In the city of second chances

Jaipur, Jan 28
He came to the city when he was 14. No, he hasnt been writing the book for 10 years because he is constantly fascinated by it. "But because its personal." New York, in all its avatars is open, thrives on migrants -- two out of three people are either migrants or their children. Of course diversity is important for business, for money, he smiles.

But there is another reason why Suketu Mehta's next book, centred on the cosmopolitan is called 'City of Second Chance'. "That place allows you to reinvent yourself, gives you a second chance. The structure of this book is close to 'Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found', my ode to Bombay. In this one too, I have observed, and spoken to a wide spectrum of people, and watched their lives from close-up."

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Admitting that a large number of books have been written on the city, Mehta, who is an Associate Professor of Journalism at New York University smiles, "And that too by some of the finest writers in the world. So, yes, it is challenging."

Mehta doesn't know when the book will be out. He laughs that he is a slow writer, and that he started with 'This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto' in between.

But maybe it's to do with the fact that every book has its own destiny, divorced from the author.

Talk to him about the fact how a successful novel like 'Maximum City' can become synonymous with the author, raising not just expectations but also that he should write something on similar lines, and he asserts, "I am really glad that Maximum City did exceedingly well, but my latest one 'This Land Is Our Land' has been on the bestseller charts as well. To answer your question, I feel I have many other books left inside me," he tells IANS.

Stressing that in trying political and social times, writers and journalists do not have a choice but to speak up, Mehta quotes the Nobel Prize winning writer and journalist Jaroslav Seifert --- 'If an ordinary person is silent, it may be a tactical manoeuvre. If a writer is silent, he is lying.' He adds, "The only way we can counter the massive propaganda and brilliant story telling techniques by right-wing governments across the world is by jumping in the field and using our training. The only weapon we have is the truth and power to tell a story. Of course, we pay the price too --- getting attacked by the press etc."

In Jaipur to speak at the Jaipur Literature Festival, he stressed that that even in face of lack of a strong opposition, people must do everything in their power to ensure that a fair leader comes to power. The Whiting Award and Kiriyama Prize winning author elaborates, "Why not find someone you believe in and help him? Why be scared of getting your hands dirty?"

Stressing that expats including Indians tend to support nationalist government back home, the author says, "Well, the Jews in America are more Zionist than people residing in Israel. Guilt of not being there plays a big role. Therefore, such immigrants monetarily support nationalist parties in their motherlands."

As the conversation veers towards his latest book �This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto', the author says that post Trump's win in the US, immigrants were painted as robbers and parasites, coming to take away from the natives. "Economic crisis leads to aggression. The recession had robbed Americans. Trump directed the anger away from the elite towards immigrants."

Insisting that the west had never respected borders, he elaborates, "Through colonialism, war and climate change they stole the future of our children, and now so vehemently oppose migrants."

Clarifying that he was not calling for open borders but open hearts, the writer says that migration is natural and it is important to understand that those crossing borders are not criminals but ordinary heroes.

(Sukant Deepak can be reached at sukant.d@ians.in)