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.