• ‘‘
    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)

State Health Care? Choice Is Healthy Too

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

Most of my friends came of age in the United States in the 1970s and ’80s, a time of market ascendance, during which the role of the state was steadily being rolled back. I grew up during the same period in India — a period marked by government control, when every aspect of the economy and, indeed, of everyday life was subject to bureaucratic whims and political interference.

In ways both big and small, I remain scarred by this period. For me, as for many of my generation in India, government is and always will be, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the problem, not the solution.

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Birth Pangs of a Brash New Country

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune
Indian cities are complicated places. While they contain all the nation’s possibility, the exuberance and sheen of a people emerging from decades of underdevelopment, they embody, too, the seamier side of rapid development.

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Smart Step to Help India’s Rural Poor

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

A slew of government initiatives have added up to a real — if still incipient — sense of possibility, especially in the countryside. Over the past few months, as I’ve traveled around the villages and farms in South India, I’ve spoken to farmer after farmer, housewife after housewife, whose life has been touched by one of the government’s programs.

In Kakuppam, the improvement is evident — not dramatic, certainly not revolutionary, but nonetheless palpable.

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In the New India, Everyone Is Free to Flourish or Fail

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

It’s true that a meritocratic India is a more hopeful India. It’s certainly a vast improvement over a country in which millions were oppressed for being born into the wrong caste or gender or family. But it’s good to remember that meritocracy inflicts its own harms. It replaces old forms of subjugation with new ones — the tyranny of competition, of competence, of drive and ambition, of education.

Perhaps the best that can be said about meritocracy is that it offers the most egalitarian path to inequality: it gives everyone a chance to lose.

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An Indian Says Farewell to Poverty, With Jitters

A version of my first column from the International Herald Tribune was reprinted in this week’s New York Times.

People sometimes ask me how I feel about India’s economic development. I tell them the truth. I say I don’t know. I say I feel ambivalent about the passing of a world I knew as a child, a transition that I know is inevitable and probably even desirable. But I haven’t reconciled myself to it yet.

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Fiscal stimulus: Indian economy doing less well than US?

Christina Romer, the head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, defended the government’s stimulus plan by arguing that countries without substantial stimulus had done less well than those with a stimulus plan. She included India–along with France and Italy–on the list of countries that were doing less well. I’m confused. Isn’t India expected to grow by 6-7% this year (and isn’t the US’s GDP expected to shrink)?

Also, I wonder how she calculates the size of India’s stimulus. Although it’s true that the pure fiscal stimulus provided by the government is relatively small (around $4 billion last year), the country is also spending a fortune on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which, as many economists have argued, functions as a de facto stimulus, boosting income and consumption in rural areas.

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Why are so many writers drunks?

This fascinating piece from the Economist-affiliated Intelligent Life is full of interesting tidbits. Hemingway checking out books on liver damage from the library. Cheever, newly sober, finishing a book in a year. And a strange conclusion that “maximalist” writers should never get sober.

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What’s Lost When Some Become Rich

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

KUILAPALAYAM, INDIA — The other day I went for a drive on my motorcycle and realized that my world had changed completely.

I drove along a cement road that was once a dirt path. The road leads to the ocean. I used to be able to see the ocean from the top of the road. Now the view has been usurped by new apartment buildings and guesthouses and shops.

When I was a boy, the road was bordered by emerald-green rice fields. There’s not a rice field in sight anymore, only the neon greens — and pinks and purples and oranges — of the concrete blocks that have taken their place.

The area around where I live was once an isolated rural hamlet. It was a hundred miles, along a potholed road, from the nearest big city, Chennai, or Madras, as it was called at the time. I grew up here, in the country, surrounded by five villages. I had an idyllic childhood. My life ran to the rhythms of an agrarian world: bullock carts and hand plows, bicycles, windmills. MORE–>

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Positively Orwellian

Kindle users beware: Amazon can make your books vanish from afar: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/18/amazon_removes_1984_from_kindle/

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Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?

I’ve just stumbled across this article by Robert Nozick that tries to explain why “wordsmith” intellectuals are anti-market. I’m not sure I’m totally convinced, but his hypothesis–essentially, that they resent their low valuation in a capitalist economy–is nonetheless interesting reading. (I studied with Nozick as an undergraduate, in a course called something like “Socrates, Buddha, Jesus”!)

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