India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India


“This takes, wisely, a humble approach: instead of trying to encapsulate the entirety of India’s changes, it follows a few lives along the idiosyncratic ways they develop. For people who savored Katherine Boo’s
Behind the Beautiful Forevers

—Evan Osnos,

“[A] lucid, balanced new book…Kapur is determinedly fair-minded, neither an apologist nor a scold, and he is a wonderfully empathetic listener, willing patiently to visit and revisit a large cast of men and women over several years to learn how they are benefiting from—and being battered by—the change going on all around them.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Impressively lucid and searching…In his clarity, sympathy, and impeccably sculpted prose, Kapur often summons the spirit of V. S. Naipaul.”

—Pico Iyer,

“There are many virtues of Akash Kapur’s beautifully sketched portrait of modern India…. The book inhabits parts of India we do not explore often enough, the India of the south and of the transforming countryside. Mostly, it takes us into the minds and hearts of Indians seeking to adapt to a society changing at disconcerting speed. The book reads like a novel…Kapur’s skill is to get people talking and to weave their stories into a necessarily messy debate about India’s future.”

Financial Times

“Readable, acutely observed, and crammed with well-drawn characters…Kapur’s strength is in letting his characters display the ambiguity that many feel about the ongoing change…. Kapur offers a corrective to a simplistic ‘new, happy narrative’ of a rising India.”

—The Economist

“A gripping book [that] describes the dark side of the boom—and the opportunities.”

—Der Spiegel

“Kapur himself, with one leg in the East and one in the West, is an excellent ambassador to explain the dynamic of change in India, what the nation is becoming. Any reader who would like to understand the country better would do well to give him a read.”

—The Daily Beast

“[Kapur] has a fluency that outsiders—even those of us who claim some genetic tie—lack.”

—The New Republic

“A fascinating look at the transformation of India, with broader lessons on the upside and downside of progress.”


“[A] lively, anecdotal look at the people who have been vastly changed by the entrepreneurial explosion in India…. An honest, conflicted glimpse of a country.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“This is a remarkably absorbing account of an India in transition—full of challenges and contradictions, but also of expectations, hope, and ultimately optimism.”

—Amartya Sen

“Marvelous…Kapur shows how the old rural cycle of the south Indian village depicted and romanticized by R. K. Narayan is fracturing and breaking apart to reveal a very new, more unstable world where the old certainties are disappearing and everything is up for grabs. Sharp-eyed, insightful, skillfully sketched and beautifully written,
India Becoming
is the remarkable debut of a distinctive new talent.”

—William Dalrymple, author of
Nine Lives:
In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

“Akash Kapur lives in and writes out of an India that few writers venture into. Curious, suspicious of received wisdom, and intellectually resourceful, [Kapur is] one of the most reliable observers of the New India.”

—Pankaj Mishra, author of
Temptations of the West:
How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond

“Through a series of deft character sketches, Akash Kapur captures the contradictions of life in modern India—between city and country, technology and aesthetics, development and the environment, greed and selflessness, individual fulfillment and community obligation. His writing is fresh and vivid; his perspective empathetic and appealingly nonjudgmental.”

—Ramachandra Guha, author of
India After Gandhi

“Beautifully written…Akash Kapur celebrates the gains and mourns the losses, conveying a complex story through the ups and downs of the lives of some fascinating individual women and men.”

—Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of
Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

“India today is in the midst of profound change and Akash Kapur captures the impact of that change on the lives of ordinary Indians with a narrative that avoids all clichés, platitudes, and simplifications.”

—Gurcharan Das, author of
India Unbound



A Portrait of Life in Modern India





Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL,

Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin
Books Ltd.)

Penguin Group (Australia), 707 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3008, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community
Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive,
Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

Penguin Books
(South Africa), Rosebank Office Park, 181 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parktown North 2193, South Africa

Penguin China, B7 Jiaming Center, 27 East Third Ring Road North, Chaoyang District,
Beijing 100020, China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers,
Internet addresses and other contact information at the time of publication, neither the
publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after
publication. Further, publisher does not have any control over and does not assume
any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Copyright © 2012 by Akash Kapur

Cover design by Gabriele Wilson

Book design by Susan Walsh

Frontmatter map by Jeffrey L. Ward

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the Estate of Ryszard Kapuscinski
for the permission to reprint a quote from his work
Shah of Shahs
copyright © 1982 by Ryszard Kapuscinski.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or
electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of
copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

RIVERHEAD is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The RIVERHEAD logo is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

First Riverhead hardcover edition: March 2012

First Riverhead trade paperback edition: March 2013

The Library of Congress has catalogued the Riverhead hardcover edition as follows:

Kapur, Akash.

India becoming : a portrait of life in modern India / Akash Kapur.

p.      cm.

ISBN: 978-1-101-56099-0

1.  India—Economic conditions—21
century.   2.  India—Social conditions—21
3.  India—Rural conditions.   4.  Social conditions—India.

HC435.3.K36           2012                    2011047588


Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity.
In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers;
however the story, the experiences and the words are the author’s alone.


Auralice, Aman, Emil

History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves.

—B. R. A

Development is a treacherous river, as everyone who plunges into its currents knows. On the surface the water flows smoothly and quickly, but if the captain makes one careless or thoughtless move he finds out how many whirlpools and wide shoals the river contains.


Life does not agree with philosophy.








Other books

The Big Screen by David Thomson
Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge
The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño
Reaper Inc. by Thomas Wright
The Farther I Fall by Lisa Nicholas
The Girl in the Photograph by Lygia Fagundes Telles
The Choice by Nicholas Sparks Copyright 2016 - 2021