The Psychology of Violence.

Am reading Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City at the moment, and a 100 pages in, it is a fascinating read. Will write in detail when I’m done with the book, but one passage in particular reminded me of riots in Karachi.

On the Shiv Sena attacking the BCCI office in Bombay:

“The vandals are young men, who, after working twelve-hour days as peons in some office where they endure humiliation and even a slap or two from men who are richer and less Maharashtrian than they are, take the train home. Inside the train, they bathe in perspiration; the air is fetid with sweat and farts. When they get home to the slum, their mothers and their fathers and their grandmothers will ask them what income they have brought home. Such a man lives with a constant sense of his own powerlessness, except when he is part of a mob, part of a contingent of seventy patriots fighting for the country’s honor, walking unmolested into movie theaters, posh apartments, and the offices of the cricket lords of the country, smashing trophies, beating up important people who drive fine cars. All the accumulated insults, rebukes and disappointments of life in a decaying megalopolis come out in a cathartic release of anger. It’s okay to be angry in a crowd; the crowd feeds on your anger, digests it, nourishes your rage as your rage nourishes it. All of a sudden you feel powerful. You can take on anybody. It is not their city anymore, it is your city.
You own this city by right of your anger. “

8 comments
  1. Butterscotch said:

    Social circumstances have a key role in defining your personality. Our youth too suffers from oppression, lack of education, and no work opportunities hence vulnerable and easily exploitable effectively targeted by intelligent radicals.
    What I am curios to find out is how significant is religion in brainwashing a socially deprived human
    When they are a part of angry mob keen on destroying everything immoral around them, is it just the sense of social empowerment or somewhere deep down religion too comes into their mental equation
    Amitabh’s angry young man persona can be quoted as perfect example. Loved by masses especially the lower class, it provided them a sense of joy. Powerless, helpless, suppressed in every possible sense, seeing their idol adopting violent methods bashing the corrupt powerful, something they could only accomplish in their dreams and absolutely loved Big B doing it for them
    Shiv Sena is masterful with such exploitation methods

  2. ali said:

    I’ve read the book- and rather like it, although it HAS been criticized for being novel-esque and one dimensional. But it’s a good read. The third part of the book was rather interesting, you should follow it up with Aravind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’ or Shashi Tharoor’s ‘Riot’. Gives the books a whole new dimension after you read maximum city. You should google vidhu vinod chopra’s opinions of the author btw. Fun. :-p

  3. Tehseen said:

    It is a great book. I couldn’t help but contrast mumbai to karachi again and again. Same problems, same structure, same kind of people.

    His details about the Dawood and Rajan gangs seem a little exaggerated but nevertheless it is a great read.

  4. crosspak said:

    This is my favorite part of the book:

    If you are late for work in the morning in Bombay, and you reach the station just as the train is leaving the platform, you can run up to the packed compartments and you will find many hands stretching out to grab you on board, unfolding outwards from the train like petals. As you run alongside the train, you will be picked up and some tiny space will be made for your feet on the edge of the compartment. The rest is up to you; you will probably have to hang on with your fingertips on the door frame, being careful not to lean out too far lest you get decapitated by a pole placed too close to the tracks. But consider what has happened: your fellow-passengers, already packed tighter than cattle are legally allowed to be, their shirts already drenched in sweat in the badly ventilated compartment, having stood like this for hours, retain an empathy for you, know that your boss might yell at you or cut your pay if you miss this train, and will make space where none exists to take one more person with them. And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching for theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or untouchable, or whether you were born in this city or arrived only this morning, or whether you live in Malabar Hill or Jogeshwari, whether you’re from Bombay or Mumbai or New York. All they know is that you’re trying to get to work in the city of gold, and that’s enough. Come on board, they say. We’ll adjust.

  5. Sorry for the late reply to the comments, here goes:

    Butterscotch: religion is just a smokescreen, most political parties, or at least in our part of the world, do use factors such as poverty, unemployment etc to brainwash, if one can use that term, the youth.

    ali: ha, vidhu vinod was NOT happy to say the least.

    tehseen: perhaps, but i really enjoyed it all, wish he’d write a sequel of some sort too.

    crosspak: that was one of my favourite bits too. someone should really emulate his reportage style and write a book about karachi!

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