A Portrait of Life in Modern India
A portrait of incredible change and economic development, of social and national transformation told through individual lives
The son of an Indian father and an American mother, Akash Kapur spent his formative years in India and his early adulthood in the United States. In 2003, he returned to his birth country for good, eager to be part of its exciting growth and modernization. What he found was a nation even more transformed than he had imagined, where the changes were fundamentally altering Indian society, for better and sometimes for worse.
To further understand these changes, he sought out the Indians experiencing them firsthand. The result is a rich tapestry of lives being altered by economic development, and a fascinating insider's look at many of the most important forces shaping our world today. Much has been written about the rise of Asia and a rebalancing of the global economy, but rarely does one encounter these big stories with the level of nuance and detail that Kapur gives us in India Becoming.
Among the characters we meet are a broker of cows who must adapt his trade to a modernizing economy; a female call center employee whose relatives worry about her values in the city; a feudal landowner who must accept that he will not pass his way of life down to his children; and a career woman who wishes she could "outsource" having a baby.
Through these stories and many others, Kapur provides a fuller understanding of the complexity and often contradictory nature of modern India. India Becoming is particularly noteworthy for its emphasis on rural India-a region often neglected in writing about the country, though 70 percent of the population still lives there. In scenes reminiscent of R. K. Narayan's classic works on the Indian countryside, Kapur builds intimate portraits of farmers, fishermen, and entire villages whose ancient ways of life are crumbling, giving way to an uncertain future that is at once frightening and full of promise. Kapur himself grew up in rural India; his descriptions of change and modernization are infused with a profound-at times deeply poignant- firsthand understanding of the loss that must accompany all development and progress.
India Becoming is essential reading for anyone interested in our changing world and the newly emerging global order. It is a riveting narrative that puts the personal into a broad, relevant and revelational context.
"A wonderful writer: a courageously clear-eyed observer, an astute listener, a masterful portraitist, and a gripping storyteller. Kapur's voice is as sure and as intimate as his subject is chaotic and immense, and he proves himself the perfect guide to the enthralling promise and the terrifying menace of a society in the throes of colossal, epochal, all-encompassing change."
-Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families
"Marvelous . . . Kapur shows how the old rural cycle of the south Indian village depicted and romanticized by R. K. Narayan is fracturing and breaking apart to reveal a very new, more unstable world where the old certainties are disappearing and everything is up for grabs. Sharp-eyed, insightful, skillfully sketched and beautifully written, India Becoming is the remarkable debut of a distinctive new talent."
-William Dalrymple, author of Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India
"Akash Kapur lives in and writes out of an India that few writers venture into. Curious, suspicious of received wisdom, and intellectually resourceful, [Kapur is] one of the most reliable observers of the New India."
-Pankaj Mishra, author of Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond
"Through a series of deft character sketches, Akash Kapur captures the contradictions of life in modern India-between city and country, technology and aesthetics, development and the environment, greed and selflessness, individual fulfillment and community obligation. His writing is fresh and vivid; his perspective empathetic and appealingly non-judgmental."
-Ramachandra Guha, author of India after Gandhi
"Beautifully written . . . Akash Kapur celebrates the gains and mourns the losses, conveying a complex story through the ups and downs of the lives of some fascinating individual women and men."
-Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers
"India today is in the midst of profound change and Akash Kapur captures the impact of that change on the lives of ordinary Indians with a narrative that avoids all clichés, platitudes, and simplifications."
-Gurcharan Das, author of India Unbound
I left India in 1991, and returned twelve years later. I left, as so many had before me, in search of better opportunities. The India of my youth—and especially rural South India, where I grew up—felt cut off, isolated from the world. America, where I spent most of my time abroad, was at the center of the world.
By the time I returned, things had in many ways come full circle. America felt weighed down, burdened by a troubled war in Iraq and a sputtering economy. India’s economy, on the other hand, was one of the fastest growing in the world. Surveys regularly showed that its population was one of the most optimistic. It was as though India had co-opted the energy and optimism, the sense of possibility, that had once drawn so many to America.
India’s transformation was exciting, but it could also be confusing. Einstein once wrote of America that it was a country always becoming, never being. Now, I felt that same energy, that sense of forward momentum, in India. But this is an ancient, complex culture; India was changing so fast, and in so many different ways, that it was hard to know what to make of it all. Sometimes I wondered just what the country was becoming.
In the villages near my home, the transformation was apparent. Farmers who had once ridden to their fields in bullock carts now drove shiny tractors; concrete structures were replacing thatch huts. But alongside this evidence of new prosperity, the seamier side of development was evident, too. The villages were wracked by environmental depredation, and torn apart by new forms of inequality. A social and cultural fabric built up over centuries and millennia was suddenly unraveling. The process of change was messy, at times even frightening.
This book represents my effort to make sense of it all. For almost five years, I have traveled the country, meeting people, getting to know their families and lives. These people have taught me a lot. They have shown me just how complex is this country, how layered and nuanced is the transition it is currently undergoing. I have learned to see—and to love--this country in a new way. In many ways, after more than a decade away, writing this book has brought me home.
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