These Mumbai-Inspired Novels Are The Perfect Monsoon Read

These Mumbai-Inspired Novels Are The Perfect Monsoon Read
Aamil Syed

“More dreams are realized and extinguished in Bombay than any other place in the world.”

Even as it breeds chaos, grey city skies breeds inspiration. Inspiration often derived from the core of the chaotic. Bombay to some, Mumbai to others, everyone has their own names for the city that never sleeps and like so many other metropolises around the world, the keep-on-keepin’-on attitude of the city has only added to its many layers of complex charisma. And yet, it’s never been just about the city scape. Ask any of the writers we’ve featured in this article, and they’d probably be the first to tell you that it’s all about the lives that litter every street corner that conceals crowds.
So here we are, in the middle of another Bombay monsoon. The perfect time to call in sick, curl up on your windowsill with a cup of chai and a book to remind you exactly why the magic of this city is so impossible to wash away. Even if your internet provider blames the rain gods for your inability to meet deadlines.

Here are 12 of our favourite novels, inspired by Bombay.

I. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Author: Suketu Mehta

Published in 2004, Suketu Mehta’s book captures the essence of the city using a delightful concoction of memoirs, travels and politics. It ploughs deep and uncovers the various unspoken truths of the politics of Mumbai, while also touching upon some of the more sensitive issues of the 1993 Bombay riots. The book was shortlisted as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and also went to win numerous awards, including the Kiriyama prize.

Best buy here. 

Source: Good Reads

Words We Loved:

“A city like Bombay, like New York, that is a recent creation on the planet and does not have a substantial indigenous population, is full of restless people. Those who have come here have not been at ease somewhere else. And unlike others who may have been equally uncomfortable wherever they came from, these people got up and moved. As I have discovered, having once moved, it is difficult to stop moving.”

II. Lost Flamingoes of Bombay

Author: Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi

Characterised by its incredibly florid language, Sanghvi’s book revolves around the lives of four main characters: A photographer, a pianist, a Bollywood queen and a cheating wife. Set in Mumbai, an unexpected tragedy strikes which changes the lives of all the four people involved forever. The book is said to be loosely based on the Jessica Lal murder case, and aims to capture the vindictive nature of one-sided love and the redemptive powers of friendship.

Best buy here. 

Source: Good Reads

Words We Loved:

“Corruption in India is endemic. It is not the pollutant in the air. It is the air.”

III. The Moor’s last Sigh

Author: Salman Rushdie

What can be said about Rushdie that hasn’t been said already? The author’s fifth novel (a rather mellowed down, less controversial one this time around) sprawls over four generations of a family that captures Mumbai through the eyes of Moraes, whose body ages twice as fast as a normal person. Although it might seem poignant, the book actually does a good job of making you laugh, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 1996.

Best buy here. 

Words We Loved:

“I, however, was raised neither as Catholic nor as Jew. I was both, and nothing: a jewholic-anonymous, a cathjew nut, a stewpot, a mongrel cur. I was – what’s the word these days? – atomised. Yessir: a real Bombay mix. ”

IV. Shantaram

Author: Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram is a very special book – not just because it changed the literary landscape in the country significantly, but also because it portrays Mumbai through the eyes of a foreigner who falls in love with the city. Loosely based on the author’s own life and experiences in Mumbai, the book is based on Lindsay, an Australian fugitive who broke out of prison and escaped to India in search of a new life.  He finds what he seeks in the streets of Mumbai, and eventually gets involved neck-deep in the underworld, forging new relationships (and passports) along the way. Apart from the riveting narrative, the tone also fosters various references and describes actual places in Mumbai, some of which actually gained international fame because of the book.

Best buy here. 

Source: The Travelling Squid

Words We Loved:

“The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air. I could smell it before I saw or heard anything of India, even as I walked along the umbilical corridor that connected the plane to the airport. I was excited and delighted by it, in that first Bombay minute, escaped from prison and new to the wide world, but I didn’t and couldn’t recognise it. I know now that it’s the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it’s the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It’s the smell of gods, demons, empires, and civilisations in resurrection and decay. It’s the blue-skin smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the Island City, and the blood-metal smell of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of 60 million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of the crucial failures and loves that produce our courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches, and mosques, and of a hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers. Karla called it the worst good smell in the world, and she was right, of course, in that way she had of being right about things. But when I return to Bombay now, it’s my first sense of the city - that smell, above all things- that welcomes me and tells me I’ve come home.”

V. Family Matters

Author: Rohinton Mistry

The story of a middle-class Parsi family is the backdrop for Rohinton’s Mistry’s third novel, which is one to cherish. The book talks in detail about the average Parsi’s life in Mumbai – the details about their practices and beliefs (especially) offer great insights into one of the smaller communities of our city, who seem to live more guarded lives. The book also speaks about an average middle-class family’s struggles, and how things change for the worse when the protagonist cannot resist the allure of greed and money anymore.

Best buy here. 

Words We Loved:

“Black money is so much a part of our white economy, a tumour in the centre of the brain - try to remove it and you kill the patient.”

VI. Love and Longing in Bombay

Author: Vikram Chandra

Love and Longing in Bombay is based on five cleverly linked short stories, all of which are based in Mumbai. Building on the credentials earned by his award winning novel “Red Earth and Pouring Rain”, the book lives up to the high standards, and the stories, albeit haunting, are ingenious in their own way. The critically-acclaimed book also won the Eurasia Region Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Best buy here. 

Words We Loved:

“So now that began to develop into a full-fledged shouting match of its own, and all in all it was soon a full-scale old-style Bombay Tamasha, with people watching from every balcony and window in every building, up and down the road, laughing and giving advice and yelling at each other.”

VII. Midnight’s Children

Author: Salman Rushdie

Rushdie’s second book to feature on the list, Midnight’s Children is a critically acclaimed slice of literary genius. Set in postcolonial India, the book actually has more characters than one can possibly list down. It describes the transition from British rule to Independent India based on both fabricated and historically accurate facts. Magic realism is another subject the book covers, as the protagonist (and any kid born at the stroke of midnight on 15th of August, 1947) has telepathic powers. Midnight’s Children, which was showered with accolades, most notably the Booker Prize followed by the Bookers of Booker Prize a few years later, is a must have on every readers shelf, monsoon or no monsoon.

Best buy here. 

Source: RNIB

Words We Loved:

“India, the new myth – a collective fiction in which anything was possible, a fable rivalled only by the two other mighty fantasies: money and God.”

VIII. Breathless in Bombay

Author: Murzban F. Shroff

This 306-page-long novel features 14 short stories – all of which have a common backdrop, that is, Mumbai. From “Dhobi Ghat” to Massagewala at Juhu Chowpaty; from the problems of a live-in relationship to the laundrywalas water shortage problems, Shroff covers every aspect, every speck of this beautiful city. This brilliant collection was shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
Best buy here. 

Words We Loved:

“She quickened her pace and came to the horizon, which shimmered before her like some precious ore melted down. It shimmered and stretched like it was waiting to be minted into something rare, something beautiful for the twenty million residents of the city. The traffic lined the drive bumper to bumper. Over the roofs of the cars she could see the seawall; it was dotted with people who sat looking outward. The people sat and they dreamt. And the sky loomed over them, a giant tent, bright and dark in patches.”

VIII. The City of Devi

Author: Manil Suri

Manil Suri’s City of Devi, his third book, is based in the time when Mumbai is threatened by nuclear annihilation. As the streets get thronged by gangs of Muslim and Hindu thugs, the story focuses on the lives of two people: A woman desperately in search of her missing husband and a cocky, handsome Muslim guy who is gay. Funny and unabashed, the book offers a terrifying glimpse of the potential future of Bombay – if an apocalypse is to strike is in the near future, that is. Although not mentioned on the list, Suri’s other novel, The Death of Vishnu, is a masterpiece in itself as well.

Best buy here. 

Words We Loved:

“See those people holding hands?” he asked at the candlelight vigil outside the still-smoking Taj Hotel. “They’re neither Hindus nor Muslims, but citizens of Bombay first.”

IX. Sacred Games

Author: Vikram Chandra

A detective thriller, Chandra’s novel highlights the fine threads conjoining politics and organised crime in the city of Mumbai. The book portrays life on the streets as well as any Mumbaikar could have imagined, and proceeds to delve into a tale which encompasses everything – money, blackmail, espionage, politics and even nuclear terrorism. If you’re looking for something ‘unputdownable,’ you can stop looking now.

Best buy here. 

Words We Loved:

“And there were boys and girls who had come from dusty villages and now looked down at you from the hoardings, beautiful and unreal. It could happen. It did happen, and that’s why people kept trying. It did happen. That was the dream, the big dream of Bombay.”

X. Em and the Big Hoom

Author: Jerry Pinto

This one is a prime example of the famed saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Although it may seem like a kids’ novel, it is anything but. This psychological drama is based on the life of a family that dwells in a small one BHK flat in Mahim. Em is the mother, who frequently visits the hospital due to failed suicide attempts, and the Big Hoom is the father, who works tirelessly to keep the family together. Jerry Pinto is known for his poetry, but he can spin a mean tale if he wants to, as this beautifully written book, filled with poignant moments just lightly dressed with humour showcase a finesse few writers ever mature into. Perfect for a quicker read too.

Best buy here. 

Words We Loved:

“In this city, every deserted street corner conceals a crowd. It appears in a minute when something disrupts the way in which the world is supposed to work. It can disappear almost as instantaneously.”

 XI. Narcopolis

Author: Jeet Thayil

Jeet Thayil’s first fictional novel, Narcopolis, is based on his own experiences as a drug addict, something he calls, “The 20 lost years of my life.” Set in the ‘70s, the book has a multitude of characters – Dimple the eunuch and Rashid, the drug lord, all of whom bring with them their own stories, stories which make up this city in all its glory. The book, which Thayil took five years to write, was shortlisted for the 2012 Booker Man Prize.

Best buy here. 

Source: Good Reads

Words We Loved:

“I found Bombay and opium, the drug and the city, the city of opium and the drug Bombay.”

[Author’s Note: This list might not be perfect, but it aims to cover some of the better books set in this wonderful city we live in. So please do not be incensed if a book that you love failed to make the cut while one you dislike made the list. Remember, there’s always someone out there who feels otherwise. However, if you feel that there is a book that really deserves to be mentioned, make sure you leave a comment below and inform our readers about it. Thank you!]

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