How do the Mumbai police interrogate criminals

"Bombay Maximum City"

Nowhere can the forces of the concentrated mass be better studied than in the island city on the Arabian Sea, and no one seems more dedicated than a local and at the same time a stranger like Suketu Mehta. The now 43-year-old left the city as a teenager, lived in various major western cities and finally returned to Bombay with his family. What he found was like limbo:

"The city is hostile to outsiders and nostalgically dreamy returnees. We can use our dollars to gain entry, but even if the city gives in, it resents us for having forced them to. The city groans under the weight of four hundred people She doesn't want me any more than she wants the poor migrants from Bihar, but she can't kick any of us out. So she makes our life difficult with a kind of guerrilla warfare, with constant pinpricks, with creating small crises every day. All these annoyances swell within us to a murderous rage. "

Suketu Mehta held up a mirror in front of the city, which in the 22 years of his absence has changed its face beyond recognition and yet has saved many memories, and has written a comprehensive city portrait. The form of the mixture of personal report, reportage and essayistic analysis is reminiscent of traditional travel panoramas, in which subjective experience is combined with the interests of the sociologist to create an overall impression that is as captivating as it is instructive. After the returnees and his family have threaded their way into everyday life, however, it quickly becomes clear that Mehta is approaching the city through its extremes: crime and the police, the sex business and the film world. Armed with a laptop and backpack, he penetrates these clandestine milieus and moves their protagonists, big and small, to speak with as much sensitivity as audacity:

"I have a simple method of getting the guys from the gangs to tell their stories: I'll process their lives in feature films. It's not a lie; I'm in contact with directors who want to make films about the underworld with me. It it's up to me to get the stories. But can an outlaw's life be elevated to art? "

Mehta accompanies his interlocutors as a participating observer, as a customer and colleague, friend and prospect, and works his way up to the great men in the background, be it Bel Thackeray, the leader of the fascist Hindu party Shiv Sena, be it the bosses of the great Hindu and Muslim mafia gangs, the lower classes of whom speak impartially of their numerous murders. He befriends a diva of the red light district and meets the celebrated dancer Honey, who is a married man in private life. He follows the rise of a slum dweller and experiences the transformation of a Jain diamond dealer into a wandering beggar. He works with Hindi film directors and is acquainted with the police officer Ajay, who became an investigator after the devastating bombings of 1993. Mehta himself witnesses how suspects are humiliated and mistreated.

"What should I think of Ajay? He's a brutal interrogation specialist; I've seen that myself. But Ajay has also become a friend of mine. It remains unclear how far he goes in torturing people. One could calm down that he was only beats men he knows are criminals and that he only beats them with a leather thong or has his people give them electric shocks - that is, inflicting pain on them that will not permanently harm them. It is evident that Ajay doesn't enjoy the torture that is part of his job. I've never seen him hit anyone, he just ordered others to strike. "

Although the research clearly shows that Bombay's police hardly operate any differently than the murderous gangs who pursue them, such passages show that the author's sympathy for his characters hinders critical faculties. He is also caught in some vanity when he boasts of his closeness to Bollywood or the city's noble barmaids; in addition, one often wanted a less redundant representation. What is most impressive about this impressive book are the reports from "normal" everyday life, which for local terms is more extreme than the expected exoticism of the extremes themselves. It is this normality that drives the writer back to the USA after two and a half years - even if he is the farewell agrees:

"How can you get back to New York after all of this?" the actresses, accountants, whores and hit men ask me. "New York will bore you."

Suketu Mehta: Bombay Maximum City.
Translated from the English by Anne Emmert, Heike Schlatterer and Hans Freundl. Suhrkamp Verlag 2006, 782 pp.