Suketu "Maximum City" Mehta on the Mumbai attacks

Suketu Mehta, author of the Pulitzer-nominated "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found" has a wracked and impassioned op-ed in today's New York Times about the Mumbai attacks. Mehta says that the terrorists want to kill the golden dream of Mumbai, and pledges himself to improving the city and its injustices, calling on all of us to renew our commitment to one of the largest, most beautiful, most maddening cities in the world.

I spent some time in Mumbai in September, and met some of the warmest, cleverest, most driven people I've ever encountered, from the slums of Dharavi to the IT parks to the Bollywood studios, it was a bottomless well of ambitious strivers who loved their city and worked and played around the clock. The poverty was crushing, the bravery inspiring, the city beautiful and terrible at once. Like most foreigners who visit the city, I stayed in the tourist quarter in Colaba, where many of the attacks occurred -- I had dinner at Leopold's, tea at the Taj, tried to get a train at VT.

I hope that all my Mumbai friends are safe and sound. I've been avidly reading the traffic on one of the Indian mailing-lists I lurk on, watching as the Mumbai residents check in, trade stories, give thanks for being alive and, like Mehta, pledge to answer the problems of their city with love instead of hate.

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.

And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every religion thunder against. It is, as a monk of the pacifist Jain religion explained to me, “paap-ni-bhoomi”: the sinful land...

But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.

What They Hate About Mumbai (via Jon Taplin)



  1. Ironically this whole incident has made me more keen than ever to travel to Mumbai – it really sounds like an amazing place.

    That “war nerd” blog is a good read, too, Dimmer.

    I guess by “another point of view” you’re not suggesting that exiledonline’s and Mehta’s opinions and interpretations have anything to do with each other?

  2. Vijay Salaskar, the “encounter specialist” policeman that was such an important part of Mehta’s Maximum City was killed in the attacks, apparently at the Metro Cinema.

  3. Imagine if that had been the US response to 9/11…

    Fingers crossed that love prevails in India and the US keeps their hate/war-mongering hands to themselves.

  4. Velocity Girl, as Mehta points out in his essay, the US hardly has a patent on hate mongering.


    I really like Mehta’s final exhortation – run towards the explosion.

  5. I guess by “another point of view” you’re not suggesting that exiledonline’s and Mehta’s opinions and interpretations have anything to do with each other?

    It was just a quick turn of phrase I decided to use to introduce the piece, and of course to make clear that this isn’t my personal point of view.

  6. I would be REAL careful about pushing Maximum City. It’s nearly sensationalism. I wouldn’t say it provides a well-rounded view of India. A book like this could easily be written about any nation–including this one.

Comments are closed.