Hell and heaven

Blogging’s been low for the best of all reasons: the Babu’s been working like all seven of the dwarves rolled into one as he sings the Hi Ho song, and he’s been reading Really Good Stuff.

Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City derailed his work schedule for the week; at roughly 600 pages, it’s apparently a third of the original manuscript. If this is true, someone give me the first draft; even emasculated, Maximum City rocks. This Village Voice review offers a glimpse:

“In Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Mehta, a New York–based writer and journalist, digs deep into the bursting metropolis’s many layers, wading mucker-like through its netherworld… He drinks cognac with Sunil, a Shiv Sena member who boasts of killing Muslims in the riots, then does business with the surviving ones; and he gains the trust of Satish and Mohsin, rival Hindu and Muslim “shooters,” remorseless hit men steeped in religious zeal and patriotic fervor. He becomes confidant to Monalisa, a “ladies bar” nautch girl who dances for gangsters and businessmen who literally shower her with money as she writhes seductively on the dancefloor. He bonds with Ajay Lal, a senior police officer celebrated as much for his unwavering honesty as his ruthlessness in interrogating suspects (torture is routine), and eats sweetmeats with Inspector Vijay Salaskar, Bombay’s most celebrated specialist in “encounter” killings, where gangsters are bumped off in setups—the police department’s casual circumvention of an inept judiciary. He communes with fellow Gujarati Sevantibhai Ladhani, a multimillionaire diamond merchant who resolves to take diksha, the renunciation of all material things, weaning himself and his family from the trappings of wealth, culminating in a lavish ceremony of hurling cold currency toward the frantic grasps of eager villagers before finally embarking—nearly bald, barely covered, with strange new names—on their monastic paths to salvation.”

There’s an excerpt here and another bit here.

Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers was a revelation in a completely different way: very stylised, almost baroque, but I love the manner in which he transfers subcontinental opulence to the terrain of England, with Dasht-e-Tanhaii bringing moths and peacocks into the land of legendarily bad weather. “Among the innumerable other losses, to come to England was to lose a season, because, in the part of Pakistan that he is from, there are five seasons in a year, not four, the schoolchildren learning their names and sequence through classroom chants: Mausam-e-Sarma, Bahar, Mausam-e-Garma, Barsat, Khizan. Winter, Spring, Summer, Monsoon, Autumn.”

The book’s about a honour killing and it’s a fierce questioning of a faith Aslam no longer believes is his own. But my eye keeps skittering away from the main story, caught by details like this one:

“Around her wrist there is a gold bracelet composed as though of a series of semicolons–”


Yup, I thought, I know those; my mother wears one round her wrist.

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