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Book Review - Maximum City

Here is the intimate account of the city of Mumbai with which the author has a deep love affair in spite of having spent a major portion of his life away from it. This book is a vivid portrayal of Mumbai as the author finds it after returning from a hiatus in New York.
He combines the styles of a travelogue, historical  writing, investigative journalism and memoir to draw a fascinating portrayal  of life in this megalopolis. He discovers a rich concoction of characters that make the city thrive and lend it a unique character. These are the gangsters, bar girls, cops, aspiring poets, wannabe actors and actresses, movie directors, dance girls, businessmen, students, Jain monks and others. The pictures of the extremely violent gang wars and the completely non-violent culture of the Jain community are juxtaposed to paint the contrasting culture of Mumbai. Suketu’s prose entices with its intimate quality. Bar girls, top gangland shooters and  powerful cops all confide  to him. Suketu is a good listener and hence he is able to  weave a sincere story of the workings of Mumbai. Some of the characters (living persons) stay with you for a long time and their stories shake you immensely- Bar dance girl Honey who is actually a cross dressed male, sharp shooters of the Dawood gang, Ajay Lal, the incorruptible cop, Mona Lisa-the bar dancer, the aspiring Bihari street poet Babbbanji and a Jain family that renounces its enormous wealth to become mendicants.  Suketu also tries to describe the socio-political milieu of  Mumbai having met with Shiv Sena workers and their charismatic leader, Bal Thakeray. He even describes an encounter with the Big B of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan. He describes his interesting  experience at co-writing the script for the Movie, Mission Kashmir and the nuances of Hindu- Muslim sensitivities in Bollywood.

Suketu’s canvas of narrative is large and varied. Mumbaikers themselves may not be aware of some of the things, which he describes here. Suketu also does touch upon many facts that are an integral part of the Mumbai experience- the crowded Metro travel, the Vada Pav at  Chowpatty Beach,  the Dharavi Slums, the overwhelming dominance of Bollywood ,  the  bar–dance culture, the throbbing night life, the gang wars and the bustling commerce embodied in the Bombay Stock Exchange and the  various Corporate headquarters situated here. Mumbai has recently been scarred with communal riots and terrorist attacks. But none of these have been able to dampen its thriving spirit, which  Suketu etches so intimately in this book.

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