Suketu Mehta

Author, "Maximum City"

42 minutes, 19.7mb, recorded 2005-10-21
Suketu Mehta
Suketu Mehta tells us that his home town of Bombay and other mega-cities foreshadow the future. Bombay is growing by 1 million people per year and will soon have more residents than the continent of Australia. The first and third worlds are contiguous within Bombay. Very rich and middle class people live next to the world's densest slums - with up to a million people per square mile. Two thirds of the people occupy five percent of the city area. The UN forecasts that 60% of the world population will live in cities by 2030 and 2 billion people will be living in slums.

Bombay's overpopulation is due to the impoverishment of the countryside. Young men with dreams of rich or middle class lives, fueled by Bollywood movies, take trains to Bombay and live on the sidewalk. Mehta feels fixing the problems of rural villages would fix the cities. Nobody starves to death in Bombay, but they do in rural India. The cities are beacons of hope and escape from agricultural drudgery.

Mehta sees hope as well. Democracy is working. Unlike the US, the poor organize, vote and drive change in India. As a result, unorganized shanty housing eventually becomes urban "villages" with water and electricity. In half a century, power has transferred from the British to the Indian elite and now increasingly to the poor. India elected an untouchable president in 1997. Mehta also sees hope in the culture. On July 27th, a record 37 inches of rain fell on Bombay. Hundreds of people drowned and there were no municipal services, but there was no widespread breakdown of civic order. The crime rate did not go up as it did in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. People stopped looking to the local government for help long ago - they help each other. IT may also play a role - for example, computerized land records have been helpful to rural farmers.

This talk was from the People, Place and Planet session at Pop!Tech. The other speaker in this session was Mark Lynas. The question and answer period for both talks is included in this program.

Suketu Mehta is a fiction writer and journalist based in New York. His first book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found won the Kiriyama Prize, and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. He has won the Whiting Writers Award, the O. Henry Prize, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for his fiction.

Suketu's work has been published in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Granta, Harper's magazine, Time, Condé Nast Traveler, and The Village Voice, and has been featured on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

Suketu was born in Calcutta and raised in Bombay and New York. He is a graduate of New York University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.


This free podcast is from our Pop!Tech series.