Mehta after a few chapters mentions he was making pasta in Bomaby. Mr. Mehta, it would have perhaps helped your persecuted self if you had pasta in manhattan and khichdi in bombay. But that wasnt the part that offended me the most, the fact that something so unoriginal and so underresearched made it to the Pulitzer list is astounding. Mr. Mehta has not done any investigative journalism all he is done is third hand reporting. If he would like to know what investigative reporting is he should look up Dey from Midday. Mr. Mehta is no Woodward, as he would have his readers believe.
Profile Image for Mirnalini Venkatraman.
20 reviews27 followers
May 22, 2017
I have taken the longest time to finish a book. Not because it wasn't interesting, because the book was long and had so many details to consume. It has close to 500 pages in the tiniest of the font, but how much research has gone into this brilliant book.

The book starts on a cynical note with his personal experience of relocating to the city where he was born and lived for a while. But once he starts narrating the lives of the various people he has met over the course of 2yrs, it really keeps us engaged.

He travels with the people who were affected by the riots, the underworld, the party leaders, the wannabe leaders, the Policeman who played a key role, few dons, few film makers, the night life that Bombay or rather Mumbai has to offer, the bar dancers, so so many of them. Everyone has a story, a perspective to offer. There are no big secrets he reveals but some lives are really fascinating and some justifications even more so.

Having lived in a Mumbai that was very peaceful, that hardly witnessed any riots or bombings *touchwood*, I really have more fascination towards the city now. How so many of them have double lives, how they survive. I'd recommend it if you are a lover of cities, if you are willing to take some cynicism, and understand that at times reality can be more dramatic that fiction.

The more I read into the book, the more I wanted to visit Mumbai again. For nostalgia, for the good memories, for the people, for the convenience that this Metro is.
354 reviews169 followers
January 8, 2017
Extraordinary. Just extraordinary. Enough has been written and said about this book, there's no need for me to add any more. But I'll yet say this: Bombay really did deserve a book of this sweep and magnitude, and it needed a writer like Mehta, who was willing to go deep into the heart of this 'great, ruined metropolis'.

Just one gripe: I hope the next reprint of Maximum City is better produced than Penguin's woeful India paperback edition, which I read. This book deserves better, with perhaps a new foreword from the writer? That would be something I'd pay top dollar for.
November 29, 2021
One of the most engrossing books I’ve read about India, and in particular Mumbai. Raw and unflinching its portrayal, the author peels off layer upon layers from the façade of Mumbai - one of the world's most well-known cities, thanks to Bollywood and its financial status. Outstanding in every way!
Profile Image for Ryan.
25 reviews9 followers
February 16, 2010
I can't say I've ever had a strong desire to move to Bombay, but this book was convincing enough that I safely believe it not the place for me. But, there's a certain subconscious, almost sadomasochistic draw to the place - as if moving there would be a particularly creative form of (potentially physical) suicide to the person I am today. Like Los Angeles - only 10 times stronger.

I came to this book via Mehta's interview in the Believer. He seemed a funny, smart guy and I figured his book would be the same. And it is. But the book is more about going back to places your once knew and trying to understand them again.

Mehta doesn't spend a lot of time on 9-to-5-vers in Mumbai. (maybe there's less of them) This book is more a tour of the groups that seem to define the city. From gangsters to their mirror twins, cops, and onward to their distillations - Bollywood stars. Along the way he visits a variety of other folks, but mostly tries to understand where Bombay is today and how it has moved from the city he remembers. A lot of the characters are held together through various connections to the 1993 riots and bombings. All this is interspersed with his own trials trying to carve out a life for his family over two and a half years.

The writing is sharp, at times funny and insightful. He doesn't rationalize his interview subjects, but lets them speak their mind at length, which can be quite interesting, especially with the hitmen.

This book does presuppose some level of knowledge about India, especially Bollywood. I had to spend some extra time trying to piece together the importance of the references. But altogether a good read.
Profile Image for Sean McKenna.
26 reviews3 followers
October 31, 2013
My goal in reading this book was to get some context about Bombay before visiting for the first time. I realized that the book was not itself a history of the city but I had hoped that there would be sufficient background provided to help me understand Bombay as it exists today and then to illustrate some of the ways in which it is unique. I probably should have done more research on the nature of the book since it mostly failed to meet my goal.

The bits of historical context ended up being few and far between. When I did come across them - such as a description of the impact of rent control imposed in the 1940s - they were quite interesting and enlightening, which really makes me wish there had been more. As for understanding the city as it exists today, Maximum City is probably more interesting for people who have lived in the city and already understand the surface of it very well. Most of the characters that Mehta profiled - gangsters and exotic dancers among them - live in the shadows so understanding their lives in the city is not as valuable to me (as a brief visitor) as learning more about the more visible demographics, say shopkeepers or rickshaw drivers.

Overall, I'd say that I enjoyed pieces of the book very much but found long stretches hard to get through. Perhaps I will give it another read after I've spent more time in the city.
Profile Image for Vartika.
355 reviews591 followers
February 29, 2020
In the latter half of Maximum City, a man by the name of Babbanji is reported to have suggested naming this (then yet-to-be-written) book "Untold Life", saying that
There is plenty of discussion about the lives of the rich, but nothing is spoken about the lives of the poor.
That one statement accurately summarises the problem with Mumbai. It also capsulises the fault of this book, the least of which is that it ended up being named what it is.

It is perhaps my unorthodox approach to Suketu Mehta's oeuvre that has disappointed me, because I read his latest and most mature work, This Land Is Our Land, before this one. Nevertheless, I have several bones to pick with Maximum City — the book, shockingly, more than its namesake.

But first, credit where it's due: the portions on the 1992 riots, the Rent Act, Bal Thackeray and the underworld were genuinely interesting. However, I found the rest of this book largely composed of (sometimes) well-written but ultimately, awfully privileged drivel. Apart from the sections I just mentioned, this book offers nothing new whatsoever; much of it could be described as some sort of a PR stunt for the illustrious illusion that Mumbai maintains.

Throughout this book, I felt like far too much focus was put on things that already get more than their fair share of attention, be it Bollywood in general or Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Mission Kashmir in particular. The chapter, 'Distilleries of Pleasure' reminded me of how nauseating the Hindi film industry is, but that's a function Bollywood performs for itself every single day, anyway.

And then, there were the good ol' recurring irritants. Look, I get it. Mumbai is a very 'masculine' city, with its underworld and its capitalism, but that doesn't mean all its women are "bombabes" or bar dancers [at this point, if a less clichéd picture of women's lives in Mumbai is what you're looking for, you better head over to Hussain Zaidi's Mafia Queens of Mumbai instead]. In Maximum City, every time Mumbai deters from objectifying women, it is Mehta who (rather subtly) steps in. Worse, he brings in A LOT of Hindu thought and spiritual 'eloquence' into emphasising and emotionalising 'tradition' — an NRI, after all. His Bombay is a city of sex, violence and riches. Unsurprisingly, then, he starts a chapter called "Vadapao-eaters' City", by foregrounding himself and trying a vadapao to gain legitimacy. It's one of the shortest chapters in this nearly-six-hundred pager tome.

In one early chapter, Mehta writes
The First World lives smack in the centre of the Third.
In writing Maximum City, Mehta travels all the way from the very top of the First World — from New York City — into the First World within the Third, and not much beyond. All true significance, hence, is lost, and nothing of note is found.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
23 reviews4 followers
June 20, 2009
Finally finished this 500+ page magisterial work on India's largest city, Mumbai to most, but still Bombay to Suketu Mehta, who was raised in the city and now lives in New York. This *is* Bombay, in all its beautiful, frustrating, dazzling, harrowing, filthy, dizzying glory. As Mehta tells it--and how brilliantly does he tell it!--this is a city of extremes: extreme wealth and extreme poverty, extreme vice and extreme religiosity; oftentimes the two coexisting side by side. This is a city where (as we have recently seen) communal violence is not uncommon, but it is also a city where Hindus worship at the tombs of Sufi saints, and Muslims invoke the protection and patronage of Hindu gods. It is a city of corruption, pollution, poverty; but also of immodest dreams, unfounded optimism, and that most slippery of commodities, hope.

Most of all this is a city of people, who also live lives of extremes yet are believable in every way: mafia dons and filmi stars and billionaire diamond merchants; slum-dwelling thugs and cross-dressing nightclub dancers and sidewalk-sleeping teenage poets. Mehta casts far and wide in this metropolis of tens of millions and comes up with some of the most remarkable characters I have met in literature, fiction and non-, for a very long time, and tells their stories with awesome skill and verve. As a Bombayite might declare, Maximum City is Maximum Book.
Profile Image for Frank Stein.
964 reviews121 followers
December 15, 2009

A lot of purple prose here, but some of it is really justified. After all, when you're surrounded by Muslim gangsters, Jainist monks, underage call girls, and Bollywood movie producers, all set against the backdrop of one of the world's strangest and filthiest cities, you're allowed to use a little literary hyperbole.

Mehta's a journalist who returns to his hometown of Bombay to explore the underworld and write some in-depth portraits of its denizens. He does a great job of it, even though he himself sometimes comes off as a little bit of a prig. Characters like Vinod, Honey, Kamal and Ajay are all richly drawn, and their whole environment really comes alive. I like the wealthy mafia hit man who refuses to leave his tin shack in the Jogeswhari slums because he can't sleep without at least 6 people in a room, or the police inspector who openly tortures dozens of suspected criminals in front of Mehta without even a concern for prosecution. The whole book is just filled with these surreal little scenes.

Mehta even provides a good political background to things like the BJP party's unfathomable power in the city (they successfully banned Valentine's day through simple mob violence) and Bombay's strange brand of Hindu nationalism. One surprising aspect here is how pervasive the influence of Pakistan is in the underworld, all the gangster dons are directing their forces from Karachi (or occasionally Dubai), and the ISI is clearly arming chawla thugs in the slums with grenades and AK-47s. It seems like most of the lives in the book unconsciously revolve around the aftershocks from the 1947 partition. And as the recent bombing shows, the aftershocks won't stop anytime soon.

Profile Image for A Man Called Ove.
900 reviews217 followers
January 4, 2020
3.5/5 Shiv Sena, Police, Underworld, Bar dancers, Bollywood, a few portraits of the common men and some comments on life in the city. For a fat 600+ page book on a city, this was very limited in scope. I felt the lesser known Tamarind City: Where Modern India Began on Chennai was better structured and well-rounded but it felt a little short. Maximum City sits at the other extreme and I felt bored at times with the repetitive and excessive detailing of the lives of gangsters and bar dancers. Maybe because I have read Shantaram, Sacred Games and Zaidi's books, a few details about the topics in focus were already known to me.
The author was both an insider and an outsider and that gave him the perfect lens to view the city. He both understands and is baffled by the city and its people. I hate it when Indians try to kowtow to a Western audience (the best example being the Discovery of India by Nehru). While at times the author was guilty of this, mostly his frank and honest opinions made up for it. Reading about the 1992-1993 riots was illuminating.
Finally, while this may be the most well-known Indian travelogue that has inspired other writers, it is certainly not the best. I can also recall Capital: The Eruption of Delhi on Delhi which was better at a shorter length.
Profile Image for Matt.
26 reviews2 followers
December 18, 2009
I rather haphazardly stumbled across Maximum City in an airport bookshop a couple months back and boy am I glad I did, because it perfectly hits one of my literary sweet spots: a fascination with modern cities. It's a well-researched and very detailed look at Bombay (or, as many call it now, Mumbai) as it exists today in all its tremendous beauty and unparalleled horror. Suketu Mehta has a wonderful talent for downloading a tremendous amount of information while also writing utterly fascinating narratives about the various people and dynamics at work within the city. Along the way he relates the experience of returning to his home city after spending much of his childhood and young adulthood in America and Paris. It's a read that's really hard to put down.

I do wonder, however what other Bombay residents would think about this book, as it tends to focus on the darker forces at work within the city, such as the ethnic conflicts, ongoing gang wars, and the barely-kept-under-wraps illicit sex trade. All of this stuff is fascinating in much the same way as a horror film or roadside accident, but does it paint a "true" picture of the city? The answer is probably that no single book can capture the complete essence of any urban environment, but this one certainly fills in a lot of gaps that won't be covered in your usual travel guides.
2 reviews
June 17, 2011
This is an awful, shallow book. Quite honestly I couldn't get past the underworld part of the book. Suketu Mehta has made the most of his Bollywood connections. That part was such a hackneyed collection of anecdotes, all eerily similar to various scenes from much-watched Bollywood movies about the criminal element in Bombay. I question how much research Mr. Mehta has really done for this part of the book - apart from watching the aforementioned movies. Perhaps Mr. Mehta read one of the leading Indian newspapers during the time he wrote the book - but that's about it, for if he really did interview gang members and the lot, then, I must say, Mr. Mehta is especially poor at gleaning any new information or insights from his subjects. One word of advice for you, Mr. Mehta, stick to writing scripts for Bollywood movies, leave the true investigative non-fiction writing to people who are true to that craft.
Profile Image for Vikas Lather.
292 reviews363 followers
June 23, 2014
I did not know Balasaheb Thackeray was a fan of Michael Jackson, now I hate him little less. Ironically, Thackeray quoted that article 19-A, 'defines us all as Hindustanis', no wonder why they like violence because they do not care to read and make of everything whatever they like :p

The city of Bombay has found a sophisticated biographer in Suketu Mehta. Mostly people would remember Maximum city as a creative non-fiction; but for me, it has become an epitome of tremendously courageous journalism.

His breath-taking accounts of Jungle Raj by Shiv Sena, D-Company's Malacia, secret life of a call girl, a homosexual experiment of 'Honey', exquisitely refined life of Bollywood, and fearless story of IPS, (Pen name Ajay Lal)Rakesh Maria.

To sum up, Kabir Mohanty was right, "We are individually multiple."

Profile Image for Sreejitha Sasikumar.
66 reviews53 followers
September 18, 2015
I just skimmed through its pages. There were too many informations given. Only after reaching half way did i realize it's a non fiction. The book is a good read if you want to know about Bombay, politicians, gundas, Lafdas, terrorists and about riots. What I felt was more emphasis is given on these matters rather than focusing on Bombay as a whole. Bombay is unique than most of the cities in India. These riots and gang wars are not what Bombay is made of. But of those millions of people who are fighting for a days wages, and their happiness that's what Bombay is made of. It is a city that has a life.
Profile Image for Shikha.
99 reviews3 followers
October 23, 2008
Another incredible book on Bombay (I think I need to move on to another city). More raw than Shantaram and a few parts sensationalized (in my opinion), but an amazing account of the many layers and faces of Bombay, that made me even more fascinated and in awe of how the metropolitan megalith manages to stay afloat. My favorite quote: "You can go home again, and you can also leave again. Once more, with confidence, into the world." (It spoke to me. :))
Profile Image for Prashanth Bhat.
1,530 reviews88 followers
October 14, 2022
Maximum city - suketh mehta

ಸರಿಸುಮಾರು ಇಪ್ಪತ್ತು ವರ್ಷಗಳಷ್ಟು ಹಳೆಯ ಈ ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಈಗ ಓದುವಾಗ ಎಷ್ಟೊಂದು ವಿಷಯಗಳು ಸ್ಪಷ್ಟವಾಗುತ್ತದೆ .

ಮೊದಲನೆಯದಾಗಿ ಧನಾತ್ಮಕ ಅಂಶಗಳು
- ಅದ್ಭುತ ಗದ್ಯ. ಮೊದಲ ಪುಟದಿಂದಲೇ ಸರಕ್ಕನೆ ಒಳಗೆಳೆದುಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ಶಕ್ತಿ.
- ಮುಂಬಯಿಯ ಜೀವನವ ರಾಜಕೀಯದ ಕೋನದಿಂದ, ಅಪರಾಧ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ‌ಭಾಗದಿಂದ ನೋಡಿದ ರೀತಿ. ಅಲ್ಲಲ್ಲಿ 'ಶಾಂತರಾಮ್' ನೆನಪಾಗುತ್ತದೆ. ಬೈಕುಲ್ಲಾ ಟೂ ಬ್ಯಾಂಕಾಕ್ ಢಾಳಾಗಿ ಕಾಣಿಸುತ್ತದೆ.

ನಕರಾತ್ಮಕ ಅಂಶಗಳು
- ಸಿನಿಮಾಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಣುವ ಹೀರೋನ ಆಪತ್ತಿಗೆ ಬರುವ ಒಬ್ಬ ಸಹಕಲಾವಿದ ಕಡ್ಡಾಯವಾಗಿ ಬಿಳಿಯ ಟೊಪ್ಪಿ ಧರಿಸುವ ನಿಯಮ ಇದೆಯಲ್ಲ ಅದು ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಪುಟ ಪುಟಕ್ಕೂ ಕಾಣಸಿಗುತ್ತದೆ. ಪಾಪ, ಅವರು ಎಷ್ಟು ಶೋಷಿತರು ಎಂದು ವಿದೇಶಿ ಹೇಳಬಹುವಷ್ಟು‌.

- ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಬರೆದಿರುವುದು ಲೇಖಕನ ಅನುಭವ ಶ್ರೀಮಂತ ವರ್ಗದ ಅನುಭವ. ಮನೆಗೆ ನಾಲ್ಕು ಕೆಲಸದವರ ಹುಡುಕುವ ಪಾಡು ಇತ್ಯಾದಿ. ಎಲ್ಲರಿಗೂ ಒಂದೇ ಆಕಾಶ ಆದ ಕಾರಣ ಅವರ ನೋವುಗಳೂ ನಮ್ಮದಾಗಿ ಕಾಣುತ್ತದೆ.

ಈ ಪುಸ್ತಕದ ಸುದೀರ್ಘವಾದ ಅಧ್ಯಾಯಗಳು ಬಾಂಬೆಯ ಭೂಗತ ಜಗತ್ತನ್ನು ಕವರ್ ಮಾಡುತ್ತದೆ. ಅದು ನಮಗೆ ಹೊಸತಲ್ಲ. ರವಿ ಬೆಳಗೆರೆ,ಹುಸೇನ್ ಜೈದಿ ಕಟ್ಟಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟದ್ದೇ.

ಅದಲ್ಲದೆ ' ಮಿಷನ್ ಕಾಶ್ಮೀರ್' ಎಂಬ ಸಿನಿಮಾ ಆದ ಬಗೆ ಕೂಡ ಇದೆ.
ಈ ಅಧ್ಯಾಯ ಸಿನಿ ಆಸಕ್ತರು ಓದಲೇಬೇಕಾದದ್ದು.
ಒಂದು ಸಿನಿಮಾ ಹೇಗೆ ‌ನಿರ್ಮಾಣಗೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತದೆ ಎಂಬುದರಿಂದ ಹಿಡಿದು ನಟರ ತಾಪತ್ರಯಗಳು ಒಂದು ಕೋಮಿಗೆ ಬೇಸರವಾಗದಂತೆ ಹೂಡುವ ನಾಟಕಗಳು ಇತ್ಯಾದಿ ಎ��್ಲಾ ನವರಂಗಿ ಆಟ ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಚೆನ್ನಾಗಿ ವಿವರಿಸಲಾಗಿದೆ.

ಈ ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಪುಲಿಟ್ಜೆರ್ ಪ್ರಶಸ್ತಿಯ ಫೈನಲಿಸ್ಟ್ ಆಗಿತ್ತು.
ಬಹುಶಃ ಭಾರತವ ಬೈದದ್ದು ಸಾಕಾಗದ್ದಕ್ಕೋ ಏನೋ ಇದು ಗೆಲ್ಲಲ್ಲಿಲ್ಲ.

ಇದರ ಗದ್ಯ ಬಹಳ ಚೆನ್ನಾಗಿದೆ. ಖಾಸಗಿ ಅನುಭವಗಳ ಕುರಿತು ಬರೆಯುವಾಗ ಮೆಹ್ತಾ ಚೆನ್ನಾಗಿ ಬರೆಯುತ್ತಾರೆ.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 773 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.