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Realtime India

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The latest addition to the ever-growing genre of books on post-Independence India, The Beautiful And The Damned by Siddhartha Deb is largely about the damned, not the beautiful. The book had achieved some notoriety ahead of its release thanks to a chapter on Arindam Chaudhuri of IIPM. This Indian edition is devoid of the troubled part, courtesy a court order. The title of the book is inspired by a Scott Fitzgerald book on decadence in the early 20th century American society. Deb's book, too, talks about decadence in this part of the world.

Deb starts with a long introduction on his experiences in India, including a touching portrait of a person in Bhopal who helps victims affected by the gas tragedy. The book, written over five years, serves to underline how India — one of the promising economies of the future — sees growing social and economic inequity, caste prejudice and discrimination against women.

The book has five chapters — the first one on Chaudhuri, the second one about the IT industry, the third about farmers in Andhra Pradesh, the fourth on a steel factory in Andhra Pradesh, and the last one revolving around a young woman employee in an upmarket restaurant in Delhi. The author's voice remains true to his characters and transparent throughout most of the stories. But he gets a bit cynical when discussing the IT industry, sounding incoherent like one of the characters he profiles.

The book is not a happy tale and the narrative leaves the reader with a deep sense of despondency about the plight of the country. Especially on the side effects of India's economic progress. While the haves wall themselves in gated communities, Deb notes, the poor live in shanties just outside the same walls. Perhaps, that is the contrast modern India is all about.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 31-10-2011)