It’s a story of stories—Akash Kapur’s India Becoming. In it, through lives and lived human experiences, Kapur chronicles the journey of his protagonist—India—and its landscape in transformation. Sometimes, in the book, nostalgia meets the now; but almost always, a sense of the present bustles with the possibility and promise of a fu ture where change is constant and comes with its own set of challenges. “I’d say,” Akash says, “it’s about a universal human experience of living through transformation and feeling both ambivalent and aspirational about it. The good thing is everyone feels they can make it.”
That sense of the positive is also the core that connects Auroville-based Kapur’s many characters – Sathy, a land owner, Das, a Dalit activist, Hari, who worked for a BPO, Selvi, an IT professional, Banu, a trainer, Krishnan and Ramdas, both cow brokers, Veena, a marketing professional, Vinod, a labour lawyer and activist, just to name a few — whose personal narratives are reflective of a larger narrative of a country in movement. “Honestly,” Kapur says, “there is no real method that dictated my choice of characters; they are not, for instance, representative of a country in a demographic way; the idea was to capture people whose lives were representative of the ambivalence of modern India.”
From a reader’s point of view, India Becoming is also a book where detailed and painstaking research meets objectivity in reporting. That is, courtesy, its author who studied Anthropology (at Harvard University) and went on to pursue a full-time career in journalism after a PhD in Law and Sociology (at Oxford University) before moving to New York. “Anthropology and journalism have a lot to say to each other,” Kapur says, letting us into his creative process of writing, “I picked people who were willing to speak to me and in a way, let me into their lives.”
As an “intensely immersive” project, the book found its genesis in 2003 when Kapur returned to India — “the reasons were, part home-sickness and part, the fact that there was so much happening in India” — and set out on a quest to understand how his home and country had changed from when he left Auroville at 17 until he returned many years later. “Let me clarify though,” he says, “the book is not a memoir; I was convinced – right from the start – I wanted the book to be about the people it was about.” Three years later, Kapur officially began writing and as he went along, the characters and their experiences architected the book.
“It has been a very challenging journey,” he says, reflecting on India Becoming that is his first and will remain his book on “homecoming”. He adds, “Life is very complex; and to capture complexity, life is a nice vehicle.” India Becoming is that; the life of a landscape that is dynamic, chaotic, challenging.