Tag Archive for 'Suketu Mehta'

Suketu Mehta in Brazil: “Then I saw the gun, going from my head to the cell phone”

In the New York Review of Books:

My Brazilian friend Marina and I were picking up a visiting friend from New York, who heads an NGO, in her hotel lobby near Paulista, the most prestigious avenue in São Paulo. It was 7:30 on a busy Friday night last October.

We walked up to a taxi outside the hotel. I sat in the front to let the two women chat in the back. Marina asked me to Google the restaurant menu. I was doing so when I saw a teenage boy run up to the taxi and gesticulate through my open window. I thought he was a beggar, asking for money. Then I saw the gun, going from my head to the cell phone.

“Just give him the phone,” Marina said from the back seat.

I gave him the phone. He didn’t go away.

“Dinheiro, dinheiro!”

I didn’t want to give him my wallet. The boy was shouting obscenities. “Dinheiro, dinheiro!”

The boy’s body suddenly jerked back, as a man’s arm around his neck pulled him off his feet. The man, dressed in a black shirt, was shouting; he had jumped the boy from behind. He started hitting the boy. The taxi driver sitting next to me was stoic. He said that this had never happened to him before, but he couldn’t have been more blasé.

The next thing I saw was the boy and another teenager, probably his accomplice, running away fast up the street. The man in the black shirt chased them a bit, then came back panting to the taxi. “Did the bastard get anything?” our savior, whom we later nicknamed Batman, asked. He wasn’t a plainclothes cop, as I’d originally thought; he was just an ordinary citizen who was tired of the criminals. More:

The Outsider

Suketu Mehta, journalism professor and Maximum City author, interviews Raj Rajaratnam in Newsweek. From The Daily Beast:

Raj Rajaratnam

It was 6 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2009, and Raj Rajaratnam, head of the Galleon Group hedge fund, was at home on his exercise bike looking out over Manhattan’s Turtle Bay, thinking about how many shirts he would have to pack for his trip to England that day. He was to go there to launch a $200 million fund to invest in the Sri Lankan stock market, in which he, the richest Sri Lankan on the planet, was the biggest single investor.

At 6:30 his doorbell rang. He answered it to find a number of policemen and men in suits outside. An FBI agent named B. J. Kang told him he was under arrest for insider trading. There were five other agents with him, come to collect Rajaratnam. They asked if he had a gun, if he had drugs on the property. For a moment he was afraid they would plant something.

As they led him away from his family, Rajaratnam says Kang told him, “Take a good look at your son. You’re not going to see him for a long time.” He added, for good effect, “Your wife doesn’t seem so upset. Because she’s going to spend all your money.”

The interrogation, at the FBI office in lower Manhattan, lasted eight hours. They put a laptop in front of him and pressed a button. He heard the voice of his wife picking up his home phone. “Hello?” Then they clicked on another button and his voice came on, on his cellphone, talking to his Wharton classmate and friend Anil Kumar, discussing business matters at McKinsey, where Kumar worked. On the same day, Kumar and another Wharton classmate, Rajiv Goel, were charged with insider trading.

Two FBI agents, wearing prominently displayed guns, played good cop, bad cop. They thumped tables, jumped up and down, told him, “Just say you did it to one count!” But the suspect—who chose not to call a lawyer—was uncooperative. “In my head I was saying, ‘You can’t intimidate me! I’m from Sri Lanka’?”—where prisoners have to deal with much worse. They wanted him to turn in other hedge-fund managers. They wanted him, especially, to wear a wire and tape his conversations with Rajat Gupta, the former CEO of McKinsey. Gupta, whom Rajaratnam refers to as a “first-class guy,” was the most respected Indian executive in the U.S. More:

The asylum seeker

Suketu Mehta in The New Yorker

The writer met Caroline one Friday evening in the cafeteria of the upscale Manhattan supermarket where she worked. She was a twenty-something African immigrant without papers who was living three lives: as Cecile Diop, a woman with papers who had been in the country for ten years; as Caroline the African rape and torture victim; and as herself, a middle-class young woman who wanted to make a life in America. (Names and other identifying details have been changed throughout.) Diop, a fellow expat from central Africa, had lent Caroline her Social Security number so that she could get the job. Caroline was expecting her first paycheck, which she would give to Cecile to cash. “Some of them take half,” Caroline said, about such arrangements between immigrants. Caroline had come to the U.S. the previous summer for a family wedding. When her parents left, she stayed, even after her tourist visa expired. Now she was working on a story—a four-page document that she would give to the lawyer she had hired, and to immigration officials—saying that she was beaten and raped more than once by government soldiers in her country. “I have never been raped,” she admitted. It’s not enough for asylum applicants to say that they were threatened, or even beaten. They have to furnish horror stories. More:

Around midday, from Mt Sinai

Thirty years after Salman Rushdie wrote Midnight’s Children, Anvar Alikhan re-examines the innards of a classic. In Outlook.

It’s now thirty years since Midnight’s Children was published. When Salman Rushdie first sent the manuscript to the publishers, the initial reaction was damning: “The author should concentrate on short stories”. Fortunately, they ultimately changed their minds and the book, of course, went to become the most celebrated of Booker Prize winners. Rushdie was a few years senior to me in Bombay’s Cathedral School and one place I often remember seeing him as a kid was at the Metro cinema: we were members of something called the Metro Cub Club, which screened film shows for kids on Saturday mornings. Many years later, reading Rushdie’s interview in The Paris Review, I discovered that he believes the turning point in his life as a writer was watching The Wizard of Oz at the Metro as an 11-year-old: he went straight home and wrote his first story, ‘Over the Rainbow’, about a little boy who’s walking down a Bombay footpath when he suddenly finds the beginning of a rainbow, with steps cut into it, which takes him up into a fairy-tale world in the sky. By some freak chance I, too, saw The Wizard of Oz at the Metro Cub Club, which means I must have been sitting just a few seats away while one of the world’s great literary epiphanies was being shaped. more

Fire in the belly

Suketu Mehta in Saveur [via 3quarksdaily]:

Image: Todd Coleman / SaveurOne night last summer, I made a chile-spiked chili for my family: my parents, my sons, my partner, and her parents. We are all Indian, but while some of us have been steeped in chiles since our births in India, others—like my Chicago-born partner and my Manhattan-born, 15-year-old son—approach the genus capsicum with trepidation. Still others just have a God-given affinity for heat. My 12-year-old son, for example, also a native New Yorker, has been enjoying chiles with his breakfast cereal since infancy. It makes me realize that the world is divided not between rich and poor, or male and female, or East and West, but between those who like spicy food and those who do not.

This was an important meal, the first time I was meeting my partner’s parents. Her father likes his food spicy, her mother, less so. I decided to make two versions of the chili: hot and hotter. I prepared it carefully, soaking the beans overnight, chopping the onions and garlic, roasting and grinding the spices. I laid the table with soft linen and fresh lilies and bathed it all in candlelight, to lull everyone into a false sense of security, as if they were going to get something European, flavored with nothing stronger than tarragon. It was a warm evening in Manhattan, and I left the windows open to the breeze from the Hudson River.

When the two pots of chili appeared on the table, my younger son smiled, my older son groaned.

“They’re very spicy, be careful,” my parents warned my partner’s parents.

“How spicy can they be?” my partner’s father scoffed.

Forewarned, my guests commenced to eat. They began with a taste of the lower-voltage version and then, unable to help themselves, switched to the maximum version. Shouting ensued. Then they took some more and started getting all ruddy and sweaty, laughing excessively and speaking louder than necessary—until they went all quiet and sat back in their chairs, lost in some private reverie, going back to a time of contentment, before the beginning of tragedy, beyond the imagining of loss. A preternatural calm overtook them as the pain-fighting endorphins kicked in, and they lay on the sofa blissed out in an entirely legal high. More:

A cloud still hangs over Bhopal

Suketu Mehta, a journalism professor at New York University, and the author of “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.” in the New York Times:

bhopalIN the Mumbai kindergarten my son went to, the children never had to clean up after themselves; that was the servants’ job. So I really liked the school my son attended when we moved back to Brooklyn, where the teachers made the children tidy up at the end of the day. “Cleanup time, cleanup time!” my 6-year-old sang, joyfully gathering his scraps. It’s a wonderful American tradition: you always clean up the mess you made.

This is the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster, an epic mess that started one night when a pesticide plant owned by the American chemical giant Union Carbide leaked a cloud of poisonous gas. Before the sun rose, almost 4,000 human beings capable of love and anguish sank to their knees and did not get up. Half a million more fell ill, many with severely damaged lungs and eyes. More:

Golden age of Indian writing

Writers are finding inspiration in the furiously evolving societies and encouragement in a buoyant book market, writes Andrew Buncombe in The Independent

Colin Thubron, Vikram Seth, William Dalrymple and Pico Iyer at the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2009
Colin Thubron, Vikram Seth, William Dalrymple and Pico Iyer at the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2009

There was a time, not so long ago, when a visit to a Delhi bookshop to browse its section of Indian literature would be a somewhat depressing experience. There would a handful of stellar stand-out names, of course; Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and one or two others. But the collection would be a half-hearted affair, seemingly there more out of duty than joy, and usually it would be hidden away at the back of the shop. ”Now, that has all completely changed,” laughs V K Karthika, publisher and chief editor of HarperCollins India. “Now those books are at the front of the shop. What’s more, they’re actually the books you want to read, rather than the books you read because you feel you should.” more

Suketu Mehta: The terrorists attacked my city because of its wealth

Suketu Mehta is author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found and a professor of journalism at New York University. From the Guardian:

suketu_mehtaThe first time I went to the Taj in Bombay, it was on a date, but not my own. I was 12, and the third wheel between my uncle and his fiancee; I had to be taken along for propriety’s sake.

We sat in the Sea Lounge, overlooking the harbour, amid the Parsi matrons arranging marriages and the British bankers drinking gin with American aid officials. My uncle had brought my future aunt here because he wanted to impress her with the hotel’s opulence, and I had the most expensive bhelpuri of my life. The Taj is to Bombay what the Empire State Building is to New York: it is what you see on a postcard of the city, a building that does not need to be further identified. It is, simply, “Bombay”.

People who are seeking position or money in Bombay often use this one hotel, this one citadel of empire, as a mark or measure of their progress upward through the strata of Bombay.


Tycoon described hotel drama before his death

From the Guardian:

A British tycoon killed in the attacks on Mumbai had gone to the Taj Mahal hotel for dinner because he heard they served the best food in the city.

Andreas Liveras, 73, whose fortune is estimated at £315m, owned Liveras Yachts, which charters “superyachts” and boasts of offering “the finest luxury yachts afloat”.

The businessman, who was in Mumbai for a boat show, had just sat down when he and his party heard machine gun fire in the corridor.

Liveras described the chaos at the hotel to a journalist shortly before he died. He told the BBC: “We hid ourselves under the table and then they switched all the lights off. But the machine guns kept going, and they took us into the kitchen, and from there into a basement, before we came up into a salon where we are now.