• ‘‘
    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)

FT reviews India Becoming

David Pilling of The Financial Times has written a very nice–and thoughtful–review of India Becoming.

“There are many virtues of Akash Kapur’s beautifully sketched portrait of modern India,” he writes. “The greatest of them is ambivalence. Kapur is ambivalent about the trade-offs between the disappearing certainties of India’s countryside and the roller-coaster possibilities of its cities. He is ambivalent about changes that have released people from social bondage but have uncorked thuggery, greed and vacuous consumerism. He is ambivalent about whether to be swept up by India’s startling growth or fearful of the searing inequalities and environmental degradation on which it appears to be based.

He concludes: “The novelistic approach allows for these changes of mood and perspective. Kapur’s skill is to get people talking and to weave their stories into a necessarily messy debate about India’s future. There is loss as well as anticipation. People are beggared and despoiled even as others claw out of the mud.

“In the final pages Kapur is partially reconciled to India’s duality, to the “delicate dance between destruction and creativity”. India’s becoming is, in the end, both tragic and uplifting.”

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How India Became America

Week in Review, The New York Times

This reconciliation — this Americanization of India — had both tangible and intangible manifestations. The tangible signs included an increase in the availability of American brands; a noticeable surge in the population of American businessmen (and their booming voices) in the corridors of five-star hotels; and, also, a striking use of American idiom and American accents. In outsourcing companies across the country, Indians were being taught to speak more slowly and stretch their O’s. I found myself turning my head (and wincing a little) when I heard young Indians call their colleagues “dude.”

But the intangible evidence of Americanization was even more remarkable. Something had changed in the very spirit of the country. India is infused with an energy, a can-do ambition and an entrepreneurial spirit that I can only describe as distinctly American. In surveys of global opinion, Indians consistently rank as among the most optimistic people in the world. Bookstores are stacked with titles like “India Arriving,” “India Booms” and “The Indian Renaissance.”

I have learned, though, that the nation’s new American-style prosperity is a more complex, and certainly more ambivalent, phenomenon than it first appears. The villages around my home have undeniably grown more prosperous, but they are also more troubled. Abandoned fields and fallow plantations are indications of a looming agricultural and environmental crisis. Ancient social structures are collapsing under the weight of new money. Bonds of caste and religion and family have frayed; the panchayats, village assemblies made up of elders, have lost their traditional authority. Often, lawlessness and violence step into the vacuum left behind.

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The Economist on India Becoming

The Economist has  a nice review of India Becoming in this week’s issue.  ”Mr Kapur wrote some excellent ‘letters’ from India for the New York Times,” the review says. “His new book is similarly readable, acutely observed and crammed with well-drawn characters.” The review talks about India’s ongoing debate over the price of progress. “That debate is healthy,” the review says. “Mr Kapur’s enjoyable book is a welcome addition to it.”

There is also a nice podcast about the book (and two other excellent recent books on India) accompanying the review.

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India, Miracle Interrupted

Opening Remarks, Bloomberg Businessweek

Observers of the subcontinent (both domestic and foreign) tend to retreat to easy generalizations and simplistic narratives. For much of India’s post-independence history, the country was an economic basket case—a textbook example of financial mismanagement, wasted potential, and stunted growth. Then, in the 1990s, after India embarked on market reforms and began opening its closed, semi-socialist economy, the narrative changed. As native companies aggressively acquired international brands, and as growth rates approached double digits, the media was full of triumphalist rhetoric about impending “economic superpowerhood.”

Over the last few months the narrative appears to have shifted again. Growth has slowed from more than 10 percent in 2010 to around 7 percent today. Inflation is persistently high, agricultural productivity has declined, and foreign investment and the stock market are down. Social unrest and deteriorating law and order in many parts of the country have potential investors spooked. Corruption is estimated to cost India at least $18.4 billion a year.

The truth is that India’s prospects were never quite as bright as they were made out to be—nor are they quite as dire as they are held to be today. Instead, the recent swings in the Indian narrative are another reminder of the role of sentiment in investors’ perceptions and decisions. Nations, like markets, are subject to often irrational (and certainly ill-informed) cycles of boom and bust.

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India is Burning

Another excerpt from my book, in The Atlantic online
Read the earlier excerpt, in The New Yorker

India was burning–and, in a similar way, it was eroding, melting, drying, silting up, suffocating. Across the country, rivers and lakes and glaciers were disappearing, underground aquifers being depleted, air quality declining, beaches being swept away.

The numbers were astounding. According to a government report I read, almost half of India’s land suffered from some kind of erosion. Seventy percent of its surface water was polluted. Earlier this year, a study conducted by Yale and Columbia universities concluded that India had the worst air quality in the world.

In the weeks and months after the garbage first started blowing into my living room, I came to see this terrible environmental toll as a form of collateral damage: it was the price the country was paying for its rapid growth, for a model of development that elevated prosperity above all else.

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Time magazine on India Becoming

Pico Iyer has a great column in a recent issue of Time that highlights India Becoming. “Impressively lucid and searching,” he calls the book. “In his clarity, sympathy and impeccably sculpted prose, Kapur often summons the spirit of V.S. Naipaul.”

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Jaipur’s Silver Lining

The Daily Beast

But then, walking the grounds, resolutely avoiding the chaotic Oprah show, I started thinking: Wouldn’t it actually be amazing, wouldn’t it in a bizarre way say something magnificent about this country, if there were a stampede at a literary festival? For that, at its core, despite the hordes, despite the socialites and their Prada bags and gold jewelry, is what Jaipur remains: a festival about books and literature, a destination for people who resolutely–and miraculously–still care about ideas.

There was a wonderful serendipity to the place, a quality of intellectual discovery and chance encounters with interesting people that reminded me of my student days. Diggi Palace felt like a college campus–full of newness and potential (and, yes, the possibility of an invitation to late-night, boozy parties).

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Depressing: India has world’s most toxic air

According to a recent study by Yale and Columbia universities, India has the most toxic air in the world. The study also produced a composite index of environmental indicators, on which India ranked in the last ten. Depressing, frightening, and rings all too true for many of us who live next to steaming garbage dumps or in over-crowded cities.

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Videos from the Jaipur Lit Fest

Jaipur was a wonderful, over-the-top and amazingly stimulating experience. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers. There was a lot more than the Salman Rushdie controversy going on there. Here are two video links of the talks I did, both from Saturday, January 21st.

In the morning, I moderated a discussion with Philip Gourevitch. We talked, among other things, about genocide, political violence, interventionism,  humanitarianism, and narrative non-fiction writing.

In the afternoon, I was on a panel of travel writers reading from their works. I read (last) from India Becoming.

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Further demolishing the Chindia myth

According to a Chinese government report, the country’s urban population for the first time topped 50%. In India, 70% of the population is still rural. Yet another reason why the frequent coupling of these two (future?) world powers is simplistic and mistaken.

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