India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India is a book about India in transition, especially after the economy was liberalised in 1991. It’s written by Akash Kapur, who grew up in India, spent his early adulthood in the United States, and then returned to live in India. His hometown and the surrounding areas and cities have changed a lot, and he talks to a bunch of different people to figure out how their lives have changed. Sathy is a landowner in a village, which was formerly a position of power, but is quickly becoming irrelevant. Banu, his wife, is struggling to balance her career and her family. Hari and Selvi are recent college graduates from small villages, finding their place in a Westernised corporate world. Veena is an ambitious career woman that is flouting tradition by divorcing her husband and living with a boyfriend. There are a few more people interviewed, like Jayevel the cow-broker and Das the Dalit businessman.
The book is divided into two parts. The first focuses on the good; the burgeoning middle class, the proliferation of women in the workplace, the new businesses and construction and culture. The second part talks about the destruction and disarray that accompanied them – for instance, people’s livelihoods and homes getting destroyed, people that are unsure of their place in the new world.
The stories made interesting reading, but I don’t think they were more than a series of vignettes. It’s true that India is rapidly changing. This means that people can aspire to much more than the government jobs that used to be the only recourse in socialist India, and that Western culture is pervasively affecting Indian youth. India’s economic development is completely ignoring sustainability and damage to the environment. There is still enormous poverty, despite more and more people being successful. I think that’s what Kapur aims to show us with all these stories.
I’m not entirely sure why this book left me so ambivalent. I did enjoy reading about the people. I guess I was hoping for more insight or theories about how India might evolve in the future. I already know that there is a lot of change in India, both constructive and destructive, so I didn’t really learn much from the book. I know that we are neglecting our poor, but that we’re also becoming more individualistic and free, all because of globalisation. Kapur didn’t offer any analysis of this – just platitudes about how nothing is what it seems to be like on the surface. He doesn’t offer any answers or suggestions as to how India might achieve a better balance, he just points out the flaws.
The blurb for this book says:
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.
I don’t think I’d take it quite so far, but it’s a decent portait of a few lives coping with a country that is rapidly changing.