Akash Kapur, author of India Becoming. (Sebastien Cortes)
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 his latest book India Becoming, he sought out urban and rural Indians experiencing the country's rapid development and social transformation firsthand as they adapt social and economic changes to their own needs.
On March 15, Kapur will discuss India Becoming and the challenges facing the Indian society as the country speeds ahead on it's path of growth and modernization with The New Yorker's Philip Gourevitch at Asia Society. Can't make it to this program? Tune into AsiaSociety.org/Live at 6:30 pm ET for a free live video webcast. Viewers are encouraged to submit questions to [email protected].
Adapted from India Becoming by Akash Kapur
It was to this new nation — this country where rice fields were giving way to highways, farmland to software complexes, and saris to pants— that I returned in 2003. I was coming home, but in many ways it was to a home I didn’t recognize anymore.
In America, I had been living in New York. I loved New York — loved the nightlife, loved the parks, loved the diversity of the city — but increasingly, I had found life there stifling. America, I felt, was in a kind of fog. The war in Iraq was turning sour, the economy was sputtering. The country was depressed, consumed with forebodings of decline.
India was so different. India was emerging from its depression, a centuries-long misadventure of colonialism, poverty, and underdevelopment. Now, on its way to what was surely a better future, the country was giddy, exuberant. Bookstores were filled with titles like India Arriving, The Indian Renaissance, and India Booms. Newspapers and magazines regularly ran surveys showing that India was the most optimistic country in the world.
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 second person I met dreamed of being an entrepreneur; they were willing to take a bet on the future.
It was as if my world had come full circle. I had grown up between India and America, the son of an Indian father and an American mother. I always considered both countries home. In 1991, at the age of sixteen, I moved to America in search of better education and more opportunities. Like so many before me, I was escaping the economic and social torpor of India — the austerity imposed by the nation's socialist economy, the fatalism and bureaucracy that blocked all creative impulse and even a hint of entrepreneurial energy.
The India of my youth felt cut off, at the edge of modernity. When I boarded that plane in Chennai, trading the heat of coastal South India for the bitter winters of boarding school in Massachusetts, I felt like I was entering the world.
Now, 12 years later, India was at the center of the world. It was India, with its resurgent economy, high savings rates, and young, educated workforce, that beckoned with the sense of a brighter future; it was India that offered the promise of a country and an economy on the upswing. 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.
Excerpted and adapted from India Becoming by Akash Kapur, by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2012 by Akash Kapur.