Mehta, Suketu 1963-
MEHTA, Suketu 1963-
CAREER: Journalist and writer. Has appeared on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
AWARDS, HONORS: Kiriyama prize and Pulitzer Prize finalist, 2005, both for Maximum City; Whiting Writers Award; O. Henry Prize; New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship.
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (nonfiction), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Articles and stories have appeared in numerous publications, including New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Granta, Harper's, Time, Condé Nast Traveler, and Village Voice. Cowriter of Mission Kashmir, a screenplay produced in Bollywood, India.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A screenplay titled The Goddess.
SIDELIGHTS: Suketu Mehta began his career writing fiction and later became a journalist. "I've always thought that my mission as a writer is to write about the human being struggling underneath the foot of history," he told Ayesha K. for Ego online. In Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Mehta turns his sight on the multitudes who live in Bombay, India, the largest city in the world in terms of population. It is also the city where the author lived until he was fourteen years old. "All life and death are on evidence in the broad Bombay street," Mehta said in his Ego online interview. "The extreme or the maximum of violence, the max of non-violence—from the Jains to the hitmen—the maximum of sex, the maximum of commerce." Mehta added that he "wanted to look at the urban experience through Bombay, and Bombay is representative of a whole group of these major cities around the world."
While researching Maximum City, Mehta and his family spent two years in Bombay while Mehta interviewed hundreds of people, from gangsters and policemen to successful Bollywood stars and the extremely poor, many of whom live without running water and often survided on the streets. The effort to describe the city and its people's lives leads the author into the darker sides of Bombay, where corruption and murder abound. In one section, the author follows the brutal policeman Ajay Lal as the man tracks down counterfeiters in almost complete secrecy, making sure that a corrupt official does not tip them off. He also discusses the Shiv Sena movement, which once led Bombay politics and was the origin of much corruption. In addition, Mehta delves into other aspects of Bombay, such as its various religions and continued class consciousness.
In a review of Maximum City in Cross Currents, Peter Heinegg noted that "the journeys he takes and the tours he guides us on are jaw-dropping." Heinegg called Mehta "a racy, sharp-eyed, sympathetic, and often funny writer. His book provides, not just a brilliant travelogue of a great and more than-slightly-scary city, but a penetrating cultural exploration by someone who is both a polymathic insider and a level-headed outsider." In a review of the same book for America, Heinegg commented: "There is, in fact, no corner of Bombay too scary or seedy or grungy for Mehta to explore: the dance bars, the brothels, the slums, the latrines." Adam Hochschild, writing in Harper's, noted that "sometimes, in savoring a book's unexpected power, I imagine how a lesser writer would have handled the material." "Maximum City—gritty and unsentimental, but by its breathtaking boldness and scope a paean to this impossible city—is Mehta's garland for Bombay," the critic added.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, May 9, 2005, Peter Heinegg, review of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, p. 19.
Cross Currents, spring, 2005, Peter Heinegg, review of Maximum City, p. 134.
Harper's, February, 2005, Adam Hochschild, review of Maximum City, p. 90.
Library Journal, January, 2005, review of Maximum City p. 56.
Ego Online, http://www.egothemag.com/ (June 8, 2005), Ayesha K., "Bombay, City of Extremes" (interview).
Suketu Mehta Home Page, http://www.suketumehta.com (June 8, 2005).