Maximum Cities

In the past few years, "city biographies" have appeared at regular intervals, sometimes even making it to the bestseller lists. By now this seems to be a distinct genre, within travel writing or within sociology, and the cities that have been biographied are a select group: Mumbai, Bangalore, Lucknow, and now Delhi, among others, have their stories told and retold.

Suketu Mehta's Maximum City: Bombay lost and found was among the first that I became aware of as a city biography (well... there was Diana Eck's Banaras, City of Light earlier). MC has been described as "a stunning, brilliantly illuminating portrait of the megalopolis and its people—a book, seven years in the making, that is as vast, as diverse, as rich in experience, incident and sensation as the city itself."

In contrast, Janaki Nair's The Promise of the Metropolis : Bangalore's Twentieth Century is a more scholarly book of course, more sociology than biography, but still a city's tale, and urban history where she "analyses how the city has been shaped by ideologies and principles of planning, instrumentalities of the law, and by the mobilization of 'City Beautiful' aesthetics. She also discusses the unanticipated uses of space that fashion a city quite different from the one envisaged by planners and technocrats revealing ways in which citizenship and democracy are being reconceptualized."

In a different category is Veena Talwar Oldenburg's collection Shaam-e-Awadh: Writings on Lucknow that fleshes out that city, both its older form, and the new more modern one, in a collection of essays that "celebrates the unique character of this city of carnivals and calamities". There will always be time for that last game of chess....

And Delhi. Ah, Delhi! Ranjana Sengupta's Delhi Metropolitan is a very recent offering from Penguin. But what's the subtitle about, the making of an unlikely city? Other than Jericho, there haven't been many cities (imperial or otherwise) with that much longer uninterrupted histories. At any rate, the book is a welcome addition, and documents the evolution of the city in modern times, even if it is a bit patronizing ("this largely unloved city deserves to be loved. Delhi is home to the most diverse population of any city in the country. The unceasing influx of migrants has unleashed new urban architectures of opulence and deprivation.")

We love the city, and its a city well worth loving. The book (and the others listed here ) are available on our site. Listed in the General and other sections. We shan't start a CB category....