The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India by Siddhartha Deb

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The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India by Siddhartha Deb

Category: Travel
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Although this book is about modern-day India and her people, Deb chooses to concentrate on only five individuals. But it is a format which works, in my opinion, as the reader is able to get-up-close-and-personal with such people as farmers, Bollywood movie hot-shots - and more.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: June 2011
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670917303

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This book immediately caught my eye with its terrific front cover. A picture says more than a thousand words ... But I was conscious that, as a work of non-fiction, it may be full of rather dry facts and figures that I was going to have to plough through with grace and patience. Couple that with, in my opinion, most of the Indian writers that I have read, have in my experience been unnecessarily wordy and flowery (and exasperating) choosing to use fifteen words when one or two would be nicely. So, a little bit of trepidation as I open the book. The first thing to strike me is the intriguing contents page. As Deb is going to concentrate on a mere handful of individuals I'm not going to feel bombarded by hundreds of different stories vying for space on the page. Good start.

There's quite a lengthy Introduction but it serves to tell us a bit about the author. Quite a bit, in fact. Although Indian by birth, Deb has travelled extensively and comes across as cosmopolitan. Here he tells us a little about, in his words, India's best-known business: the call centre. But he wants to take it further, he wants to find out about pay and conditions. Is it all as glamorous and well-paid as it would seem? Deb also touches on topics such as how men and women fare in the workplace and also acknowledging the Hindu and Muslim sectors of India's vast population.

The first individual who is interviewed, Deb-style, is a wealthy entrepreneur who has built up a vast empire in only ten years or so and not backward of boasting about it either. Too good to be true? Deb digs deep to get to the important facts. Throughout the book some interviewees are rather reluctant to talk, even answering seemingly simple questions. But with brash businessman/entrepreneur Arindam there's no problem. Gushing about his wealth every five minutes he's happy to talk for India. All bling (Deb succinctly sums it up as I felt under a mild sensory assault from all those glittering surfaces.) and designer labels, with his signature ponytail, Arindam is hard to miss.

In another section of the book is an interesting and insightful peep into one man's wealth as Deb is invited to the Delhi Gymkhana Club (you can't miss it as it's right next door to the prime minister's residence). As this elderly gentleman is gently quizzed by Deb, he spills the beans about another level of money, wealth, status etc. Very revealing. It's almost what's not being said in this case, as what's actually being said.

The other chapters are equally illuminating. One is all about India's engineers and here the important subject of getting a good education is aired at length. For many, it's the means of getting out of poverty and making a decent living. And during the course of these Q and A sessions we learn that many Indians who gain qualifications in say America or Britain, want to return home and do return home in order to 'do' some good for their country.

Farming and farmers cover yet another chapter. While others investigate the factory worker and the retail worker. What could easily have been provided as perhaps dry statistics comes to life on the page in Deb's capable hands. I enjoyed the book so much, much more than I had originally anticipated, that I would happily have read all about another handful of Deb's chosen individuals. His style was very reader-friendly. Thoroughly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Ox Travels by Michael Palin.

Buy The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India by Siddhartha Deb at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India by Siddhartha Deb at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India by Siddhartha Deb at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India by Siddhartha Deb at Amazon.com.


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