India Calling

by Anand Giridharadas
ages: adult
First sentence: “As my flight swooped down toward Bombay, an elderly Indian man leaned over and asked for help with his landing card.”
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M, actually, is responsible for choosing this book. I introduced her (mostly by accident) to the joy that are Hindi language movies, and she fell head-over-heels in love with them. As a result, she’s been requesting books on India for the past few weeks, trying to learn as much about the country as she can. This one just happened to catch my eye. And I’m glad it did.

Anand Giridharadas is the son of NRIs (Non-Resident Indians). His parents came to American in the 1970s, mostly because India wasn’t offering his father the kind of opportunities that he wanted. Anand, raised as a good Indian-American, with only brief trips back to India as a child, 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, he explores how each things are changing — because of capitalism and consumerism — 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, he was able to go places a Westerner couldn’t have, and yet as an outsider, he was able to make observations and ask questions that wouldn’t occur to someone who hadn’t been raised outside of India. It was the best of both worlds, that melded into a very thought-provoking book.

It was fascinating, to say the least, even for someone who has had very little exposure to the world that is India.

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