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Author Akash Kapur is Eyewitness to India's Historical Change

Author relates his ambivalence about country's rapid modernization
by Jeff Tompkins
16 March 2012

NEW YORK, March 15, 2012 — Without pronouncing judgment, Akash Kapur — the son of an Indian father and an American mother — takes readers inside India's transformation through the stories of individuals living it in his new book, India Becoming.

In his talk here with New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch, Kapur opened by introducing Sathy, the book's most prominent personality and in many ways is an embodiment of modern India, caught between cherishing the traditional life and knowing that the drive toward modernity is unstoppable. "He knew things would change even more," Kapur said of Sathy, who leads "a way of life he would never share with his children."

Kapur went to talk about the identity crises many experience living in this changing world. Traditionally, Indian people were defined by caste, family, and region. Now many are defined by work, education, even sexuality or lack of religion. As Gourevitch pointed out, though, "Confrontation with tradition is tradition" in India. The crisis extends to the idea of control, as well: Who is in control in modern India? The gods? The parents? The individual?

In India Becoming Kapur quotes Einstein's observation that "America is a place that is never being, but always becoming." Kapur sees the same condition as increasingly prevalent in India. As he explained after his reading, he draws no conclusions about this being good or bad, stating simply, "The ambivalence is an honest reaction."

As an ancient and complex society undergoes an expedited shift into modernity, it's both hard on the old generation to watch the traditional ways fade and hard on the younger generation to live "without precedent." Many recognize that with the good comes the bad, Kapur concluded, but change is celebrated and embraced by those who recognize that India is still becoming.

Reported by Jon McElhannon

Watch the complete program
Interview with Akash Kapur
Excerpt from India Becoming

Video: Highlights from Akash Kapur's discussion with Philip Gourevitch at Asia Society New York on March 15, 2012. (2 min., 15 sec.)