• ‘‘
    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, Nobel Laureate
  • ‘‘
    There are many virtues of Akash Kapur’s beautifully sketched portrait of modern India. 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 magazine
  • ‘‘
    A wonderful writer: a courageously clear-eyed
    observer, an astute listener, a masterful portraitist, and a gripping storyteller.”
    — Philip Gourevitch,
         author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We
         Will Be Killed With Our Families
  • ‘‘
    [R]eadable, acutely observed, and crammed with well-drawn characters.... Mr. Kapur offers a corrective to a simplistic 'new, happy narrative' of a rising India. That is welcome and he does it well.”
    The Economist
  • ‘‘
    Marvelous... 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
  • ‘‘
    Akash Kapur lives in and writes out of an India that few writers venture into. His writing has established him as one of the most reliable observers of the New India.”
    — Pankaj Mishra, author of Temptations of the West
  • ‘‘
    Lucid, balanced. Kapur is determinedly fair-minded, neither an apologist nor a scold, and he is a wonderfully empathetic listener.”
    The New York Times Book Review
  • ‘‘
    Through a series of deft character sketches, Akash Kapur captures the contradictions of life in modern India...His writing is fresh and vivid; his perspective, empathetic and appealingly non-judgemental.”
    — Ramachandra Guha,
         author of India after Gandhi
  • ‘‘
    A fascinating look at the transformation of India, with broader lessons on the upside and downside of progress.”
    Booklist (starred review)

Urban Greatness Awaits Good Governance

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

By virtually any measure, the quality of life in Indian cities is abysmal. Only 60 percent of municipal waste is collected. Just 30 percent of urban sewage is treated. According to a recent government study of 127 cities, 80 percent of them had at least one pollutant that exceeded air quality standards.

A few decades ago, when the vast majority of Indians lived in the countryside and when agriculture represented around a third of national income, all of this would perhaps have been cause for less concern. But today, with India rapidly urbanizing, moving to an economy where services represent more than half of gross domestic product, cities matter a lot more. They represent both the tremendous possibility of India, but also potential bottlenecks in its development.

A study released last month by McKinsey, the consulting firm, does a good job of capturing the critical role played by Indian cities. The report, titled “India’s Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth,” contains an acute analysis of the opportunities and challenges presented by urban India.

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Drowning in a Sea of Garbage

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

India is drowning in garbage. The cities alone generate more than 100 million tons of solid waste a year. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said that if there were a Nobel Prize for filth, India would win it. It’s a damning indictment, but it rings true.

No vacant piece of land is safe, no scenic picnic spot immune. Forests are despoiled with water bottles and paper plates, rivers and canals choked with plastic bags. Smoldering landfills of the kind by my house are ubiquitous — outside (and even inside) cities, along beaches, by the side of highways, on farms and fields that have turned barren from chemicals in the waste.

In part, the country’s garbage crisis is a tale of rising consumption. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Indian municipal waste is expected to increase 130 percent between 2001 and 2030, primarily due to urbanization and new prosperity. The type of waste generated is changing, too — an increase in plastics, e-waste and other hazardous and nonbiodegradable materials will only exacerbate the crisis.

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Prosperity and Its Risk to Culture

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

The adulation of commerce and wealth poses important questions about the place of softer, more humanistic endeavors in the country — the role of art and artists, the place of the humanities and social sciences and, more generally, the character (and breadth) of the Indian imagination.

As India grows richer, its culture is changing. The question is whether that culture will be defined solely by the nation’s new prosperity — whether a nation in the midst of a consumerist frenzy can maintain noncommercial islands of intellectual and cultural endeavor, and whether a population determined to get rich can appreciate pursuits whose returns are less immediately tangible.

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Suspicions Over Attacks Keep India Sensitive

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

For many Indians, Mr. Headley’s deal is the latest in a series of humiliating developments in the case — developments that question America’s commitment to the battle against Islamic terrorism, and more generally to the relationship between the two countries.

Almost six months after his arrest, the Indian authorities have yet to interrogate Mr. Headley. Washington’s continued refusal to grant them access has led to feverish speculation in this country. Many Indians are convinced that Mr. Headley is a C.I.A. agent, perhaps gone rogue, and that the U.S. intransigence represents an attempt to shield him and his past activities from scrutiny.

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Speech by Salman Rushdie

A wonderful meditation on artistic freedom and tolerance (and intolerance) in India. Observations on the M. F. Hussain’s situation. Overall, an enlightening and thought-provoking speech, from the India Today Conclave. Scroll down past the introduction to read Rushdie’s speech.

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Opening Up to the World and Its Evils

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

It was all bizarre — surreal, really. It was hard to imagine that this peaceful part of the country — a town without an airport or until recently even a broad-gauge rail connection, a sun-baked, slow-moving corner that has always felt at the edge of world — could really be on the map of global jihad.

Pondicherry’s charm has always lain for me in its isolation — its seclusion, its distance from the world, and the sense of perspective (and safety) afforded by that distance.

Yet the more I thought about it, the less surprising the apparent erosion of that safety seemed. After all, we’ve been subjected to wave after wave of globalization over the last couple of decades. I suppose terrorism is just the latest.

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Evidence of Tolerance: Clashes Are Rare

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

I maintain my faith in India as a highly tolerant — if imperfectly so — country. I believe that the nation’s sporadic episodes of communal violence represent aberrations rather than the norm, inevitable clashes that are remarkable for the extent to which they are, indeed, sporadic.

When I consider the nation’s major outbreaks of communal violence since independence, I am struck by the fact that nearly each one was instigated by an act of political demagoguery. Politicians seeking votes have regularly fanned hatred and chauvinism. And as the Indian scholar Asghar Ali Engineer has pointed out, religious concerns are frequently a front for material interests. Riots between Hindus and Muslims are often thinly veiled property disputes or clashes over commercial interests.

India has a problem with communal violence. But it is not, and I believe never will be, a Beirut, a Yugoslavia or even a Northern Ireland. In a country as diverse and poor as India, the persistence of general communal harmony amid occasional outbreaks of disharmony suggests an essentially accommodating nation, one that is capable of living with and absorbing difference

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Upholding a Tradition of Tolerance

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

It’s true that I live in an especially tolerant part of India, but I think it’s fair to say that India is an especially tolerant country. The Hindu teacher and mystic Vivekananda once said that pluralism was the “backbone of our national existence,” and that India stood for the “grand idea of universal toleration.” He was echoing a widely held view of India as a country particularly receptive to difference, capable of absorbing a multitude of faiths and cultures into its own society.

For all its troubles, Nehruvian secularism is still the guiding principle of Indian political life. Its concept of equidistance among faiths, of state indifference rather than hostility to religion, is more benign (and tolerant) than European-style secularism, which positions itself aggressively against religion.

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Agriculture Left to Die at India’s Peril

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

Agriculture in this area, and in much of India, is dying. The village economy is in crisis, assailed by migration to the cities, decades of ecological neglect, and the growing unsustainability of farming.

Since the late ’90s, when agriculture represented more than a quarter of the nation’s G.D.P., its share has dipped to just over 16 percent. Over the last five years, the Indian economy as a whole has grown more than three times as fast as agriculture. The trend is clear: agriculture is being squeezed out of the new India.

Earlier this week, President Pratibha Patil called for “a second green revolution” to stem spiraling food prices and declining supplies. Such calls have emotional resonance in a country that still remembers the humiliation of American food aid in the 1960s. It’s not clear, however, how Ms. Patil’s goal can be achieved. The forces arrayed against Indian farming are formidable; they are part of the country’s great leap toward modernity.

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A Test Ahead for India’s Defiant Optimism

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

As we enter the second decade of the millennium, I feel a tremendous sense of anticipation in the nation: Is this the decade when India will finally achieve its potential?

The past 10 years have been marked by substantial excitement — and more than a little hype — over the nation’s possibilities. But over the next 10 years, rhetoric will meet reality. The question is whether rhetoric will bump up against reality, or whether reality will finally match the rhetoric.

India has always been a country of contrasts, but there is something particularly striking about the gulf these days between those who have benefited from the fruits of economic reform and those left out. At times, it has felt like the past decade was one big party — with only half the nation invited.

Sometime over the next 10 years, I suspect within the next five, we will know whether India can live up to its own expectations — whether achievements will match words, and whether the nation’s self-confidence will prove prophetic or mere bravado. Either way, as we move from rhetoric to reality, the coming decade promises to be a lot more complicated than the one that has just passed.

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