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India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India Hardcover – March 15, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"[A] lucid, balanced new book . . . Kapur is determinedly fair-minded, neither an apologist nor a scold, and he is a wonderfully empathetic listener.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Kapur’s strength is in letting his characters display the ambiguity that many feel about the ongoing change. … Kapur offers a corrective to a simplistic “new, happy narrative” of a rising India.”—The Economist “There are many virtues of Akash Kapur’s beautifully sketched portrait of modern India….The book inhabits parts of India we do not explore often enough, the India of the south and of the transforming countryside. Mostly, it takes us into the minds and hearts of Indians seeking to adapt to a society changing at disconcerting speed…. The book reads like a novel…Kapur’s skill is to get people talking and to weave their stories into a necessarily messy debate about India’s future.”—The Financial Times
"Impressively lucid and searching . . . In his clarity, sympathy and impeccably sculpted prose, Kapur often summons the spirit of V.S. Naipaul." —Pico Iyer, Time

“Kapur himself, with one leg in the East and one in the West, is an excellent ambassador to explain the dynamic of change in India, what the nation is becoming. Any reader who would like to understand the country better would do well to give him a read.”—Daily Beast

"Kapur has a fluency that outsiders—even those of us with a genetic tie—lack”—The New Republic

"This is a remarkably absorbing account of an India in transition - full of challenges and contradictions, but also of expectations, hope, and ultimately optimism."-Amartya Sen

"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 Your 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

“A fascinating look at the transformation of India, with broader lessons on the upside and downside of progress.”—Booklist (starred)

“[A] Lively, anecdotal look at the people who have been vastly changed by the entrepreneurial explosion in India. . . . An honest, conflicted glimpse of a country.”—Kirkus

About the Author

Akash Kapur is the former "Letter from India" columnist for the International Herald Tribune and the online edition of The New York Times. He has also written for The Atlantic, The Economist, Granta, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. He holds a B.A. in social anthropology from Harvard, and a doctorate in law from Oxford University, which he attended as a Rhodes scholar. He lives outside Pondicherry, in southern India.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; unknown edition (March 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488193
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488191
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #983,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book out of a discard bin at my job, fascinated by the cover. I have a strong interest in the BRICS countries, particularly how modernization is affecting the old way of life and culture.

What I got from India Becoming was a candid, vivid portrait of complexities that belie modern India's rise. The major factions are a reluctantly acquiescent old guard, an eager new guard dominated by youth, some of whom seem incredibly naive, and a Westernized generation in the middle uneasy about it all.

Perhaps, the most striking thing about this book is how the myriad proper and cultural references to India could easily and almost seamlessly be replaced with those of China, Brazil and even the United States. It is, quite simply, a portrait of the price we pay for what is universally and often dubiously billed as progress. The only question that remains is, To what end?

Well done, Mr. Kapur. Well done.
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Format: Hardcover
What makes Akash Kapur's book so much more interesting and indicative of the changes happening in India is the fact that he writes about it from both an insiders' and and outside observers' perspectives. He gains the confidence of people from very different backgrounds and is able to give a real account of their lives and the way the new India affects them. This is not a superficial account with statistics and factoids like is often the case with so many "India" books by writers with little real insight but a book that gives a true image of what's happening at ground level. Recommended for both readers that already know India and those wanting to get a good idea of what's happening.
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Format: Hardcover
NOTE: I won this book on LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

"India Becoming" 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.
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Format: Hardcover
I must admit that I approached this work with some trepidation. After all, India has recently become the poster child for reasons why expatriates are rushing back home and non-expatriates are willing to relocate there and divine the mysteries of an alien culture. (See my review of "Sideways on a scooter" by Miranda Kennedy as an example of the latter and "India calling" by Anand Giridharadas exemplifying the former.) The last thing I wanted to read was one more author trying to glean a larger meaning of life by talking to a statistically narrow sample of a few casual acquaintances and well-off friends.

Luckily this book is not all that. Well, the sample is still narrow and not enough to be statistically significant, but at the very least Mr. Kapur does not paint a perennially rosy picture. Born of mixed parentage (American and Indian), Mr. Kapur decides to relocate back to his ancestral homeland. The initial exuberance shortly wears off as daily ennui takes affect. Mr. Kapur presents the rose-tinted view of the future of the country mixed with equal measure by talking about the toll being exacted by the entrepreneurs, politicians, and businessmen from the land. The buildup of technology parks is balanced by discussing the plight of farmers who see no other way than suicide to deal with their problems. The pull of a nucleus family is explored in the context of the price it extracts from the traditional way of life. The liberation of women working in large cities is painted against the backdrop of the parochial view of the place of women in the society. Traditional jobs, handed through generations, are being redefined --- a good example is that of a cow broker.
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