Anand Giridharadas’ parents came to the United States in the 1970s, mostly because India — his mother is from Bombay (which Giridharadas had the somewhat annoying habit of calling Bombay instead of Mumbai); his father from a town in the south — wasn’t offering his father the kind of opportunities that he wanted. They stayed, raising their kids in several U.S. cities, though with annual trips back to the motherland. It all seemed well and good, except Anand, much to the consternation of his parents, felt the siren call of India and shortly after college headed there to live and work. This book is his observations of the “new” India, the way India is reinventing itself, and the consequences — both good and bad — of that.
The book is divided into chapters exploring different emotions and hopes: dreams, ambition, pride, anger, love, freedom. Giridharadas explores how each one has had an impact on the India of his parents and grandparents, and through his observations, travels, experiences in the country and interviews with people he has met, he explores how each thing is changing — because of capitalism and consumerism in the years since India abandoned socialism — and not changing — because India is an old country, and one with a billion attitudes to change. The book weaves history, culture and religion together, leaving, it seemed to me, no stone unturned. As an Indian himself, Giridharadas was able to go places and get people to open up in ways a westerner couldn’t have. He also had the advantage of a personal connection to the country through his family. And yet because he wasn’t raised in India, he was able to take on the role of the outsider and make observations and ask questions that wouldn’t occur to someone who hadn’t been raised in the United States. It was the best of both worlds that melded into a very thought-provoking book.
Some of the sections worked better than others, and there were a lot of names to keep track of. They are all fascinating stories, however, and Giridharadas does an admirable job painting a picture of a nation trying to redefine itself yet again. It’s an intriguing, fascinating look at the world that is India.
Rated: Moderate for five instances of the f-word and several other mild swear words.