Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Can you go home again? “Somewhere, buried beneath the wreck of its current condition… is the city that has a tight claim on my heart, a beautiful city by the sea, an island-state of hope in a very old country.”

Across almost 600 pages comprising three broad sections: power, pleasure and passages, Suketu Mehta returns to Bombay – soon to be renamed Mumbai – after 21 years away. The city’s population had more than doubled to over 18 million people, one of the largest city’s on the planet. In a city so densely packed, solitude is the greatest luxury and privacy is not afforded. (p137) 

The intersection of everything that makes the city fascinating provides the thread of the book: money, sex, love, death and show business (p290).

Mehta is in search of an answer to his simple question: can you go home again? (p3) 

Much like Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, Mehta succeeds in transporting the reader to the chaotic, melting pot of Bombay; the many Bombays.

Mehta illustrates the complexity of Bombay through the characters he meets: spanning the ‘underworld’ of gangsters and terrorism, the dancers, movie stars, the ‘runaway poet’, super rich and the poor, law-enforcers, those who want to leave the city and those who travel from across India to be there. 

Bombay is the biggest, fastest, richest city in India (p18); the future of urban civilisation on the planet. God help us (p3) says Mehta. The contrast and fusion of old and new, rich and poor can be seen by contemporary developments, such as the new fuel-injected, expensive cars, which are tamed by having to use the same old busy roads the average Bombay speed of 20 kilometres per hour. Even along Marine Drive – also known as the ‘Queen’s Necklace’ – a 3.6 kilometres coastal road in the south of the city, the one road where people can (or should be able to) really open up their cars (p28). 


Why do people still live in Bombay? Every day is an assault on the individual’s senses, from the time you get up, to the transport you take to work, to the offices you work in, to the forms of entertainment you are subjected to. p515

Parallel to the many Bombays Suketu Mehta explores, the book is fast and slow, simple and complex, linear and non-sequential. The final answer to Mehta’s question is as complex as the city itself. Much like a previous post reflecting on Bombay (Mumbai) 2016

Bombay certainly left an impression. I don’t think i’ve completely processed what that impression is – it borders extremes, the poverty, patriarchy and apparent lack of caring for its population to the happy, generous, vibrant people to the visible wealth to the staring to the family ties – my impressions are as befuddled as the city itself. But maybe that’s the beauty of Bombay. (Bombay (Mumbai) 2016)

Mehta’s book will take you on a journey, leaving you with a rich sense of this eclectic, befuddled city.

For more on Bombay (Mumbai) see:

  1. Bombay (Mumbai) 2016
  2. Explaining Bombay
  3. Things to do in Bombay (Mumbai)
  4. Mumbai (Bombay) City Tour
  5. Mumbai (Bombay) City tour II
  6. Explaining Bombay
  7. Bombay-Bound
  8. Travelling to Bombay
  9. Travelling to Bombay II: Railways
  10. Walk around the streets of Mumbai (Bombay)
  11. The Presidencies of British India: Bombay
  12. The Presidencies of British India II: Bengal, Bombay and Madras
  13. Bombay (Mumbai): Mega city
  14. Irani Cafés in Bombay (Mumbai)
  15. South Bombay – the Jewel of Mumbai
  16. Bombay: Sayed Haider Raza
  17. Mumbai: City of Dreams
  18. Shantaram


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