Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City

Does it make any sense to review a book when you’ve just read a little over a 100 pages of a 500 page book? I guess not. But as far as Suketu Mehta’s “gripping, compellingly readable account of a love affair with a city” (Amitav Ghosh) is concerned, I really am not motivated to read any further. I love Bombay. The city is like a family member, you go back to it when you need comfort, but when you’re with it for a long time, you tend to hate it just a little bit. When I picked up Maximum City with enthusiasm, I hoped to receive that sentiment from his work. To some extent, I did; but largely, Mehta’s work seems like a parody of the city that I was born in and love dearly.

Right from the beginning, I noted times when he spoke in a belittling manner of Mahahrastrians. But I let that issue pass me by. It would be stupid of me to say Bombay belongs to the Maharashtrians. Maybe at some point of time it did, but not anymore. However, Maharashtrians are loyal and deserving residents of the city as any one else from any other part of the country who works there, fends for themselves, and generally leads a civic life. However, Mehta seems to think otherwise. In just the second chapter, he notes how Maharashtrians were deemed as “servants” when he grew up. Fine. Many people are stupid when they are kids. But Mehta’s opinions do not change as a grown-up. Again, I’d be silly to be offended by that. I kept reading, to see Mehta generalize Maharashtrians as the goons of Bombay, while the Gujaratis were the peace-loving “seths”, the South Indians the educated officers and Muslims the victims of all the Maharashtrians’ racial hatred. Metha makes this sweeping generalization, not once, but several times (in the few pages that I have read).

But here’s what hit the nail in my coffin of displeasure:

“Name-changing is in vogue all over India nowadays: Madras has been renamed Chennai; Calcutta, that British-made city, has changed its name to Kolkata… This is a process not just of decolonization but of de-Islamicization. The idea is to go back not just to past but an idealized past, in all cases a Hindu past. But to change a name, for a person or a road or a city, there had better be a very good reason. And there was no good reason to change the name of Bombay. It is nonsense to say that Mumbai was the original name… In 1995, the Sena demanded that we choose… 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 the road signs.”(141)

Oh no. Did he just refer to Maharashtrians as “ghatis [that] took revenge”?? When he said “us” did he mean the Gujaratis? And when he says “politicians” does he mean Shivaji?? Do you think as a Maharashtrian I will have any impetus to read this book? I am brave, but I am not an idiot.

And by the way, in these few hundred pages, Mehta continuously talks about how over-crowded Bombay is. If anyone planning to go to Bombay chooses to read this book first, it’ll solve the over-crowding problem right away. Amitav Ghosh is my favorite writer and I don’t know what he was on when he wrote the glowing recommendation on the jacket.

PS: This might be the longest rant for a book I have not entirely read.

PPS: Because I hate the book so much, there’s is no visual aid to help you look for it in bookshops.

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54 Responses to Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City

  1. yogesh says:

    Many people are stupid when they are kids.
    ROTFL.

    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 the road signs.”

    Suketu should have given the original name of the city, if it is not Mumbai. He can help solving the over-crowding problem by leaving the city forever 🙂

    • sunny.cool says:

      Kyu aate ho bhik mangane maharashtra me… BHIKARI OUTSIDERS LOG from all over india… SO CALLED NON SENCE NON MAHARASHTRIAN… RAJ THAKREY IS THE PERSON NEEDED FOR U… I am IT engineer in Pune… Pune ki sadko pe tumhare log bheek mangte hai… So called BHIKARI People from North India in fact from all over the india…

      India is nothing without MAHARASHTRA…. Aur tum jaise log aate ho roti, Kapda, Makan ke chakkar me maharashtra me…aur usi pe thukte ho… Ye hai tumhari AUKAD… RAJ THAKRE ki lathiya tumhare G**nd pe padegi tab AKKAL AAYEGI tumko…

  2. sampada says:

    The book bothered me so much that I came up with those stupid statements. You know, the truth of the matter is that no one cares whether it’s Mumbai or Bombay. People called it either names even before it was renamed. I’ve never heard anyone blame us “ghatis” single-handedly for the change of names. Especially in a book that got itself all the way to the finals of the Pulitzer Prize.

  3. Ambar says:

    Whoa. Is he actually saying all that, or is he quoting someone? Please say it’s the latter!

  4. sampada says:

    I was just as shocked as you. Did a double-take of the lines several times. He says it himself. Weird, isn’t it?

  5. Sasidhar says:

    Maximum City got rave reviews from almost every body. 🙂

    I am curious to check out the book, because I love Bombay and I usually read whatever I could read about the place, including the books that have a highly negative tone. 🙂

    Did you read “Sacred Games”?

  6. sthira says:

    Hiya,

    In my reading, the extracts you mention represent a very small section of the book. They belong to just one story (of his returning to the city of his childhood) that he tells us of the many he recounts and narrates of Bombay. I think to make more sense of what you quote, one needs to go back to those pages where he tells us of his growing up years at Nepean Sea Road where he mentions that his world was so small and confined to that particular area, to a particular community and class of people, that his interactions with the rest of the many worlds (and people) who inhabited the city were so limited that for him ‘Bombay’ was different from ‘Mumbai’, that in his cocooned world, the Maharashtrians were someone else, another people, who did these other jobs and they were called “ghati” by them. For them, Maharashtra was another world and they mostly associated Maharashtrians(because they lived not in his Nepean Sea Bombay) with the slums and his only point of entry into that world was through the “ghatis” who were their servants. In my reading, it didn’t seem to me that he was saying that this perception of his was correct. This is the perception that belongs to his past and to me, it seemed that he had an undertone of self-mockery.

    When writing about his return to Bombay, and the change of names, he mentions in the paragragh you quote (I don’t think you have put down those lines in the post)that Gujaratis and Maharashtrians always called it Mumbai when speaking Marathi and Bombay when speaking English. So it can’t be the case that he’s now referring to Gujuratis when saying “us” and all Maharashtrians in general by the usage of “ghatis”. I think that line was written with nostalgia and in the present time, referring not to any community but that sect of people who lived on Nepean Sea Rd., a certain class of people who formed his world, who comrpised his Bombay and his memories of the city and the other class of people, those who lived in the slums, those that if he were to be that child now, he would have called ghatis or those that he associated with the underclass.

    More than anything else, I think, he’s trying to bring out the fact that many Bombays and many Mumbais exist within that city and sometimes they are worlds apart even when they are so close to each other. I found this very interesting! And well, I don’t think the first 100 pages or so represent the whole book.

  7. sampada says:

    Sasidhar, no, I haven’t read Sacred Games

    Sthira, your reading of the pages seems quite different from mine and I agree with much of what you say. I deleted the lines that you’re talking about because they would have confused someone who has not read the book. You’re right, he does say that Gujaratis and Maharashtrians call it Mumbai while speaking in their own languages, but that’s because everyone else can be left out, for ex: like Hindi speaking people who called it ‘Bambai.’ That line has no connection with what he actually seems to feel toward the Maharastrians.

    In my defence, I’m a very patient reader. I don’t let anything get to me very easily. However, his attack towards Maharashtrians in general seemed direct and thoughtful. No, I disagree with you on the point that it was a nostalgic way of saying, “Oh as children we used to think they were so and so..” Mehta has enough time and space to go back on his childhood thoughts and change them, mold them differently.

    Also, being a Maharashtrian and being from Bombay makes me even more vulnerable to such comments. For someone who is neither, and far removed from Mumbai, these small things might have just passed by. I felt as if the book was not meant for “low, servant class” Maharashtrians at all, but for the snobbish Nepean Sea Rd. public who Mehta identifies with and snobbishly represents. He might not demarcate him as Gujarati and others as Maharashtrians, but he does define a difference. His last line in the given excerpt: “If they couldn’t afford to live on our roads, they could at least occupy the road signs” (my italics) is, for me, a big testament of that.

    There might be more to the book than that. Just like a racist man could be a great father and a great friend… but can I befriend him? I don’t think so.

  8. Hari Menon says:

    I’m sorry to say it’s not merely perceptions of the past. In my eight years in Bombay, I’ve only heard Marathi spoken fluently in the workplace by “class four” employees (peon, sweeper etc). Outside the office it seems to be the preserve of police constables and bus conductors. I do not normally get a chance to interact with Marathi-speaking middle and upper middle class households; and if I do, the communication is in English or Hindi.

    I can understand why this should paint a lop-sided picture, but I would not jump to the conclusion that all Maharashtrians are rustic boors. It’s largely to do with the fact that immigrants to the state do not need to come into close contact with Maharashtrian culture, and Maharashtrians in turn are only too happy to accommodate linguistic diversity. However, the “ghati” perception, if formed early in one’s childhood, tend to stay with you for life. To give Suketu Mehta the benefit of the doubt, he was probably only being honest.

    Why has Marathi been sidelined in Bombay, when languages such as Bengali and Tamil suffer no such “degradation” (loaded word!) in their home states? I guess it’s partly got to do with the pride Bengalis and Tamilians take in using and preserving their language, and the fact that their main urban centres – Calcutta and Madras respectively – are still very “local” in culture and outlook. If I were to live in either of these cities for a decade I would be speaking the local language by now. Yet I know no Marathi after all these years in Bombay – English and a smattering of Hindi is more than enough to get by.

    To cut a long story short, Bombay is not a stronghold of Marathi culture – sporadic instances of chauvinism apart – so you can’t use the city as a benchmark. It is partly a hangover from an age when the city was the capital of Bombay state, which included present-day Gujarat. “Bombay for Maharashtra” is a relatively recent phenomenon (post 1960), kicked off by the violent agitations of the hutatmas (of Hutatma Chowk fame) after Bombay state was divided along linguistic lines.

  9. sampada says:

    Hari, I agree with you whole-heartedly. For someone who has grown up in Bombay with fewer Maharashtrian friends, I can tell you that I never thought of Mumbai as Maharashtra’s until I became introduced to Sena politics. Now, as a grown up, I think it’s unjust to say that Mumbai belongs to Maharashtrians only. Like you said, unlike Madras or Calcutta (or even Goa, isn’t it?) the locals of Mumbai never stopped anyone from making home here. Maharashtrians are not recognized as good businessmen, so we are more than happy with our 9 to 5 jobs as long as someone else is running the grocery store or cinema house.

    You’re right, maybe Mehta was being honest. But can one possibly be ashamed of such honestly rude opinions? I did not see any shard of guilt in his voice, and I refuse to accept his honesty in the form of an insult.

  10. Hari Menon says:

    I read the book a couple of years ago and I don’t have it at hand right now (I’m in Cochin) so I can’t check and tell you what I feel about Mehta’s tone of voice. If he’s being truly supercilious (and not employing sarcasm or irony), I agree it’s unjustified — there may be better ways to get the point across.

  11. Patrix says:

    Ouch! I am sorry you didn’t like the way Maximum City begins. I remember reading those lines earlier on but I moved past them. As someone in this comment box pointed out, that is merely one part of the book and I suggest you give it another try. Although the book isn’t exactly gold, it offers interesting insights into a city from an outsiders’ perspective. Someone who has lived in the city all their life would probably write it much different.

  12. I could never figure out why he wrote the book, since he cribs about everything in Bombay. Infact I couldnt even figure out what he likes about The City.

    Sigh, this book was such a waste of money.

  13. mrinal says:

    This books sounds so much like Sarah McDonald’s Holy Cow. Latter is attack on complete India / Indians. Right from the cover page Holy Cow got me fuming!

    — Suketu Mehta’s “gripping, compellingly readable account of a love affair with a city” (Amitav Ghosh) —-
    Looks like this love affair has gone through a really rough patch!

  14. radhika74 says:

    Hi Sampada,

    I feel you are not really being fair to Mehta here. ”Ghatis took revenge on us” is an attempt at wry humour. ”Ghatis” is employed here as just a reference to the name Maharshtrians were given by him and his friends as children in the unthinking manner children are wont to employ. That is why he mentions kids and their stupidity.

  15. sampada says:

    Patrix, you don’t have to worry about being the agent in this process. I really was excited about the book – anything about Bombay is fun to read. Shantaram, for example. Like Chandrashekhar points out, I don’t know what Mehta’s aim was at writing the book. Another problem I had with his writing was his excessive details about shit. I don’t know what obsession some writers have with describing shit. It completely turned me off.

    Chandrashekhar, I felt the exact same way. The words “love affair” etc. threw me off. But for a long time all I read was complaints and problems.

    Mrinal, I had seen Holy Cow at the bookstore. I looked at the flashy cover and put it right back where it was. Some books just don’t deserve to be sold at bookstores. Haha, yup, this love affair is just all wrong!

    Radhika, you could be right. I might be over-reacting to one single line. But the one line that I put up there was a build up. By page fifty, I felt like something was amiss. He could be trying to be funny, but the humor hit below the belt. Why I don’t see him cracking jokes about his language, people, etc.? Besides, it’s not just about being called ghati; it’s about all that comes before and after it. If this is his way of being funny, it’s not the right place and time, and he just lost an audience because of it.

  16. Neel says:

    hey sampada,

    great to be back here ….

    well i just have to say it …. having narrow horizons is never an excuse to promote Us-vs-Them ism. that being said … maybe the way the author grew up was in an environment that shaped his opinions in this manner.

    since the ‘outsider’ term came up several times here – i must point out that – i’m one too – but i have never felt ALIENATED in the way this paragraph portrays.

    snootiness is given short shrift by most of humanity (atleast the tiny bit i have encountered – and EXCEPTIONS EXIST – just in case im generalising)

  17. sampada says:

    Neel, you are a good example of someone who has been Bombay-ized. You’re one of the few who can speak the ‘local’ language, in spite of the fact that one can get by without learning it.

  18. yogesh says:

    Btw… I was doing quite some research on the word Ghati… Even though Suketu wants to denigrate “us”, it is not the correct word to do that. Ghatis is not an offensive word. It is just a way to refer fellow Marathis. It is similar as Gujju for Gujaratis, Gults for Telugus, Mallu for Mallyalees and Bhaiyyaa for UPites.

  19. sampada says:

    Yogesh, I do think ghati is a derogatory term. I guess it depends from person to person. I’ll never call myself a ghati.

  20. diffdrummer says:

    Sampada, nice blog design 🙂

    Read Maximum City a while back, don’t remember the passage you quoted. I should read it in context to pass an opinion. As of now, I echo Radhika’s opinion and a book is after all a collection of author’s personal theories and experiences and we like a book if it resonates with our views, otherwise it plain sucks as was the case with you this time.

    Maximum city’s rave reviews has lot to do with the fact that it was high time that some one came out with an all-inclusive crowd-pleaser of a book about Bombay. Mehta had perfect timing, although my gripe about the book is its over-the-top obsession with the Bombay underworld.

  21. sampada says:

    Diff, the blog design is thanks to wordpress; I have nothing to do with it except clicking 🙂

    I don’t know how to react to Radhika’s and your perceptions because the way you react to a book totally depends on your personality. I’m all about learning someone’s “personal theories and experiences” like you say, but when this is a personal attack, I tend to close up.

    I’ve grown up a Maharashtrian in Mumbai and I was barely familiar with the life that Mehta describes. As a published author, I pity his narrow sense of understanding, and I do not think that I am obliged to endorse his thinking.

    Yes, reading does open up a whole new world to a reader. I am a student of literature. And as one, I am capable of sifting out the good from the bad. Mehta did not stand up to my standards here.

  22. Neha says:

    I agree with you Sampada…the book really degrades maharashtrians. I have just started reading it and reached about a 100 pages. Normally I read upto 100 pages in a single go; but even with enough time on hand i can’t go past a few pages. Mostly when he starts his hatered towards marathis. What he says is true but the way he says reminds me of the way the colonist wrote about the aborignals and other natives. At many points I felt like the book was meant for “white” people – the tone, the observations and so many other things. Like when he says “the Oxford educated rulers of yesterday” and then goes on to say that today’s rules are the worst dredges of society. Followed by “politics is a dirty work, anyone who can afford it leaves it to another man, like cleaning the toilet”

  23. sampada says:

    Neha, thanks for pointing out another aspect about Mehta that I did not notice instantly. I have yet to come across a writer so completely obsessed with his own superiority complex that he fails to be diplomatic and mature. Yes, I did think Mehta came across as petty and obnoxious and your comment adds to that belief.

  24. Ajatshatru says:

    Hey,

    When you have been abused no end for belonging to a certain state, you become insensitive to all this nonsense. Ever wonder what Biharis feel in Delhi and Mumbai?

    This is a very common thing in India – we LOVE to hate each other. Nothing new there.

  25. sampada says:

    Ajatshatru, that’s a very true aspect about being an Indian, and living in a country with so many languages, skin colors, etc. However, it would be unfair for someone to go to Bihar and criticize the Bihari. Similarly, Maharashtrians are natives to Mumbai (so are many other people from all over India), so I would expect some tolerance from people. Just because it is common, it doesn’t make it correct, and worthy of accolade (as in the case of Mehta and his book).

  26. Vikas Joshi says:

    Hari Menon/Sampada:

    The kamwali bais in the Gulf are Malayalis.
    The prostitutes of the Gulf are Malayalis
    The sweepers of the Gulf are Malayalis
    The people cleaning the toilets in the Gulf are Malayalis
    The hamaals in the Gulf are Malayalis
    The maid-servants, plumbers, electricians, rag-pickers, masons, labourers are all Malayalis mostly.
    The construction labourers are mostly Malayalis.
    The worst jobs in the Gulf are done by Keralites.
    In fact, the only Malayalis you meet in the Gulf are the ones doing the worst jobs. The Malayalis you meet are mostly very poor or poor labour class people.

    Given that he can see how many of his own people in the Gulf are no different-even worse than the Maharashtrian in Mumbai-does he really have a right to be so supercillious? Is there anything to be so proud of, given that his own community in the Gulf is for the Arab, ghatis? The Malayalis in the Gulf are as much ghati for the Arab as the Maharashtrian in Mumbai.

    Furthermore, this rich=non-Marath speaker, poor=Marathi speaker ignores the following:

    Dharavi is almost entirely non-Marathi. Yes, Asia’s biggest slum is entirely non-Marathi, mostly Tamil, Gujarati, Keralite, Telugu, Kannadiga, Bihari. The Tamils are 80-90 % of Dharavi.

    The taxi drivers of Bombay=UP
    The scavengers of Bombay=Tamils
    The rag pickers of Bombay=Tamils
    The prostitutes of Bombay=Tamils
    The hijdas of Bombay=Tamils
    The construction labourers=Tamils, Biharis, UP
    The sweepers of Bombay=Gujaratis (May seem hard to believe but there are vast slums of Bombay which have only Gujaratis and municipal schools which are Gujarati medium-for whose benefit-who else but but poor Gujaratis?
    The shoe shine boys of Bombay=UP/Bihar
    The potters of Bombay=Gujaratis
    The tea stall owners=Keralites
    The toilet cleaners=Tamils

    Keep this in mind when anyone talks of the Maharashtrian underclass and the rich non-Marathi speaking upper class. Are the above jobs an upper class does? Am surprised you are giving so easily to this myth that the labour class is Maharashtrian. In fact, most of the slum dwellers of Bombay are NOT Maharashtrian at all. Nor are the worst jobs done by Maharashtrians. The simple truth is:

    The richest people in MUmbai are not Maharashtrian AND
    The poorest people in Mumbai are also NOT Maharashtrian. (Go to Dharavi and see for yourself.)

  27. Vikas Joshi says:

    BTW,

    I suspect Menon is lying. For his benefit I am putting the list of the typically Maharashtrian professions as follows:

    20,000 constables
    4,000 bus-conducters
    200,000 maids
    15,000 mill-workers
    Total: 250,000
    Total number of Maharashtrians in Mumbai: 70 lakh
    Therefore: 2/100 Maharashtrians belongs to any of these categories. I’m sure he has worked with, spoken to and interacted with middle class Maharashtrians. Perhaps they didn’t speak Marathi in front of him. If he starts speaking in Marathi, he will realise that this perception is just that: a perception. There are a vast number of middle/upper middle class Maharashtrians who he has interacted with-but (and here they show how different they are from their Bengali/Malayali/Tamil counterparts, how tolerant) they don’t speak in front of him in Marathi. I’m sure he has interacted with middle-class Maharashtrians-but they are so cosmo they don’t want to speak in their language in front of a non-local:) In this way, the non-local percieves them to be non-Maharashtrian.

    Kolkata, Chennai=Sampada, your arguement is a strange one. In KOlkata, the business is entirely done by Marwaris. All the shops/cinema halls are run by Marwaris, not Bengalis. If the Maharashtrians by virtue of not doing business are an under-class, then the Bengalis are also an underclass. Can you say that the Bengalis are an under-class in Kolkata on that score? As for Chennai, the Telugus own far more business in Chennai than people know or realise. Does it make the Tamils an under-class?

    After all, the Richest AND POOREST people in Mumbai are BOTH NOT Maharashtrians. The poorest people in Mumbai are from other states, not Maharashtra:)

    (Menon, the sweepers of Bombay (those employed by the BMC) are MOSTLY GUJARATIS. Refer to a report of Hindustan Times. At least 50 % are Gujaratis. )

  28. Vikas Joshi says:

    Go to your nearest BMC office and verify this for yourself. It’s really true: sweepers employed by BMC=Gujaratis.

  29. sampada says:

    Whoa Vikas, that was quite a mouthful!! You sure have a lot to say, don’t you? Sadly though, I’d prefer you had picked up an argument with Suketu Mehta rather than finding faults in Hari’s and my opinion. The discussion here is about Mehta’s derogatory remarks about Maharashtrians in Mumbai (did you even read the post?), and as a Maharashtrian, I am obviously partial to anyone to speaks better of its people. So, as far as your rant about how Maharastrians are neither the poorest nor the richest in Mumbai is concerned, I have a positive bias towards it. To claim that that is true, would be nice to hear, however I have no proof that it is one hundred percent true. However, I digress (much like you did). The point is, I personally don’t care whether the Marathi people are rich or poor, whether they run business or run for their 8am train, I don’t care what the people in Gulf or Calcutta do either (by the way, that whole Malayalis being this and that was rather racial). I only care about my people being respected by others, especially through a widely published book. And that’s as far as I am willing to take this argument…! 🙂

  30. Vikas Joshi says:

    Dear Sampada:

    I read the post in its totality. I very much appreciated it. However if you want to know how tolerant Maharashtrians try this exercise:

    Suppose Suketu was a Maharashtrian. And he wrote “That’s how the Biharis got back at us.”
    Can you imagine?
    “‘That’s how the niggers/Hindis/pakis/ got back at us.”
    “That’s how the red-necks got back at us.””
    Surely, at least one self-respecting Maharashtrian should have filed a PIL under the “hurting the community sentiments” arguemnt? Heck, Aaja Nachle was forced to change its lyrics because of an indirect line in one song. This 100 times worse. How come no one is using the “hurting the community sentiments” arguement? If this had been any other community, what would have happened by now?

    Would Penguin even have published it-allow it get into print?

    True true. I was just pointing out the hypocrisy in Menon’s arguement. That’s all-his response reeeked of supercilliousness. I wanted to point a simple fact: replace Marathi with Malayali and non-Maharashtrian with Arab, the same thing holds true:)

    The whole Malayali thing…not at all. After all, Mr. Menon/Suketu Mehta et al have based their “”Maharashtrians are an underclass”” arguement on seeing a few Maharashtrians doing certain jobs. It is another matter that a vast number of very menial jobs are done by those very same communities.This belies a straightforward “”rich non-local/poor local”” theory. Therefore, by the same token, the Malayali in the Gulf is also worthy of contempt? If the Maharashtrian is worthy of contempt because maids and hamaals (not all)
    are Maharashtrian then is the Malayali also worthy of only contempt and ridicule because his own countrymen are doing dirty jobs in the Gulf? Most Malayalis in the Gulf are doing very very menial jobs. The NORKA (non-resident Keralite Association) website corroborates this. So the logic here is simple: If Maharashtrians=maid/servants, then Maharashtrians=contempt
    If Malayalis (Gulf)=maid servants then Malayalis=contempt?

    The logic is the same; but who would say that?

  31. sampada says:

    Vikas, there is a saying in Marathi, which you might have heard – Kaatyane kaata kadhaycha, i.e. you need a thorn to get rid of a thorn. However, that saying does not really work here. You cannot be a racist to cure another racist (not that Hari is a racist, because I know him). By pointing out the poor Malayali population of Gulf, I am not really sure what you achieved, except speaking poorly of a community. That to me is racist, and does not make you any different from Suketu Mehta. Your explanation is well taken, though. I only wish you had not used the technique you used to explain it. Does that make any sense?

    I am especially interested in your point about how we Maharashtrians never rebel against any of the insults that are meted out to us in public media. It’s very, very true. And don’t you think my post has something to rebel against? This is my small step. I can’t stop the book from getting published, but maybe I can stop a few intelligent readers from buying it.

  32. Vikas Joshi says:

    Do not worry, Sampada:

    The Maharashtrian people have really punished this biogted man, taught him a lesson he will never forget and made him and other anti-Marathi types realise one thing, first and foremost: that you can’t gratitously insult a community which has a population bigger than Germany and France combined. You can’t insult a community of 10 crores and get away it. You can’t abuse the Marathis-speaking people and go scot-free. They have taught him this lesson by way of…..

    Translating the book into Marathi which will ensure that it will reach 100 million more people.

    “I am especially interested in your point about how we Maharashtrians never rebel against any of the insults that are meted out to us in public media…” actually we don’t rebel against it because over time, we have come to see ourselves in that same light. We have ourselves got pschyed into believing that we are a third-class bunch of people, and that we are really low-class and somewhat inferior. Our self-image is such. I believe that a massive inferiority complex has developed in us. I think we geniunely believe that we are fit to be looked down on, to be regarded patronizingly and that there’s nothing wrong with us. With such a great inferiority complex and subconscious feeling of inadequacy, we bash ourselves and indulge in self-hatred much more than other communities. So when other people insult us, I think we don’t see anything wrong with it.

    This explains why we never rebel…subconsciously, we thinks its true.

    The reasons for this are complex and deserve some study. The destruction of the Marathi movie industry (I feel) has left the average educated middle-class Maharashtrian youth without any reference point other than the Hindi movie industry. Less and less Maharashtrians read Marathi books/see Marathi plays (and god only knows how few in a city like Mumbai) so that part of Marathi culture no longer forms a bulwark/reference point. In a city like Mumbai, once you leave your home, Marathi disappears. If your only reference point is Hindi movies…you know what image Hindi movies portray of Maharashtrians. Other than Hindi movies, what are the avenues for entertainment a Mumbaikar might have? Here let us not forget the hypnotic, powerful effect of the movie industry on the average industry. We are a movie mad bunch.

    But can you blame the Maharashtrian? He turns on any Hindi movie and sees that the only Maharashtrian characters to be seen are the corrupt pandu/bais. He reads an English newspaper and sees how patronizingly his community is addressed, how slanted the English press is, even contemptous. He sees how anti-Marathi and mocking the English press can be of his community, how an element of condescenion creeps into everything that concerns Marathi-the constant attempts to make out his community to be an inept and bumbling one. He sees the Alpen Libe ads about Bhatawdekar. He sees the bai icon speaking her exaggarated Marathi-accented Hindi on one of the popular Hindi channels (I Think its MTV). He has to constantly deal with taunts that “Bombay is what it is, has been built by, ONLY because/by: (take your pick): Sindhis, Marwaris, Parsis,Nigerians, UPites, Biharis, Gujaratis,Keralites, Telugus, Tamilians, Iranis, Kannadigas, Bengalis, Assamese, Nagas, Punjabis, Rajasthanis, Madhya Pradeshis, Muslims, Kashmiris, Oriyas, Lashkar e-Toiba, Al Queda, HuJi, et al-but most certainly NOT Maharashtrians. ” He keeps on and on and on and on hearing this.

    To top it all of, he sees that whenever anyone in Mumbai (even if he’s born, educated, studied, raised and brought up there-even if his family has nothing to do with his native state anymore), if he does something good, all the credit goes to the fact that’s South Indian, North Indian, Gujarati, Parsi, Marwari, Bengali et al-and has nothing to do with the fact that he’s grown up in Mumbai. The innate qualities in his community arguement.

    OTOH, if he rapes a woman/robs/murders then the same people will make fun of Mumbai pointing out that you can’t blame outsiders-after all, he was BORN AND BROUGHT up in Mumbai. So Mumbai is to blame-since he was born and brought up there and is a product of Mumbai. So no blaming outsiders, XYZ man/woman was brought up there, not an outsider.

    If he goes to the better quality English medium schools/colleges, he finds very few Maharashtrians (teachers/students) and I suppose his inferiority complex only grows. In his workplace he may find very few Maharashtrians and so the cycle continues. He may eventually regard his own language with distaste, even contempt-after all, is it not the symbol of his own backwardness (Note: backwardness qua backwardness i.e. in terms of his community, not self).

    Does this explains why the Maharashtrian is always so willing to replace his own language with Hindi? (Something you can’t see anywhere else) Is it a feeling of embarrassment-that he would be seen as a pandu/bai type? Does the Maharashtrian associate his language with a certain backwardness lack of progress, rusticity, lack of sophistication? Does not speaking Marathi therefore make him feel less of a boor? Is his language identified in his mind with a kind of lowclassness? This is a topic worthy of some discussion.

    The punchline is this: That whenever and whatever good happens in Mumbai, people keep reminding you and reiterating that it has nothing whatsoever to do with Maharashtra/Maharashtrians or that Mumbai is in Maharashtra. That whatever good in the city there is, it is in spite of and has nothing to do with it being the capital of Maharashtra. In fact, they run away from being called the capital of Maharashtra and keep saying: please free us from being part of Maharashtra. We want to be free from being ruled by these guys.

    But whenever floods/floods/Gateway gropings (2007)/Gateway gropings (2008)/rapes/murders/chain-snatchers/house-breakins/in other words, everything BAD happens, then:
    What is the government of Maharashtra doing?
    What are the police doing?
    We pay 70,000-100,000 crores and get nothing in return-why?
    What are these pandus doing?
    What are these Maharashtrians doing?
    Aren’t all these molesters/rapists Maharashtrian?

    Solution: Make Mumbai a Union Territory.

    (N.B the same police kept Bombay safe for 40 years. But that was not, certainly not, because of the police. Crime is always because of the police;safety is because of other factors. So however safe Bombay was; it was not because of the police but because of other factors; now that crime is spiralling; it is certainly because of the police i.e. Maharashtrians/Marathi-speakers.

    Sometimes, I find that I myself can’t see anything illogical in this arguement (which frightens me dearly). Please do point out any illogicality in this arguement.

    P.S This incident at the gateway of India, both 2007 & even more so 2008 was just unbelivably terrible. I came to know about it a few hours ago. To tell you the truth (this is not meant to make myself seem a good guy) I find myself getting restless. Even mundane things like eating, getting on with work and so on seem hard. I just can’t get it out of my mind-the incident. Mumbai is really going to the dogs. But even then, 500,000 lakh people are coming to the city every year. The biggest growth is in the suburbs.

    P.P.S-Is this Mr. Hari Menon, the same Hari Menon who worked at Outlook magazine? Is it the same gentlemen? I’m surprised-Outlook has at least half a dozen Maharashtrians, more maybe, listed as journalists, managers, in its Mumbai bureau. (As per their Magazine) He must have worked with them-so how come they didn’t fall in his list of fluent Marathi speakers?

    Apologies for this lengthy post. This theory of many Maharashtrians subconsciously associating their language with a kind of backwardness has often been in my mind. I just wanted to share it with you. It explains why Hindi so easily replaces Marathi even in cities like Pune/Nagpur where 80-85 % plus of the population is Marathi speaking. It explains why the non-Marathi shopkeepers/businessmen never have to learn Marathi (unlike all other states), instead the customers adjust to the shopkeeper and speak in Hindi for his comfort. You will never see a place in the world where a customer adjusts to the shopkeeper and speaks in the shopkeeper’s language; everywhere else its the opposite. Only in our state do the customers take it upon themselves to adjust. It explains why the Marathi movie industry struggles unlike Telugu/Tamil/Kannada/Malayalam despite..

    Malayalam: 36 million speakers
    Tamil: 62 million speakers
    Telugu: 82 million speakers
    Kannada: 40 millon speakers
    Marathi: 80 million speakers

  33. Vikas says:

    Not replying to my post?

    Sorry. Wrote too much.

  34. sampada says:

    Heehee! The argument has gone beyond my area of knowledge and choice. As I said earlier, I would prefer to stick to Mehta. However, you had some interesting things to say, which I really had nothing to say about. Don’t have to say sorry – I like discussions, but I can get impatient with lengthy ones 🙂

  35. sampada says:

    By the way, don’t you have a blog, Vikas?

  36. Mahadev Rao says:

    All these are o.k. but do you have any association list of keralites residing in Gulf region? If so, please E-mail me or else let me know the source to obtain the same.
    Thanks and good wishes.

  37. WoW!!!
    Great Vikas, that was amazing!!!
    Glad I read it, it would be of great help. Can I get your email id??
    mine is iampriteshdesai at gmail dot com

  38. zEUS says:

    case in point…..in any movie, the hero’s name is something like: “raj malhotra”…….notice it, the movie will have other characters, BONGS, GUJJUS, TAMILS, UP-BIHAR LOG……but the hero will always be a punjabi munda…..WHO THE FUCK ARE THESE JAT PUNJABIS TO GET SUCH ROYAL TREATMENT……I MEAN, SERIOUSLY , WHY DOES EVERY FUCKING MOVIE HAVE A HERO CALLED “RONIT KAPOOR” OR SOME SUCH SHITTY NAME..

  39. sampada says:

    Zeus, haha! There’s no point in taking Bollywood seriously. I have no idea why they refuse to acknowledge any other kind of people except Punjabis! India has no many languages, cultures, and mindsets. It’s only a pity that all of it is never explored.

  40. ninsmincRog says:

    A lot of of people blog about this issue but you wrote down really true words!

  41. Bhisham says:

    @Zeus: The reason the “Jat Punjabi’s” get royal treatment is because they dominate the industry. A Yash Chopra has the right to want his hero to be named “Ronit Kapoor” and a Shah Rukh Khan has the right to want his characters to be called whatever they are (I don’t watch movies much so I don’t know what the name he chooses is.) Point being, there must be some reason why the “Punjabi Jat’s” dominate the movie industry in India, and you are probably smart enough to know what that reason is.

    @Joshi and co.: Here in U.S. we have a “red-neck” philosophy which usually the republican’s agree with. What the red neck’s here feel for us, clearly you feel for those “non-maharashtrian’s” in Mumbai. I spent my younger years in Pune and my three closest friends are a maharashtrian, a madrasi and guy from Banglore. I am Punjabi by blood. Being a scientist, I do not reject the idea that there are genetic traits which dominate our actions at times and that the society has not yet interbred enough for these traits to have disappeared. I, as a Punjabi, have good and bad traits, you as a Maharashtrian have them too. Why chastize people who point out your bad traits? Are you so insecure to realize that people, as a rule, prefer pointing out the bad traits of other people? Are you so insecure as to care about that opinion? Or are you going to play the pristine card and tell me that you have never once attached a bad opinion about any caste, race or creed in this world?

    Southpark had a wonderful episode once where Chef makes up a huge cry about the Southpark flag not having a single black person on it. The moral of the story is, aren’t those who notice the racism, racist too? The world shall be a safer place once all religions and creeds and races have interbred to form a single colored race without the need to subscribe to a religion. Alas, it also shall be a boring place with fewer things to notice in people. As Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I hope you give up that hatred and accept things.

    @Sampada: I do not subscribe to your views about the book. I am not the author’s biggest fan, but I did not find his opinions to be as biased as you have made them sound here. But everyone interprets things differently and you interpreted in this way. Fair enough. I would still recommend finishing that book. Hatred for what you are reading might just increase your patience more than what it already is 🙂 Leaving what I start reading leave me feeling incomplete…but the same might not apply to you. To each his own.

    • sampada says:

      @Bhisham, thanks for your detailed comment. I appreciate your philosophy about finishing a book that was started, however, my relationship with books is so deep that sometimes I need to move on and away from some of them. I do not believe in finishing something that left an obviously bad taste in my mouth. I am an immensely patient person and looking back, I’m sure I dropped the book for more than just the reason stated in this post (i.e. I wasn’t impressed with Mehta’s style).

  42. Hari Menon says:

    Heh – I returned to this post by chance after a couple of years and see Mr Joshi has spewed vitriol on what he takes to be my “supercilious” remarks that “denigrates” the Marathi folk. Maybe if he had actually taken the trouble to read my comment he’d have realised that I was merely playing the devil’s advocate and trying to see why Suketu Mehta may have felt the way he did. Based purely on my limited interactions of course, so my conclusions could be far from correct. And no, I wouldn’t ever use the “ghati” endearment. I don’t know why it’s derogatory (or if it’s derogatory at all) but I’d say it’s safer to err on the side of caution.

    That aside, I don’t quite get the point of his dragging gulf mallus into the debate. I’d be the first to agree they do most of the menial jobs in the gulf and get paid peanuts in comparison – but hey, it’s honest work and I’d never knock it. As for the Tamilians in the slums of Dharavi, you’d be lucky if you can find a more enterprising lot. And what’s wrong with most of the sweepers being Gujarati? I suspect it’s just Mr Joshi’s middle-class prejudices that are coming to the fore here. He’s only reinforcing the stereotype that Maharashtrians are content with clerical jobs and avoid anything that involves entrepreneurship and/or hard labour.

    On the other hand, what *is* disappointing is the “Mumbai for Maharashtrians” mentality of the likes of the Thackerays, and the tacit agreement among many of the manoos that an accident of birth is more important than ability or qualification. It is precisely this mentality that prevents many middle-class Maharashtrians from aspiring to anything more than basic sarkari jobs. Unfortunately, this mentality also tends to go hand-in-hand with a strong inferiority complex. I can’t be sure, but that just *might* explain Mr Joshi’s diatribe.

    PS: I have never worked with Outlook Magazine. Must be a namesake.

  43. siddharth says:

    Cant agree with you more on Maximum City. Mr.Mehta sucks big time and me living in NY, i really hope he never passes by me, i will knock his face off i swear .. such derogatory comments on maharashtrains for they loving to be simple is not fair!! Like you,stopped reading it after the first 50 pages,,

    Proud Maharashtrain Based in New York!!

  44. nightflier says:

    This is a very interesting discussion thread. I would just like to point out that when you grow up in a cosmopolitan city like mumbai/bombay, you are bound to have culturally weird opinions about people from different strata of society, at least on a superficial level. That will not necessarily reflect on how the person actually is. Even I remember having/forming opinions about gultis (telugu), mallus (malyalam), tams (tamils), gujjus (gujarati) people when I moved to USA. Imagine my own hypocrisy, when I would talk about national integrity and still have opinions about all these people. But despite all this, I studied, worked, interacted, hanged out with these people. I am just saying, having opinions is an altogether different aspect, as long as you dont let them rule your perceptions about humans, thus making you rigid and a fanatic.
    In saying so, I found maximum city a fairly engaging book, was never incited by anything which upset you. Plus I hate the sena and its dirty politics.

    Anyway, please dont judge the book by its first 100 pages. If nothing else, you can thank the book for making you more resilient, which we maharashtrians are 🙂

  45. Aten80 says:

    I know! I couldn’t get past the first 100 pages either. And it is exactly that paragraph that finally had me slam the book down in frustration. What a racist bigot!

    I came across your blog when doing a google search to see if anyone else is of the same opinion. Thanks for giving words to my thoughts!

    • Shridhan says:

      Exactly. And I don’t mind calling Marathis/Maharashtrians living in Mumbai being middle-class or lower middle class. Because in any Indian town, most of locals will be middle or lower middle class. As a Marathi, I do not even say Mumbai is “only” for us, though it is a Maharashtrian city with Marathi culture mingling with pan-Indian cultures. If India is to disintegrate, Maharasthra will be the last part to be called as India, such patriots we are, saying this I do not doubt patriotism of fellow Indians, this is jsut to show we are as patriotic as rest of us Indians. What I object is Mehta’s living life in smallest world possible. This is not how you write your world view, sitting in a tiny world of yours.

      If he doesn’t listen Marathi spoken by middle-class and upper middle class, that’s because they are speaking Hindi or English for you. If I go to Chennai, live with only north Indians and Marathis and hire a local servant, he WON’T be a Guajarati! And by that I won’t say Tamils are only a labour class people. This is a fifth-grader’s analogy, or a fourth-grader’s! To add further, no other Indian city is as diverse as Mumbai. So it is improper to generalise Marathis by looking at Mumbai or ignorantly looking as Mehta does.

      Today, you have to learn the local tongue in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad because
      they are in the process of becoming like Mumbai. Have you not noticed growing Hindi/English usage in Bangalore or Hyderabad recently? Sooner you will feel less necessity of knowing Kannada, Telugu ( Tamil will be there though!) . So do you expect similar book on Gultes or Kannadiagas as there is already for us Ghatis?

      What in the world you are talking about, Mehta? Hyala ekda marathi khakya dakhavlach pahije.. Oh no no… then we Marathis will be called as goons.. Yeah, look at the rest of ever-peaceful Indian brothers of us!

  46. Abhishek Parab says:

    My browser preserved this bookmarked link all these years and today (while cleaning dead links) I stumbled upon it! Nice that your blog is still active.

  47. Shridhan says:

    Let us make this post alive..

    I think Sampada is being too apologetic for being a Maharashtrian in Mumbai.

    Yes, renaming Mumbai WAS political and a CORRCECT political move. We do not oppose Bombay, but it is Mumbai.

    Hari Menon is saying Mumbai is not Marathi stronghold city. He should see number of Marathi plays and literature and films coming out of Mumbai and compare others.

    I was 3 years in Kerala. They actually do not have theatre. In fact except in Bengal, Delhi there is no theatre culture as in Marathi in India, with ACTIVE viewership. Malayalam has good literature, films and some random carnatic music following, no theatre, even festivals are less jubilant (dull to be rude).

    I ask this Hari Menon guy to go any 1 Million+ city in Maharashtra and he will do fine WITHOUT Marathi. Our cities will give you good jobs too, Menon.

    Kerala is neither linguistically liberal nor does it have enough jobs. What is Kerala’s notable contribution to Indian economy? Except exporting few “educated” minds.

    I am sending Hari a mail too.

    Sampada, if you have any comment on my earlier comment?

    • Sampada says:

      Shridhan, I don’t have a comment, but I have a question. Have you read the book being discussed here? Or are you just going on about regionalism. The reason I have stopped replying to comments here is simply because it’s been 7 years since I attempted to read the book. Somehow, this has gone from a mild rant on a half-read book to a full-fledged fight about what it means to be Maharashtrian. I doubt if most of the people commenting here have even read Mehta’s book.

  48. Shridhan says:

    I have read the book but not page by page. Once you know kind of writer he is, you cannot force yourself to read.

    And the discussion will go towards regionalism because of what the book contains.
    I was trying to tell something about other state capitals I have lived in. One should not be apologetic about his/her culture, whatever it may be.

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