Maximum City, it seems is a widely acclaimed book for telling the truth about Mumbai. Read it recently. Let me start with what I liked in the book. If all the stories of rioters, under-world dons and pawns, bar-dancers, call girls, slum dwellers he has told are actually true, then he has done a fantastic job of researching and writing. There are no two opinions there. Its worth all the applauds.
But when it comes to opinions about Mumbai or India, his writing is naive at best. This is your typical “returned from the US” naive Indian, who wants to see India as a “delta” from the US, instead of trying to understand it as a country by itself. So, US is the baseline for how the world should be and anything else is a deviation from that baseline. This irritates me like crazy. Secondly, at many places, he brazenly attributes things to Mumbai as a city, which are actually more Indian in nature and are not unique to Mumbai. And the final weakness of his writing comes from his failure to understand the duality of India. This failure is not unique to him, but any common person would be seen talking like that. As a writer, he could not rise beyond that and disappointed me. The duality of India is this – the striving and sometimes successful middle class is as much of a reality in India as are the slum dwellers. The booming IT industry and rich investment bankers are as much of a reality in India as are the millions of people not having access to drinkable water. Arguing that how can India aim to be an IT superpower, when people don’t have enough to eat is futile, a non-starter and even misleading. Like it or not, India is like that only [to borrow from Rama Bijapurkar]. I am not saying, we should not tackle the problem of poverty, drinking water, health and sanitation. But either wishing or expecting IT industry to not grow because there are these problems is not the Indian way.
Anyway, I’d still read it for the factual narrations, but won’t bother about his opinions and analysis. They are just not up to the mark. I can imagine and average American liking it and thinking that he has gotten some deep understanding of India just by reading this book. I’d advise them against thinking so.