Three Essential Reads on Modern India

India Becoming
India Becoming By Akash Kapur. $26.95; Riverhead

In 2003 journalist Akash Kapur returned to south India, his childhood home, to attempt to understand the dynamism of the country. He meets a farmer who laments India’s changes and yet can see the good that development can bring, and a hardworking cow broker who’s also a fervent atheist. Kapur gives readers a series of snapshots of life as the country grows, but also depicts the violence, pollution, and poverty he encounters. India Becoming vividly captures India’s change—as well as its darkness.

Rob Verger

From the Ruins of Empire From the Ruins of Empire By Pankaj Mishra. $27; Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Pankaj Mishra’s survey of three Asian intellectuals—the Afghan Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, China’s Liang Qichao, and the Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore—pays tribute to their role in the fight against the colonial West. He argues that the moral and political decline of the West actually began 100 years ago and continues to this day. Given the West’s recent history of economic instability and military intervention in the Muslim world, these intellectuals’ search for a non-Western style of development and government takes on particular significance.

Jacob Silverman

books-india-OM01sidebar-a-free-man A Free Man By Aman Sethi. $24.95; W.W. Norton & Co

Journalist Aman Sethi takes to the streets to reveal the life of a Delhi laborer in this stunningly original portrait of the city’s underclass. Falling in with the charismatic Mohammed Ashraf, a safediwallah (painter), and Ashraf’s friends Lalloo and Rehaan, Sethi little by little learns how these men live—and where they came from. It’s a revealing look at urban India told with humor, compassion, and verve.

—Mythili G. Rao