Slumdog Millionaire and India’s “Maximum City”

Slumdog Amitava Kumar in Daily Beast:

In the warren-like rooms that line the narrow, winding alleys of the Madanpura neighborhood of Mumbai, neat rows of bare-chested men sit cross-legged on the ground, sewing leather suitcases, or hammering soles into ladies shoes, or making tiny toys that will be sold by children on the city’s streets.

On the opposite side of the alley, sparks leap out of a lathe machine as a young man wearing protective goggles sharpens metal. It is late evening, and the entire area is a hive of activity. The heat is more unbearable than the smell of raw sewage.

Dense entrails of electrical wires hang in my path. A radio broadcasts cricket commentary, and behind a blue curtain a group of young men, clad only in loin clothes, stare glassily at a TV broadcasting the porn movie “Queen of the Himalayas.”

On the pavement outside, a man is a selling pirated copies of English pulp fiction and a cheap, Hindi translation of the Starr Report with a bodice-ripper illustration entitled “America’s President Bill Clinton and Monica’s Sexual Relationship.”

I have come to this neighborhood to meet Suketu Mehta, author of Mumbai, Maximum City. Mehta’s book, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for non-fiction in 2005, vividly describes a city teeming with slum-dwellers, cops, activists, actors, bar-girls, prostitutes, and mafia dons—a city in heat that is seething with energy.