Maximum City- Suketu Mehta

Author: Suketu Mehta

With this book, I will deviate from the way reviews have been written on this blog. I have been reading this book for last two weeks and it is the longest I have taken to read any book so far. It is a 581 paged book but that was not what made me read this book slow. The clever partitioning of the book in sections helps linking the sequence of events unfolded. The book in itself is so complex, here I m talking of the subject and events uncovered and not the language, that no matter how fast a reader you are you cannot gulp down more than 20 pages at a stretch. It will make you so saturated with the information and yet you would want to come back and complete it. So here I go with the quotes and sections of this book. 


"All great cities are schizophrenic said Victor Hugo. Mumbai has multiple personality disorder."

"To take a human life, you first have to deny that the victim is human. You have to reclassify him"

"Back is where to real action is, in the back, smarter people are plotting the next move."

The book starts with the personal geography of the writer.
What happens when a teenager who lived 14 years of his life in Southern Bombay moves up to New York, lives everyday feeling a foreigner, counting days to go back to his city, finally returns back to find his dear city has now become Mumbai. The people, the places and everything he once knew have changed beyond recognition. He is know the foreigner in his very own city. This is the journey of the writer in Mumbai of over 2 and a half years.. Of a Bombay lost and found..

The country of No.
India is a country of No. That "no" is your test. You have to get past it. It is India's great wall; it keeps out foreign invaders. India is not a tourist friendly country. It will reveal itself to you only if you stay on, against all odds. The "no" might never change to "yes". But you will stop asking questions. 

This is the section where there is an extensive talk on powertoni which is contraction of "power of attorney".
Talking about the 1993 riots, Sunil, a worker of Shiv Sena is noted saying,
"Those were not the days for thought," he continued. "We five people burned one Mussulman. At 4 a.m after we heard of Radhabai Chawl, a mob assembled, the likes of which I have never seen, Ladies, gents.  They picked up any weapon they could. Then we marched to the Muslim side. We met a pav-wallah on the highway on a bicycle. I knew him, he used to sell me bread everyday.I set him on fire."

Sunil is a cable operator with a good business skill who caters to a large Muslim customers.. He considers himself working for a greater cause! 

This section also describes the author meeting with the head of Sena, Bal Thackeray. He is mentioned talking about some article 19 b, c, d,e,f,g.. Not all of them exist. But since he says and no one bother to check, they are thought to be laws that make him right about his stand on immigration. 
"It is the longest constitution and probably the least read.People will make of it what they will!"

Mumbai: This section talks about the Rent Act that is the worry of every landlord in Mumbai and about the architecture of the city and the planning of the city suburbs.

Number two after Scotland Yard: This section is on great depths about the work of Mumbai police. 
Ajay Lal, a cop with a sound financial background who is out to set order and majorly involved in blast and gangwar investigations is the main character of this section. He is from an affluent background and is known for not taking bribes. The writer spends a great deal of his work researching the ways of Mumbai police, the threats under which they live, their meagre payscale, encounters and interrogations.
"Give them plateful of jalebis and then dont give them water. They will give you whatever information you need for that glass of water!"

Black collar workers: This is where the writer scores. He has actually mixed along with the murders, the D company people and the likes. Featuring Mohsin who is claimed to be committed 7 and a half murders and Satish ,the D company member with a BSc degree! The crime of the city is represented impeccably and incredibly.

Vadapav eaters city: Vada pav , the food of the people. This section reminisces the diminishing Irani restaurants, the old timers spots of eateries, the vadapav outlets etc. 

A city in heat: A feature on lust of the city.
"Only a gangster can marry a kept woman. This is due to common absence of honour." 
The city is humid with sex. At the bottom are Nepalis, whom the bhaiyyas go to, paying by half an hour for thirty rupees! 

The writer takes us into the life of Monalisa, a top bar dancer who is all of 21 yrs old. She becomes his eyes into the world of bar, barline as they call it. She is an interesting character as you move further into the book.She is  a lonely woman at the end of the day who has slashed her arms several times.
'The top model in India and the top bar dancer in Mumbai have this in common-their arms marked with their anguish, like gang tatoos."

This section also portrays the dual life of Honey- the most famous bar dancer. Her secret is that she is a he. Honey is actually Manoj, a man during the day with a wife. He transforms into a desirable Honey at dusk.. "I do it for the stomach" he says. 

Distilleries of Pleasure: Mumbai is incomplete without Bollywood and this is precisely where it figures. Suketu was working as the scriptwriter for Mission Kashmir and this is his journal of the entire movie circle he befriended. From Mahesh Bhatt's Zakhm, to rising of Hrithik Roshan and then getting threats which ultimately let to shooting of his father (by bullet!), Sanjay Dutt's account of his jail trials and  Eishaan, the struggler who finally gets work in a B film called "Jai Mata Shakumbhari Devi".

There are sections like Memory Mines where author recollects his school days and Sone ki chidiya where the miracle of the city is noted. Everyone here wishes to move upward, be someone. It also has a good feature on local trains in Mumbai and the integrity in that train..

Goodbye World The most weird account of Jainism, where a diamond merchant Sevantibhai renounces the world along with his family to take diksha. Weirder is that his wife and three teenage children follow suit! Something totally unread before is the way it is done!

The book concludes with a small part called A self in the crowd which is an introspective section.. A foreign return finally finding his root in Mumbai...

"A gripping compellingly readable account of a love affair with a city" as it is rightly told..

Being a Mumbaitee myself there was hardly 5 % which I knew about my city as seen through this book. This book is a complete account of life in Mumbai..

Rating: 4.9/5.. I still don't know why I hold back that 0.1 !!

P.S: I have started with the challenge and if I m not wrong this does get classified as "Literary non-fiction" right guys??


  1. i always wanted to read this book. but somehow couldn't. The story arc reminded me of Shantaram..

    THough its a non-fiction, its more in the lines of a semi-biography. And NO, its nt Literary non-fiction

  2. whoa !! As FL says , it does reminds me of shantaram .. but i know both are totally different books .. and i have read none .. why ? the number of pages :| Any way .. some day i hope i will read this.. coz i really loved your review .. :)


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