The Beautiful and the Damned sounds good as a title but is misleading. One of the great merits of Siddhartha Deb’s portraits is their nuance. They are portraits of those he met while travelling across India, investigating the changes he found when he returned after six years in New York. He doesn’t write in black and white. He realises that in almost all cases various shades of grey are the nearest we can get to a true portrayal of anyone’s life.
This is not of course to say that Deb glosses over the insecurity, the danger, the poor pay, the backbreaking work of those oppressed by the changed India he found. But he portrays them as fellow human beings, not objects of pity. At the same time he doesn’t portray, for example, those who employ migrant workers as utterly heartless exploiters. There is even a lightness of touch to his description of a labour contractor.
All this makes it even more remarkable that a court in distant Silchar, hearing a defamation suit, found one chapter of this book so lacking in nuance that the judge took the extreme step of granting an injunction, preventing the chapter being published. Furthermore, the judgement was passed without giving the publisher or the author the opportunity to defend themselves. So chapter one is missing from the Indian version of the book, although the full version will be available in other countries and the missing chapter is easily available on the net. Siddhartha Deb sees this injunction as an example of intimidation by “the powerful and wealthy”.
Intimidation is common in the stories Deb tells and the characters he brings so vividly to life add up to a critique of the India Story which the powerful and wealthy have managed to sell to their fellow Indians and to the world. He does meet some of those who have prospered but he also tells the stories of those for whom the new India still means a life of unrelenting struggle, with no security, and no hope of change. Those migrant workers—farmers whose lives were destroyed by the collapse of the Red Sorghum market, a young girl from the Northeast exhausted by the long hours she works serving customers in one of Delhi’s most expensive restaurants, and many others—all are an indictment of the new India.
But there is something more going on here. Deb, as I read him, discovers the fundamental fault in the construction of the new India. It is a superstructure erected on top of the crumbling edifice of the old ineffective India—corrupt, inefficient, and tied up in red tape. Deb doesn’t spell that out but leaves readers to draw the conclusion themselves. For instance, by telling the story of the police officer who favours a factory owner by filing a false rape case against a worker, thus preventing the formation of a trade union. Or the collector who can’t prevent the illegal activities leading to the crisis in the Red Sorghum market that bankrupts farmers. And the inspectors who pocket bribes to ignore the deplorable living conditions of migrant workers in a steel plant.
Old India also negates the advantages of the new structures which have been built and undermines the systems which have been put in place. The steel plant manager says a new highway, a symbol of modernity, has made the corruption worse because it’s so much easier for the rent-seeking inspectors to reach the factory. Earlier, the conditions made them hesitate before deciding to come calling. In the Red Sorghum scandal, the freedom of the market, meant to be one of the founding principles of the new India, is distorted by the chaos of the old India, syndicates, price-fixing, thugs, even riots and arson. The hi-tech Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu thought he had created is shown by the Satyam scandal to be “about land while pretending to be about software”. The answer to everything in Andhra, provided at considerable cost to the tax-payer by the international consultants McKinsey, is consigned to the wastepaper basket.
Everywhere Deb goes he finds evidence that much more than market reforms are needed if the new India is to be based on solid foundations. He presents that evidence in the most persuasive way, not by theorising or pontificating, but by letting the lives of those he meets while investigating the new India tell their own stories. This is a thoroughly readable book which should be read by anyone who believes India is already set on the path to economic superpower status.
Writing story of India is a fabulous money making business.Both westerner and Indians jump in this bandwagon ,start to travel here and there collect most wonderful, odd,whimsical fantastic stories which are interested to western readers,, From British era Anglophobe writer constantly writing this kind stories there was and is big market in western world. These writers are really speaking white man` s nigger.Naipaul is also established himself as a writer scornfully writing on India.I had not seen single book which wrote full understanding the India culture, history,Pattern of writing same. carbon copy of same book repeating again and again.After all this money making business.
Sounds like a pretty good book. It's neither harsh on modern India, nor glorifying of it. But it seems to portray the day-to-day realities of many ordinary working people, which is commendable. The reference to the girl from the North East who was exhausted after serving customers for hours, is somewhat disturbing.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT