Title: India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India
Author: Akash Kapur
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Long Review: When Akash Kapur was a child growing up in India, the East Coast Road — the main artery through the countryside of southern India — was a potholed tar road with views of the ocean. When Kapur returned to his native India in 2003 after more than 10 years living in the United States, the East Coast Road had been transformed into a modern, paved highway that Indian politicians look to as an example of what modern India can be. But instead of ocean views the East Coast Road is now flanked by tourist developments and, closer to the city, urban crowding and a growing technology corridor. India Becoming is Kapur’s exploration of what life has become in modern India:
Millions of Indians have risen out of poverty since the nation’s economic reforms. But millions more remain in poverty, and millions, too, are beng subjected to the psychological dislocation of having their worlds change, of watching a social order that has given meaning to them — and their parents, and their grandparents before them — slip away.
Development, I came to understand, was a form of creative destruction. For everyone whos life was being regenerated or rejuvinated in modern India there was someone too, whose life was being destroyed.
To tell the story of modern India, Kapur wisely choses to profile Indians of vastly different circumstances and lifestyles — a village leader slowly losing power and respect as his farming town slowly evolves, a 27-year-old closeted gay man struggling to stay connected with his tradional parents while advancing his career, a very traditional young women stepping out on her own to earn a living at a call center in the city, and others. They are people struggling to balance a pull toward modernity (and many of the problems we’ve struggled with in the United States) and the equally compelling pull back toward the India that used to be.
The one big critique I have of the book is that it lacks a narrative of forward momentum. Each chapter reads more like an essay on a particular topic of India’s transformation, and they don’t necessarily feel cohesive. Kapur uses many of the same people throughout the book, and their stories serve as some forward momentum in the book, but on the whole it doesn’t quite move forward as effectively as I hoped that it would. If I hadn’t been invested, I think it might be a book that would be easy to put down between chapters because there isn’t anything deeply pulling the reader forward, you know?
But on the whole, that’s a relatively minor criticism of a book that read straight through in just a couple of days. The way Kapur uses stories about the real people being impacted by this rapid pace of development illustrates the way any major global change matter most to the people who have to live with the result. That’s a lesson all of us — but particularly those in power who make these decisions — should be regularly reminded of.
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