• ‘‘
    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)

Rushdie’s visit to Jaipur; censorship and illiberalism in India

Things are getting hairy at the Jaipur Lit Fest, with protests and threats surrounding Salman Rushdie’s visit. For many writers–myself included–this is yet another sad chapter in what feels like a rising tide of intolerance and illiberalism in the country. Will threats of violence succeed in keeping Rushdie away? I hope not. See this artice on the Jaipur controversy; and this earlier piece, by Basharat Peer, on “India’s Free-Speech Crisis.”

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Jaipur Lit Fest

This year’s Jaipur Literature Festival looks absolutely wonderful. I’m honored and excited to  be part of it. Check out the list of speakers and the program. What a lineup. My events on are on March 21st.

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Wing It With The Butterflies

Lead Essay, from Outlook magazine’s 16th anniversary issue

It is good to remember, on this two-decade anniversary of the nation’s reforms, that a generation is generally said to last about 20 years. In this hyper-sped-up world that we inhabit, it is probably fair to assume that that cycle has been compressed; and, by that standard, many of today’s youth can be said to inhabit a second post-liberalisation generation.

For this generation—“liberalisation’s grandchildren”, as they should perhaps be called—the encounter with modernity and capitalism is a lot more nuanced than it seemed in the years immediately following the advent of reforms. Those years were marked by a certain euphoria, a sense of exultation and release from the drabness of post-independence socialism. But now some of that euphoria has worn out; it has become clear that India’s rapid growth and development, while wonderful, are also a little more ambivalent than anticipated.

Today’s generation knows that wealth and success can take many forms: it is the entrepreneurial prowess and innovation of India’s world-class businesses, but it is also the corruption of an oligarchic political and business class that has bent reforms to its own interests. Rapid growth, too, has many faces. It is the story of immeasurably widened horizons, of self-made young men and women who have risen further than their fathers could have ever dreamed; but economic growth is also spawning new forms of inequality and social exclusion, and terrible environmental depredation.

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Why didn’t Raj Rajaratnam take a plea bargain?

A great piece by Suketu Mehta in this week’s Newsweek.  A couple of exclusive interviews really offer insight into Raj Rajaratnam the man, and particularly how his South Asian background and milieu have shaped him. I’ve often wondered, while watching this case, why Rajaratnam didn’t take a plea bargain. Now I think I understand better.

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Chiang Mai State of Mind

Conde Nast Traveller

My mind was still in overdrive when we landed in Chiang Mai on that early morning. As we came down over the flat land–the low-slung concrete houses, the rice fields that extended towards distant, misty hills–I found myself meticulously, and a little obsessively, building a taxonomy of holidays. I thought of all the reasons there are for taking a vacation. A man (or a woman) can take a sightseeing holiday. There are, too, cultural holidays, religious holidays, historical holidays, wellness holidays, and culinary holidays. Then there are retail holidays and wildlife holidays, and, though I aver I have never taken one, there are carnal holidays.

I was in Chiang Mai for yet another kind of holiday. I had come to this ancient city of wats and orange clad monks, this centre of culture and learning, in search of what, that morning on the plane, I had decided to label a real holiday, a holiday holiday. I had spent the previous months (or was it years?) holed up in a cottage in my backyard, desperately trying to finish a book against a final, non-negotiable deadline. Like some kind of hibernating beast–or like a prisoner–I had lost contact with the world. I saw few people; I rarely left my neighbourhood.

By the time my family and I arrived in Chiang Mai, I was in a state of nervous exhaustion. Writing a book is like making sausage. The author is meat, thrown into a machine, ground down and spat out in a horribly attenuated, unrecognisable form. My wife and two boys, who had suffered every minute of the sausage factory with me, were similarly worn out. We all felt we’d earned a respite. In Chiang Mai, I resolved, I would slow my mind, regain a semblance of balance, centre myself—-and take the only kind of holiday really worth having.

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Blistering Barnacles! Spielberg’s Tintin on the way

I still own some of the Tintins that my father used to read to me when I was a boy. I grew up on the exploits of this intrepid and mysterious (because we know so little about his private life) reporter. I find myself laughing at Calculus or Jolyon Wagg or the Thompson twins as hard today as I did thirty years ago. Few things give me as much pleasure in life as reading Tintin to my two boys every night before they go to sleep.

So it is with some trepidation (but tremendous excitement) that I intend to go see Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” this winter. My trepidation is heightened by the contradictory reviews I’ve been reading–some glowing, others scathing. I plan to take my boys–but I hope that the Hollywoodization of these comics won’t spoil the sense of innocence and purity that I (and I think they) still attach to these books.

In the meantime, for those less ambivalent about the whole thing, here’s a brilliant preview. And, for Indian readers, did you know that Tintin has now been launched in Hindi?

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Falling Man: A portrait of Manmohan Singh

Great, in-depth political reporting. An excellent profile of Manmohan Singh and his government, from Vinod Jose in Caravan Magazine. You rarely get to read such behind-the-scenes political reporting in India. His account of the discussions and debates within the government during the summer of 1991 is particularly interesting. It would be great to see a whole book on that fateful summer–a kind of Bob Woodwardian analysis of the key players (and their compunctions and interests) who so radically remade India.

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Rural India Disappears

Blog Post, The New Yorker Online

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, famously described the country as an “ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer” of history had been inscribed, without ever fully effacing the previous ones. Sometimes, though, I can’t help feeling that this place is less a palimpsest than a brutal, erasable slate: layer upon layer of newness, the past a commodity, disposable and easily forgotten.

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Podcast

The New Yorker Out Loud

Podcast
NY Online
I talk to Blake Eskin, Online Editor at The New Yorker, about changes in the cow market, the rural economy, and growing up in a world that’s gradually slipping away.

I talk to Blake Eskin,  Online Editor at The New Yorker, about changes in the cow market, the rural economy–and growing up in a world that’s gradually slipping away.

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The Shandy

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, India Becoming, published this week in The New Yorker. Check back here to learn more about the book, or pre-order now at Amazon or Flipkart.

The India to which I had recently returned, after more than a decade in America, was a markedly new one: a country where rice fields were giving way to highways, farmland to software complexes, and saris to pants. I’d followed the country’s economic resurgence during my time abroad and was eager to see the changes for myself. In America, my friends were worried about losing their jobs; they held on to what they had. But in India people I knew were quitting their jobs, casting aside the safety of well-established careers for the excitement—and potential riches—of starting their own business. Every other person I met dreamed of being an entrepreneur.

Indian cities felt simple; they embraced modernity unhesitatingly, even exuberantly. But in rural India, where I had grown up, and to which I had now returned, the nation’s transformation felt more complex. The sense of progress was often accompanied by a sense of loss; the celebration of the new was tinged with a longing for the old. The Indian countryside felt layered, nuanced—and sometimes a little bewildering. I often had a hard time knowing what to make of the new world emerging around me.

“If you really want to see how the villages are changing, you should visit a shandy,” I was told by a friend. It was he who introduced me to Ramadas that morning at the cow market. “He’s famous here,” my friend said. “Everybody knows Ramadas.”

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