cover image The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India

The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India

Siddhartha Deb. Faber and Faber, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-86547-862-6

Deb (The Point of No Return) offers a refreshingly skeptical rejoinder to the feel-good narratives of an ascendant India happily contributing to and benefiting from globalization. His mosaic of stories of striving, hopes dashed or realized, is more craggy, gritty, and realistic than the glossy accounts of information technology and free markets as benign, modernizing forces. He follows various individuals%E2%80%94a community activist, a dubiously credentialed salesman, a struggling provincial waitress both liberated and hemmed in by her life in New Delhi%E2%80%94as some of the millions of Indians who've flung themselves headlong into their nation's transformation and "feel both empowered and excluded... quick to express a sense of victimization, voicing their anger about being excluded from the elite while being callously indifferent to the truly impoverished." While his singling out the apparent opposites created by rapid social transformation, "visibility and invisibility, past and present, wealth and poverty, quietism and activism" isn't a new approach, his examples of how India is being "remade forcefully" and unevenly are insightful. Passing a police squad gunning for a Maoist rebel agitating for better conditions in a poor rural area, the author notes, "it was almost impossible not to give in to the pleasure of the new, smoothly tarred highway with its carefully demarcated lanes." (Sept.)