Some stories are about people, some are about people living in a city, and some are about cities with people living in it. Most stories set up in Mumbai belong to the last category. The role played by Mumbai in the narrative is so powerful that it becomes an inseparable part of the story, one of the main characters, sometimes even more important than the main characters. Mumbai in these novels is not just a prop, it’s the hero (some times the villain), it is what defines these stories. Put Mumbai out of these, and these stories are dead.
My list of five such truly amazing novels on Mumbai:
As per Pat Conroy, “Gregory David Roberts does for Bombay what Lawrence Durrell did for Alexandria, what Melville did for the South Seas, and what Thoreau did for Walden Pond: He makes it an eternal player in the literature of the world.“
When Salman Rushdie calls a book “Mumbai’s slum understood and imagined as never before in language of intense beauty.” you do not need to say anything else. This is an awesome book. Period.
Beautifully captures the credo about living in Mumbai “Only a man must want something; for everyone who lives here knows that the islands will shake, and the mortar of the city will dissolve, and Bombay will turn again into seven small stones glistening in the Arabian Sea, if it ever forgets to ask the question: What do you want?“
Contains some of the best one liners about Mumbai. Sample these: “A city is only as thriving or sickly as your place in it. Each Bombayite inhabits his own Bombay.”; “Mumbai is a city in heat”; or “…the ethic of Bombay is quick upward mobility and a scam is a shortcut. A scam shows good business sense and a quick mind. Anyone can work hard and make money. What’s to admire about that? But a well-executed scam? Now, there’s a thing of beauty!”
This Booker prize nominated book is a brutal depiction of “the ugly Bombay – drug dens, prostitutes, etc.” See my review of Narcoplois here
Other notable mentions: