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US-based writer documents India's reinvention

Friday March 04, 2011 12:05:44 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

New Delhi: India, a country grounded in tradition, has begun to reinvent itself in a relatively small period, says US-based Indian origin writer-columnist Anand Giridharadas who has authored the book "India Calling: an intimate portrait of a nation's remaking".

"NRIs and foreigners are scrambling to figure out this new country being made. I think this reinvention of India is grounded in millions of reinventions - not one big reinvention but flowering of personal reinventions," Giridharadas, who lives in Massachusetts, told IANS here.

The 29-year-old columnist for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times gave up his management job in Mumbai in 2005 to pursue the call of the written word.

"India Calling", published by HarperCollins-India and launched last week, unravels the process of the country's remaking through personal narratives that the writer classifies as "dreams, ambition, pride, anger, love, freedom and epilogue, midnight".

It takes off with the young writer's landing in a "lifeless" Mumbai "one orange night".

Giridharadas had returned to India in the early last decade after graduating in the US to be a part of the changing nation. He took up a position by the management consultant firm McKinsey and Company in Mumbai.

"At first, India had felt alien to me, alien in its crowds and strange phraseology, alien in its probing of my native place, alien in its lack of enthusiasm for my arrival. In fact, working at McKinsey shielded me from India's hardships," he says.

In the few years that he worked at Mckinsey, Giridharadas took stock of the reinventions that defined the new India and decided to document it. An opportunity to work as the Mumbai-based correspondent for The International Herald Tribune opened new possibilities for the young writer.

"I plunged into my new life as a newspaperman and drove deeper than before into India. I filled my shelves with books on India and and on the weekends I would sit with a dozen titles on my bed as though their presence would alone teach me about caste, Indian democracy, Kashmir and leading industrialists. I began to study Hindi, I made a list of all the people whom I thought I should know in Mumbai and went to see them one by one," he said.

India was changing when Giridharadas arrived and it continued to change "viscerally, dramatically and improbably".

"The freeze I had sensed as a child (during visits to the country) was thawing," the writer said. The deepest change that Giridharadas witnessed in India "was not in what its factories were building or what its programmers were coding".

"It was in the mind - in how people conceived their possibilities. Indians now seemed to know that they didn't have to leave, as my father had, to have their personal revolutions. Children of the lower caste were hoisting themselves up and women were becoming breadwinners."

He said India was heading to an "exciting moment" and one of the purposes of writing the book "was to stimulate in a small way the inflection within Indian society" from his wider outsider's perspective.

Giridharadas said the "last 20 years were about unleashing the market, unleashing government dynamism" and the next 20 years of governance will be about ordering all those ambitions about negotiating the social trade-offs brought about by growth.

"India needs to allow this extraordinary surge of dynamism we have seen in the last 20 years to flow into education and rethink the model one can use," the writer recommended.

He wrote the book in a Goa village.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at




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