- Book: “India Becoming – A Portrait of Life in Modern India”
- Author: Akash Kapur
- Publisher: Riverhead Books, the Penguin Group, New York, 2012
What is the better way to get to know modern India than to hear it directly from the words of a genuine local, writing about the non-fictitious lives of real Indian people? Maybe by visiting it in person and getting to know some of those locals would be the best. But if you will not have a chance to visit India soon, or even if you do, and you want to arrive prepared – read this book, as it will paint a very interesting and insightful reality of the present state of South India for you.
India is a very large and complex country; one cannot describe the full picture of this gorgeous country in just one book. To get the better understanding of India, you will have to read a number of books and they will all present something new and different to you. This country epitomizes the expression of “The more I know – the less I understand”, perfectly. But if you are heading to the South region of India, this book is for you.
The book’s author, Akash Kapur, was born in India, but raised and educated in the United States. After more than a decade in the States, he decided to move back to his native village in the region of Pondicherry, and to start a new life. Of course nothing was the same for Akash, and so he was set to re-discover what constitutes the face of the modern India today.
During his journey he met a number of interesting people including, a young gay man just coming to terms with his sexuality, that lives only for today, and as a result incurs a lot of debt; a young career woman that has gone through a divorce (which is still very much frowned upon in many regions of India), and is now starting a new life with a new partner; an older man whose family used to own an entire village where he still lives, but it is not the case anymore, which causes a lot of pain and re-adjustment struggles for this gentleman; and many more interesting individuals.
The book’s main focus is to tell the life stories of its main protagonists, and so it’s writer has been meeting with them for quite an extended duration. While meeting with his main characters, Akash was able to dig a little deeper behind every mask that each individual puts on, especially if they know that they will be featured in a non-fiction book. And by getting to know each person a little better, and a little longer, the author was able to discover the real personal struggles, as well as triumphs, that lie under the surface.
“Vinod came out and I told him what I was thinking. I told him I had a hard time seeing Dharavi as a “success.” He took a deep breath. He seemed tired. He, too, was at the end of a day’s work. “Akash, no one is saying that the conditions here are ideal,” he said. “To see Dharavi as a way of life is a misnomer. Dharavi is a way of survival, a way of sustenance and a way to earn a livelihood against all odds.
“Of course this isn’t a shining story, or a success story. The only success story here is the people – it’s their spirit, the fact that they work, the fact that they don’t get angry and try to burn everything down. It’s not a success story for the country as a whole or its society or its system. When I talk about India, I try to focus on the people. These people get up every day and work and survive. That’s a success story.” (p. 204)