Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, by Suketu Metha, is the most mind-blowing book I have read for quite some time. Metha left Mumbai then returned from New York, and began documenting his hood.
Here are some little snippets:
‘Many wars begin with an act of rape, real or imagined. It is always the men who are disturbed enough by the rape to go to war.’
‘Bombay survives on the scam. We are all complicit. A man who has made his money through a scam is more respected than a man who has made his money through hard work, because the ethic of Bombay is quick upward mobility and a scam is a short-cut. A scam shows good business sense and a quick mind. Anyone can work and make money. What’s to admire about that? But a well-executed scam? Now, there’s a thing of beauty!’
‘When a man touches his killer’s feet and begs for his life, saying, “Please don’t kill me, I have children,” it is the worst argument he can offer. Thinking the killer will let you off because you have kids assumes that you can locate a hidden source of sympathy in your killer based on something shared, something in common. But very few killers are fathers. Very few of them have had good experiences with their own fathers. So that bond between father and son, which for you and me is the most convincing argument against your death – don’t kill me because it will break that sacred bond – means nothing to them. It is a bond, in fact, that the hit-men have consciously been trying to break all their lives. As far as they’re concerned, ridding your children of their father is the greatest favour they can do them.’
‘ [Bal Thackeray’s] vandals are young men, who, after working 12hour days as peons in some office where they endure humiliation and even a slap or two from men who are richer … than they are, take the train home. Inside the train, they bathe in perspiration; the air is fetid with sweat and farts. When they get home to the slum, their mother and fathers and grandmothers will ask them what they have bought home. Such a man lives with a constant sense of his own powerlessness, except when he is part of a mob, part of a contingent of 70 patriots fighting for the country’s honour, walking unmolested into movie theatres, posh apartments, and the offices of the cricket lords of the country, smashing trophies, beating up important people who drive fine cars. All the accumulated insults, rebukes and disappointments of life in a decaying megalopolis come out in a cathartic release of anger. It’s okay to be angry in a crowd; the crowd feeds on your anger, digests it, nourishes it, nourishes your rage as your rage nourishes it. All of a sudden you feel powerful. You can take on anybody. It is not their city any more, it is your city.
You own this city by the right of your anger.’