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India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  369 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
A New Republic Editors' and Writers' Pick 2012A New Yorker Contributors' Pick 2012

A portrait of incredible change and economic development, of social and national transformation told through individual lives

The son of an Indian father and an American mother, Akash Kapur spent his formative years in India and his early adulthood in the United States. In 2003, he returned t
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 15th 2012 by Riverhead Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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Feb 21, 2012 Darryl rated it really liked it
Akash Kapur is a prolific writer who has written for several of the world's leading publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Economist and Granta. He was born in India, was educated at Harvard and Oxford, and worked in New York for over a decade before he and his wife returned to India in 2003.

Starting in 1991, India underwent a dramatic transformation in response to financial crisis, from a socialist system plagued by nepotism, corruption and underdevelopment to a Wester
Dorinda Balchin
May 20, 2013 Dorinda Balchin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As an English ex-pat living in Tamil Nadu I’m often asked by friends back home to describe the changes happening in India. I have always found it difficult because, whilst I can see what is happening now, I have no experience of the past to compare it to. Now I don’t need to try to explain to my friends – I can just tell them to read this book!

Mr Kapur has an engaging style of writing, informative but not overly academic, and is able to describe his characters and their lives in a truly sympathe
Lesa Danielsen
Jul 03, 2014 Lesa Danielsen rated it it was amazing
I love reading a book thats pages end before my mind is done partaking in the story. Moments after finishing the last page of this book, I caught myself still staring at the cover, absorbed in the people and ideas presented. I realized I wasn't yet ready to be separated from the experience of reading it.

This book is a current "portrait" of the social, economic, political, and environmental changes that have affected people living in India. Why did I find it so compelling?... the people the auth
Grady McCallie
Oct 14, 2012 Grady McCallie rated it liked it
Shelves: india

This review was written for an early reviewer program

In India Becoming, Akash Kapur uses the extended personal essay format to explore ways globalization is shaping people's lives and social relationships in south India. He focuses tightly on fewer than a dozen people, including a middle-aged zamindar (agricultural gentry) and his urban wife; a young, gay businessman; a Dalit (lowest caste) on the rise in the new economy; two or three young women striking out in the city; an attorney that fights
Nov 25, 2012 Anand rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful work of non-fiction by the author. First of all, it is pertinent to note what this work is not. This work is not a masterpiece on anthropology or on the socio-economic polity of contemporary India. It is not a comparative historical analysis. By professional and technical standards of academics, it may not even qualify as a scholarly work.

Then, what is this work? At a glance, it appears to be nothing but a collection of narrative about the lives of certain characters that the
May 08, 2013 Andrew rated it it was amazing
India’s dizzying economic growth is one of the stories of the first decade of the 21st century. But what is “India Becoming”? In this thought-provoking book Akash Kapur avoids the trap of coming up with an easy answer.

In 2003, Kapur returned to India after a decade in the USA and England with a degree from Harvard and an Oxford Rhodes Scholarship under his belt. He had left India in 1991 at the age of only sixteen when the country looked doomed to economic failure after limping through two diffi
Nov 04, 2012 Ilgvars rated it liked it
Reading this book was part of my class and despite the fact that it reads easily I got quite frustrated with the author at the beginning. There were too much of nostalgia, idealization, blank and general descriptions and sentances at the beginning.
It seemed to have too much of „pop culture” and „americanization” painting things in black and white. It was hard for me to agree with the references about author’s good eye for details. What I saw were general sketches of people and places concentrat
Jan 28, 2012 Mythili rated it liked it
Initially, this book reminded me of Siddhartha Deb's The Beautiful and the Damned without the grit, but as some of the story-lines matured -- and Kapur got more involved with the people he was writing about -- I was drawn in.

Kapur sets out to tell two parallel stories in this book: “One is a story of progress,” he writes, the other, “of the destruction and disruptions caused by the same processes of development.” Kapur’s own feelings about India are overwhelmed by flavorless nostalgia but fortun
Vivek Agarwal
The standard run
This book talks about how the people at the village level have been positively and negatively affected by the new opportunities and cultural imperialism of America

The author has a few subjects of his book whom he brings into the many chapters through the book to be able to bring out his story on both sides

I liked the beginning
But the book gets kind of monotonous and a little bit too detailed around the middle

I couldn't finish the book

My expectation was more about a bo
Catherine Siemann
Feb 21, 2012 Catherine Siemann rated it liked it
Akash Kapur grew up in India and the United States; in 2003, finding America stagnant and India in the middle of something new and exciting, he relocated back to India. India Becoming is largely anecdotal, as he follows the stories of various people he has gotten to know: Sathy, from an old zamindar (landlord) family, whose wife is more comfortable in the economic boom of Bangalore; Veena, an ambitious woman trying to balance her own ambitions with cultural expectations; Hari, a young gay man st ...more
Sarwesh Shah
Jan 27, 2016 Sarwesh Shah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is a appreciative/critical take on the situation that India is in today from a point of view of a person who spent majority of his life in India, considerable part in the West, returning back again in search of social stability and career opportunities at the same time.
In this book, Akash Kapur takes very basic examples some heavy and to a point depressing to empathise the nature of growth in India is closer to the phrase "All that glitters is not gold".
The book raises several aspects
Yvo Hunink
Jan 10, 2017 Yvo Hunink rated it liked it
I've read this book in preparation for a 3 month field research. The writer has given an interesting journey through an ever changing country. He manages to switch his perspective to multiple sides of the coin, showing the rich and the poor and their good and bad experiences.

It poses an interesting question to what growth actually means and has seriously influenced my approach to concept of innovation, which will be the core concept of my project.

However, in my view the book misses the proportio
Feb 19, 2012 Aubrey rated it liked it
I received a copy of India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India by Akash Kapur from a giveaway on Goodreads.
Kapur is an adept writer whose first person accounts of his return in adulthood to India bring life and depth to this novel. The story flowed fairly well, and showed the readers two faces of India. Poverty and opulence abounds, with almost no middle ground. You see pieces of old India woven with a new, wealthy, technological India. The Author seeks to understand these changes by s
Kulpreet Yadav
May 21, 2013 Kulpreet Yadav rated it really liked it
‘India Becoming’ reads like a story. Of lives coming to terms with the change modernization has forced on them. Of challenging the established hierarchy in the Indian society. Of the gift of pollution and ugliness littering the urban landscape. Of new found sexuality.

The book is set in Pondicherry (now called Puducherry), home to Akash, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai. From changing rural landscape, to the rapid, unplanned modernization, the author has brought out the perils of rapid growth throug
Jul 29, 2012 Manisha rated it really liked it
I started this book a while ago but got side-tracked by other books that needed to be read. I picked it back up again a couple of days ago and I couldn't put it down. I enjoyed this book immensely. Akash Kapur gave an excellent and objective account of life in Modern India. At times it was spot on, other times downright depressing, but had such elements of truth and desperation for a country growing too fast (and with that a plethora of growing pains). I especially enjoyed Kapur's narrative styl ...more
At times this book is as much about the author as it is about modern India. While showing the reader "his" India, he is very present in every page. Unfortunately, however, it does not show us anything outside of the places he frequents, which, frankly, means the reader doesn't get any sense of most of the country. What he does present is interesting, but clearly one man's opinion of modern India. For me, the greatest problem with the book was that Kapur showed us little of what is being done to ...more
Oct 04, 2015 Arpita rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An extremely easy to read narrative non-fiction book that is part light and uplifting and part heavy and depressing, much like modern day India. The interactions of the author with several "common man" figures from different strata of Indian society provided a fresh perspective focusing not only on the urban growth story but also on the rural economic conditions. I quite enjoyed the author's writing style, even with short simple sentences, he is able to paint vivid pictures. However, it did seem ...more
Graham Mulligan
Aug 27, 2012 Graham Mulligan rated it liked it
I wanted to learn more about the new India as I plan to make a journey to the great subcontinent in the next year or so. It has been 43 years since I first visited India and much has changed. Akash Kapur has given me a glimpse of the changes but also a sense of what has not changed. The threads of interviews throughout his book give a good portrait of the way a diverse group of people from Sathy, the Reddiar of a rural village to Hari, the young homosexual struggling with coming out in India, fa ...more
Mar 14, 2012 Shaun rated it really liked it
I didn't know where to go with this book at first, I couldn't fully swallow Kapur's initial enthusiasm with the sort of body-slam of capitalism that has been washing over India. However, his balance of personal observation (seasoned by a life split between India and the US) and letting the cast of people whom he develops relationships with tell their stories begins to really bring it home about halfway through. It gets really dark, then finds a medium, and keeps an intriguing pace throughout. Ka ...more
Daniel Simmons
May 06, 2013 Daniel Simmons rated it liked it
Readers have to endure a lot of vapid philosophizing in this book's initial pages (mostly about the multiple Indias, traditional and modern, now in sometimes uncomfortable coexistence) before they can finally sink their teeth into the good stuff: a series of vignettes about real people and real experiences in the author's South Indian countryside surroundings. Some more unnecessary moralizing and symbolism starts creeping in near the end (a frail but beautiful flower is spotted rising from a gar ...more
Jul 27, 2012 Susan rated it liked it
The author divided the book neatly into one part which detailed the people he talked to and the dilemmas and choices they were facing in his former home town of Chennai and parts south. The second, more dire section includes observations on police inertia when his driver strikes a child; the negatives (and positives!) of life as a rag picker living beside a landfill; the gradual lawlessness of the newly monied as they get used to their privilege; and his reflections on whether to return to NYC o ...more
Jul 06, 2013 Richa rated it it was amazing
As a first-generation Indian living in America, I became aware of the huge cultural gap between myself and my grandparents. Curious about the same gap between modernity and older traditions in India, this book seemed to be a way to respond to that curiosity.

Sometimes throughout the novel I felt that some tangents were repetitive, or found myself lost in the number of "characters" Kapur wrote about (although I found them all intriguing). However, I felt the novel did an exceptionally well job at
Philippe Lazaro
Nov 17, 2016 Philippe Lazaro rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
"Einstein once wrote of America that its people were “always becoming, never being,” but it was in India now that I felt that sense of newness, of perpetual reinvention and forward momentum that I had felt when I first moved to America"

–Akash Kapur

This is a great book for understanding modern India if you have a huge appetite of interest but a limited background.

Kapur's look at the country explores how its rich traditions and history are both challenged by new technologies and offer guidance to
Mar 03, 2012 Chris rated it liked it
More of a personal book than "India: a Portrait," "India Becoming" brings to life the good and the bad of economic growth in people's lives, with less emphasis on the big picture politics. The freedom that women are getting is clear but as in America, it seems to also bring a lot of accompanying guilt of the many more paths not taken. I particularly liked his portrait of the village elder seeing his hereditary power erode with the new order of things and the author's realization that the despoil ...more
Nov 16, 2012 Grace rated it it was ok
I admit, I am one of those who always judge a book by its cover. Loved the cover and the title , but was quickly disappointed.
Akash Kapur had all the potential of taking a topic such as this and turning it into a terrific read.
Instead he seemed lost and too slow to grapple with "India becoming".
He often seemed dazed as a writer, and did not enlighten me on anything I did not already know.

Nevertheless, he has tried to explain India through the eyes of the characters,possibly as he understood it,
Anara Guard
Fascinating but ultimately disappointing, this journalistic account focuses primarily on south India--which is fine, but the book purports to be about ALL of this enormous country. The arc of the narrative descends into horrific accounts of violence and environmental degradation only to rise at the end into a not quite credible acceptance and equanimity. A good book to read to get a handle on how India changed rapidly in the middle 2000's (dates are a bit murky throughout) but my friends who hav ...more
Jul 03, 2012 Alice rated it liked it
A fascinating up close and personal look at modern India with all its complexities. The author introduces us to Indians coping with newly acquired wealth, as well as debts, Indians whose livelihood is threatened by the change in Indian society, by the poor who are still struggling and by the poor who have managed to climb out of poverty. The glamor in the high-tech cities contrasts with environmental decay and slums like those shown in Slumdog Millionaire, a movie of a few years back. Anyone int ...more
Umesh Kesavan
A riveting portrait of a nation on the move, told through life stories of a diverse range of characters - an ex-Zamindar,an IT professional who is also a homosexual,a working woman,a human rights lawyer,a sexologist and so on. The author merely paints character sketches and leaves it to the reader to make judgements on them and the New India.For those who are overly optimistic about the neoliberal model of growth pursued by India in the 21st century,this book is a reality check.
Mar 15, 2012 Rflutist rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book on every level, and deserves its five star rating. Part memoir, part biography, and totally engaging, it's a journey through the lives of several persons as they struggle with forfeit, and gain, in transitioning from traditional to modern ways of living in India. How good is this book? I didn't want it to end, and I wanted to meet and know the people contained within its pages, in person. What greater recommendation may be made to read a book, than that?
Oct 25, 2014 Hamsini rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book tells the story of India's economic (and accompanying social) transformation through a selection of people's stories from Tamil Nadu's small towns. I would peg this book down as necessary, uncomfortable reading because it also makes you confront the unsavoury aspects of India's so-called rise. There are no easy answers to what defines development, and how it can be measured and to whom it is beneficial, and this book articulates this conundrum.
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