Thursday, August 01, 2013

Suketu Mehta in Brazil

I've been a fan of Suketu Mehta since his earlier book Maximum City, about Bombay. Apparently he's now working on something about Brazil.
NYBooks: ... 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!”

... The cities of Brazil are some of the most violent places in the world today. More people are murdered in Brazil than in almost any other country. In 2010, there were 40,974 murders there—21 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), compared to the global rate of 6.9. The highest number of murders was in India, at 41,726. But India has a population six times bigger than Brazil’s, so its murder rate is only 3.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. (Italy, by comparison, had 529 murders that year, at a rate of 0.9.) Four Brazilian cities had a murder rate of over 100 per 100,000 residents. Between 5 percent to 8 percent of Brazilian homicides are solved—as compared to 65 percent of US murders and 90 percent of British murders. Most of the victims are male and poor, between fifteen and just shy of thirty. The homicide rate has shaved seven years off the life expectancy in the Rio favelas (slums).

... One night in Rio, Walter Mesquita, a street photographer, took me to a baile funk, a street party organized by the drug dealers, in the unpacified favela of ArarĂ¡. It was an extraordinary scene: at midnight, the traficantes had cordoned off many blocks, turning the favela into a giant open-air nightclub. One end of the street was a giant wall of dozens of loudspeakers, booming songs and stories about cop-killing and underage sex. Teenagers walked around carrying AK-47s; prepubescent girls inhaled drugs and danced. On some corners, cocaine was being sold out of large plastic bags. Everybody danced: grandmothers danced, children danced, I danced. It went on until eight in the morning.

... In Tavares Bastos, and in favelas like Cantagalo, with its easy access to the rich southern zone of Rio and increased security after the pacification, the residents are being forced out, not by violence, which they can live with, but by high rents, which will make living there impossible. Their right to live there was protected as long as it was illegal. After pacification, the biggest threat to longtime residents of the Rio favelas will come not from drug dealers, but from property dealers.
Here's Mehta talking about migration, history and storytelling. A good interview.
SM: I wrote as I reported [in Bombay]. So I would meet, say, a gangster, I’d go hang out with him, then I’d go to the beer bars and meet Mona Lisa [an alias for the bar girl in Maximum City], and then I’d come back home at 3 a.m. From 3 to 6 a.m. I would just write. It was the easiest writing I ever did. It was all in my head and I needed to get it out in real time. So I wrote these long sections—it was great. I was on speed or something, not literally. Better than speed.
See also Naipaul, Tejpal and India.

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