• ‘‘
    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)

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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From the FT: Brics asked to bail out Euro-zone

Oh, I like this: now the developing world is going to bail Europe out. German taxpayers feel resentful about bailing out their fellow-Europeans, so it’s upto Indian and Brazilian taxpayers. (But of course, try applying for a visa to these countries as a BRIC member….)

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NYT blog on India

The NYT launches its very fine India blog, India Ink. I still remember the days when I had to beg American editors to let me write about India. They were convinced the country wasn’t relevant and, as one editor told me, “didn’t fit into any American narrative.” I guess a little capitalism and lots of new money changed that.

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Corruption: India’s Defining Challenge

Ram Guha’s very fine piece in the FT on corruption in India really sets out the scale of the problem, and the stakes involved.

A great–if depressing–conclusion: “[India] is not a rising power, nor even an emerging power. It is merely a fascinating, complex, and perhaps unique experiment in nationhood and democracy, whose leaders need still to attend to the fault lines within, rather than presume to take on the world without.”

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Literary Tennis

What an essay from the NYTBR! One of the more inventive and imaginative pieces I’ve read in a while. Great reading for anyone interested in tennis and literature. Make sure also to follow the link to the David Foster Wallace (“the Federer of tennis writing”) piece he discusses: Federer as Religious Experience. A true classic.

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A Parable of the New India

Review of Miss New India, by Bharati Mukherjee, The New York Times Book Review

Nations are narratives. Every country is shaped by its particular set of ideas and myths. Inevitably these are simplifications, often clichés, but they hold a country together, imposing a certain coherence on diverse populations.

The narrative of modern India has changed over the last few decades. For much of its post-independence history, India epitomized the concept of the Third World. It was a land of desolate poverty and immutable hierarchy — “an area of darkness,” in the memorable title of V. S. Naipaul’s first book about the country; a place of “heat and dust,” in the only slightly less dismal title of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s 1975 novel. But now India is moving on, and so is the Indian narrative. The country has grown rapidly since the early 1990s, when its stultified socialist economy began to be reformed. Today, as India has become an increasingly confident world power, the old stories are being replaced by new ones — many equally clichéd — about boundless opportunity, tremendous wealth, social mobility and technological prowess.

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Modern India’s Dance of Creation and Destruction

My last Letter from India for The International Herald Tribune. Thanks to all of you who have read it over the years. Keep checking here for more articles, and for information on my upcoming book.

India is today in the midst of a transformation whose scale and significance (at least when measured by the number of people being affected) are rivaled only by China’s recent transition. Sometimes, when I think of how much things are changing around here, when I reflect on the way in which societies and traditions built up over centuries and millenniums have been dismantled in just a couple of decades, I feel as if I have a ringside view at the unfolding of history.

This massive transformation of the country could not be anything but messy. It seems inevitable, really, that the process of cultural and social reinvention would be experienced as a form of upheaval, a delicate dance between building up and tearing down, between the thrill of the new and the chaos (and sorrow) of losing the old.

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Indian Scavengers Doing What Officials Can’t

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

India generates more than 100 million tons of municipal waste a year. On a per capita basis, this is far lower than most developed countries, but the amount of garbage generated is growing fast. More problematically, very little of India’s waste is properly treated. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that only about 60 percent of municipal waste in the country is even collected. A far smaller proportion is recycled.

A few municipalities have made efforts to improve the situation. In some cities, governments have teamed up with the private sector or nonprofit organizations to improve waste collection and recycling. But such efforts are small and generally geographically restricted.

If there is any hope, it may lie — as with so much else in the country — in the nation’s burgeoning informal economy. Across India, an army of scavengers and housewives and small traders collect, segregate and recycle garbage every day. Their efforts, and the economy they have built around waste, may represent a model, or at least a foundation, for a solution to the nation’s rising tide of garbage.

India’s informal economy is huge. According to a recent study conducted by the International Labor Organization, an astounding 93 percent of India’s population is employed outside the formal sector. No reliable statistics exist to indicate how many of these jobs are in waste, but the numbers are certainly in the millions.

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The Success of Ordinary Indians

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

This has been a momentous decade for India. Economically, in particular, the nation has made huge strides. Although its revitalization began in the 1980s and ’90s, the last decade has been marked by a noticeable acceleration of growth rates.

High growth rates have not automatically translated into universal prosperity. India is still haunted by tremendous, often mind-boggling, poverty and inequality. Nonetheless, the widening of horizons and prospects is unmissable, and undeniable.

As the new decade begins, I want to focus on the lives that have been lifted up since the start of the millennium. I have room to tell only four life stories. There are millions more like these. But these four men and women capture some of the hope that marks India today, and that casts little pools of light amid the shadows of deprivation that have for so long defined this country.

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Indian Farmers Turn to New Crops as Climate Gets Drier

Letter from India, The International Herald Tribune

ELVALAPAKKAM, INDIA — The monsoon has been vigorous this year, with heavy rains for days and even weeks at a time. The roads are in bad shape, potholed and filled with puddles. Low-lying areas of the countryside are waterlogged. Village reservoirs are dangerously full.

One of my fondest childhood memories is of the rice fields that emerge after the monsoons. I remember hectare after hectare of emerald green stretching to the horizon.

This year, I have been struck by an unmistakable sense that there are fewer rice fields. I have had several conversations with farmers in this area. They confirm a shift in farming patterns. Partly, this development is underpinned by a familiar tale of agricultural decline. Many traditional crops are labor or water intensive, drawing on two commodities in increasingly short supply. Farmers around Elvalapakkam can no longer afford to grow what their ancestors did.

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