"India didn't lend itself to easy judgments. The central fact (perhaps the only incontrovertible fact) of modern India was change. The nation was on a journey. It was still sorting through the contradictions of a rapid, and inevitably messy, transformation. Who could say where the journey was leading?"
After having finished Akash Kapur's India Becoming, I feel that the book provides good insights to some of the problems and opportunities in the recent history of India; however, after following the stories of Kapur's friends - their struggles, successes and where they ended up -- the book comes down to the conclusion that no single conclusion about modern India can be made. While some may say that in this sense the book might not be meaningful or revealing, I think Kapur ends the book as honestly as one possibly can. As humans, we have a tendency to favor compartmentalization; people depend on black-and-white categories that help us to make sense of things and give us a basis upon which to act. In my own personal belief, I think that, for the most part, these categories oversimplify reality and prevent us from seeing things how they really are. Kapur gives the reader none of that; instead, he shows his readers what India has meant and how its meaning continually changes through the people we get to know in the text.
It may be worth mentioning that I was a bit annoyed by the optimism he spoke about in the end of the book. This isn't to say I don't believe in optimism (au contraire!), but considering how dark the majority of the second half of the book was -- extreme poverty, devastating pollution, mob violence, death, etc. -- it seemed a bit strange to flip the bright optimism light-switch on us. This is a bit ironic, as it appears throughout the book that he can be critical of the optimism, sometimes presented as naivety, that his friends live by. By returning to a passive state of optimism, Kapur finishes the book as if it were just a story instead of a complex reality.
He says,"I realized that evening that there was only one thing, really, of which I could be certain: I was lucky to be a part of the change, to be witnessing and living it every day...I was a privileged spectator, with a ringside seat at one of the greatest shows in history. The show was still unfolding. I resolved just to sit back, stop trying to figure out what I thought of it -- and enjoy it."
On a completely different note, there is one other quote that I feel was very relevant and telling of one of the attitudes of some Indian people in light of the change the country has experienced since the 90s.
"And so, over the past decade or two, the narrative has changed: now people write stories about Indian upliftment, about a nation on the move, emerging from the shadows of poverty into the glitter of twenty-first-century prosperity. This more cheerful India is real. But...its reality didn't in any way negate the existence of another, far less cheerful, India. I could understand why people were tired of hearing about misery...Still, I couldn't help feeling that we were replacing the old cliché with a new one -- that the new, happy narrative was just as simplistic as the old, depressing one.
In that simplification lay the blindness of the nation. I felt a kind of turning away, a refusal (or inability) to stare in the face of all that remained undone. And I couldn't help feeling, too, that the blindness was a form of complicity -- that it was a way of consigning the poor to an immutable state of poverty, and that it was, ultimately, part of the oppression and injustice of modern India."
After reflecting on Kapur's revelations scattered throughout India Becoming, I can't help but feel in awe of how large some of the problems are in India, and how insignificant one person might seem as compared to the 1-billion-plus population in the country. However, Kapur captures the importance of attitudes and how social action (or lack thereof) contributes to the state of any country. He also exposes a human element in it all. How nice it is to be naive and to focus on the good things, especially in a time when people are finally catching a big wave or getting a break in life. Where do our social responsibilities for the lives of others lie? When is it okay to be selfish?
Overall, I would highly recommend reading India Becoming, because it gives a genuine feeling of what change in India has felt like in recent years. It is both informative, but also 'sticky.' The stories that Kapur chooses to tell speak for themselves, letting India speak for itself and exist without the bounds of categorization. It's not a book that can easily be summarized, but it illuminates important ideas and thoughts about India as well as about capitalism, materialism, how success is defined in India and in the U.S.