A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
The largest election ever held in history is happening right now in India. More than 800 million people are registered to vote in the world’s most populous democracy. India has been going through dramatic political and social changes since it opened up its economy 20 years ago. It now has a sizable and growing middle class. The transformation has been particularly striking in Delhi, the nation’s capital. Slums were ripped down to make way for posh shopping malls and apartment buildings. In a new book, “Capital: The Eruption of Delhi,” Rana Dasgupta tells the stories of the billionaires, politicians and slum activists bound by the change gripping one of the world’s largest cities.
- Rana Dasgupta British writer
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. India, the world's largest democracy, has gone through a dramatic economic transformation over the last 20 years. In a new book, an author of Indian descent describes how those changes have affected Delhi, the capital city, through the eyes of its people. The title of the book is "Capital: The Eruption of Delhi." Rana -- I'm sorry. Rana Dasgupta joins me in the studio to talk about your new book. Thanks so much for being with us.
MR. RANA DASGUPTAThank you for having me.
PAGEWe're inviting our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free number. You can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Now, you are a novelist, an award-winning novelist, and yet this is a nonfiction book about Delhi. Why did you decide to write it?
DASGUPTAWell, when I'd finished my first two books of fiction, which were both written in Delhi and set in other places, I thought it was time -- 'cause I'd been living there for a decade to really look at the -- look around myself at the place I was in because it had gone through just extraordinary transformations. The city itself had been ripped down and rebuilt, and the enormous new fortunes had emerged. And life had changed in all kinds of respects, people's attitudes to money and family and all sorts of things.
DASGUPTAAnd, for me, I thought it was an important chapter in the long history of capitalist change. It was something that was different to everything that happened in the West, but it was part of the same system. And I think it -- I felt it needed to be looked at. And, really, I also thought that the lives around me were probably stranger than I could make up. I felt that I shouldn't presume to try and make it up. I should go and talk to people and find out what was going on, and I would discover much weirder and more wonderful things than I could imagine.
PAGEDoes -- so tell us just very in brief about some of the characters on which you kind of tell the story of Delhi.
DASGUPTARight. So the book is a bit built around a lot of these conversations. They were -- many of them some of the most remarkable conversations of my life. So we have, for instance, we have a young guy who's just delighted to find himself in a corporation. It's changed his life. It's rescued him, he feels, from the boring small-town world that he came from.
DASGUPTAAnd he talks about himself as a kind of corporation. He talks about his kind of core competences and all -- he talks about his branding and those kinds of things. And he's in love with this new world of colleagues and corporations. But a lot of the book is about the great turbulence of these changes. The idea that capitalism will come into a place and everything will be very serene is not at all the experience of most of the characters in my book.
DASGUPTAAnd so -- for instance, one of the big things that's changed is relationships between men and women. And we have one woman who talks with great humor and eloquence about the breakdown of her marriage and how differently her husband and she felt about what life was now about in the new India.
PAGEAnd, in fact, one of the things that, in the United States, we've been reading about India is the -- these horrible incidents of very violent rapes in India. And you talk about some of the societal forces that may be contributing to that.
DASGUPTAYes. I mean, I think that, when all these things have happened over the last -- in 1991, the Indian economy was opened up to global flows. And it had been -- before that, there had been 45 years of a state-controlled economy, which meant that people didn't see products or media or anything from the outside world. And they were told, to a great extent, that Western capitalism was the source of all evil. This was the basis which (word?) had set up the country.
DASGUPTASo when those changes happened in 1991, they had all kinds of effects. And for some people, they -- some people did very well out of it. But for many people, the most -- the clearest sensation they had of this new world was that it was very risky compared to the old world. They suddenly had to risk a lot in order to get anything back. And I think one of the things that's happened, unfortunately, is that women have become the scapegoats for a lot of those men who feel their situation has been worsened by capitalism.
DASGUPTAThe women have adapted in general. I would say middle class women have adapted much better to the situation. They perform very well in the workplace. They've managed all kinds of things, family and work and parents and children, in this very pragmatic and rational sort of way. And men are often feeling that women have become much more empowered. And so women out on the streets, women who are clearly mobile and at ease in this new world, have become unfortunately the scapegoats -- and sometimes in a very violent way -- for the changes that have happened.
PAGEAnd when you talk about the advent of a kind of no holds barred capitalism after generations where that just wasn't permitted, it sounds like Moscow. It sounds like what we've seen happen in Russia. Do you see similarities?
DASGUPTAI do see similarities because the reason that I would choose to write a book about Delhi at this point in time is because I think the energies that we see in Delhi are very 21st century energies. Bombay was the commercial capital of India for most of the 20th century. But most of the new billion-dollar fortunes in the 21st century are Delhi fortunes.
DASGUPTAAnd the reason is that something very similar to Moscow has happened. That is to say that, during the sort of breakup of state monopolies over large sections of the economy, there was a huge kind of hustle around the political center, around the capital city, by people who were well connected politically to try and get their hands on these private assets. And so Delhi has the feel of a kind of Moscow environment where there are huge stakes for anyone who can infiltrate the political system adequately. And so it's much more corrupt and darker than Bombay is.
PAGERana Dasgupta has written a new book called "Capital: The Eruption of Delhi." What do you mean by eruption?
DASGUPTAI think, by eruption -- I mean, for me, this book comes at a particularly interesting time in history. That's to say that it's -- no one, I think, who's alive now can remember the moment when America was not the first economy in the world. It's more than a hundred years that that's been the case. And within a few years, that will cease to be the case. And we don't -- and so there are lots of unknown things about the near future. None of know what it's like to live in a world where America is the second economy.
DASGUPTAAnd for a lot of that time, we have all sort of become accustomed to the thought that all countries that become modern will become Western. We talk about globalization and Americanization almost in the same breath. What I wanted to show in this book was that this is seeming more and more unlikely. The people in this book are definitely modern. They inhabit the same world that anyone in the United States inhabits.
DASGUPTABut they have no real aspirations to become Western. In fact, much of their upbringing has immunized themselves against that desire. And so the eruption that I'm talking about is the eruption of very new sensibilities about what 21st century living is. And the characters in my book, because of the histories that I trace of where these people have come from and what forms their culture and their philosophy, they have very different ideas of life.
DASGUPTAThey think that capitalism itself is a different object from what Americans think it is. They think that it can do different things for them. And they think all these things of earning money and buying things are different processes from what Americans think they are.
PAGEYou write that Delhi is a traumatized city. What do you mean by that?
DASGUPTAWell, I mean that the people who founded the culture of the contemporary city were refugees who arrived from one of the 21st century's great catastrophes. That was the partition of British India into two new states, India and Pakistan. The line of partition was a few hundred kilometers away from Delhi. And on the Indian side, Hindus and Sikhs fleeing the new state of Pakistan arrived in refugee camps of Delhi.
DASGUPTAMany of them had lost all their possessions and their property and their businesses. And they had seen death and rape on very, very large scales. So they arrived at a moment that was supposed to be a new birth of a nation. But they were stunned and stupefied by the things they had just seen. And these were the people that went about rebuilding their lives and building the city of Delhi. So it is a city that has a particular history. And that's what shapes the very specific relationship to money and society that people in that place have.
PAGEAnd what -- another assumption I think a lot of Americans make about a developing economy, a capitalist economy, is that it will fuel the rise of a broad middle class. That hasn't exactly happened there. I mean, you've had the rise of billionaires. But we talk about income inequality here -- that on an enormous scale now in Delhi.
DASGUPTAThere is great inequality. The -- there has been the formation of a substantial middle class. We shouldn't ignore the fact that many, many people now have opportunities and aspirations that they didn't have before, and money that they didn't have before. But you're absolutely right, that this middle class is not really in the middle.
DASGUPTAIt's a band at the top of society, and the structure of the Indian economic -- the Indian income is extremely unequal. I think that this idea that all countries will look like America in the 1960s as capitalism spreads is an idea that anyway is cracking up a little bit.
DASGUPTAWe've all been hearing about Thomas Piketty's book in which he -- with the same title as mine, in fact -- where he proposes that possibly the stable state of our global system in the near future would be that we have -- that every country in the world is structured someway like Europe in 1890 with a very wealthy elite, and everyone else rather unable through mere salaries to change the outcome of their lives. And this is very much the situation we have in India.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll take some of your calls. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free number. We'll read some of your emails, and we'll ask our author to read from the very beginning of his new book, "Capital: The Eruption of Delhi." Stay with.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Rana Dasgupta is in the studio with me. He's a British writer. His debut novel, "Solo," won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize. He's the author of a collection of urban folk tales called "Tokyo Cancelled." But we're talking with him about his new book, a book of non-fiction, "Capital: The Eruption of Delhi." And I would like to ask you please to read from the very opening of your new book, if you wood.
DASGUPTAThis is the very opening and it's -- the chapter is called Landscape. "March is the prettiest month, bringing flawless blooms to the dour frangipanis, which are placed artfully around the compound in pleasing congruity with the posted security guards who waved me on as I drive up to the house. The guards instruct me to walk through the house to the swimming pool at the back.
DASGUPTAThey indicate a spot-lit passageway. The sliding doors are drawn half across, blocking one side of the entrance. I set off through the other, open side and -- do I hear the guards' warning cries before or after? -- walk straight into a sheet of plate glass, so clean and so non-reflective that even though I have just staggered back from it, even though I have just bent double, clutching my crumpled nose, I still cannot tell it is there.
DASGUPTAThe guards are laughing. One of them runs to assist the idiot visitor. He advises me to enter the passage not through the glass but through the door -- a normal door, nothing sliding about it. He demonstrates to me a how a door works so that I do not injure myself again. I pass through the house. Velvet lampshades in high-frequency colors hang from the high ceiling.
DASGUPTAOn the walls hang enormous canvasses painted with the kind of energetic soft porn you see on posters for DJ dance nights. I come out on the other side of the house, where everything is lit by that secret, erotic blue that rises from private pools at night. I am led to a poolside seat. A glass is placed in front of me with a sealed bottle of water. In a city of euphemisms, this place is called a farmhouse."
PAGEThat's Rana Dasgupta, reading to us from the beginning of his new book, "Capital." This place is called a farmhouse. What are these farmhouses that you found in Delhi?
DASGUPTAWell, farmhouses, they are a sort of a mythical part of the city because they are the landscape for the lives of the rich and famous. Delhi is peculiar in that it's rich people seem not to wish to look down on the city as they do in New York, say, and contemplate the place where their fortune comes from. They wish to live in the countryside. So they build themselves mansions surrounded by lawns and with high walls and barbed wire around.
DASGUPTAIt would show something, I think, of the relationship of people to Delhi as opposed to people to Bombay or Calcutta. As I said before, the people who arrive in Delhi and made the culture of the city were traumatized people. They were people who'd been turned on by their neighbors. They did not have a very romantic sense of the collective or of the public or of society. And their fantasy was to live entirely insulated.
DASGUPTASo these farmhouses are only the kind of most extravagant example of this, even very small houses can be surrounded by 10-foot high walls with steel spikes on the top and things like that.
PAGESo it's really a city of clans. People don't think of themselves as a citizen of the city but a member of a much -- of a tribe.
DASGUPTAYes. It's very much a place where one is interested in one zone and looking after one zone. And building -- those people have to build their fortunes back up were very much concerned about family businesses. And, in fact, family businesses, from the smallest to the largest scale of the economy, and it's run by family businesses. And a lot of the aura around marriage, for instance, is because marriage and succession are very key to the kind of economic life of the city as well.
PAGESo tell us about the sir you were waiting to see in the scene.
DASGUPTASo he's a young man, he's in his 30s. And he has been -- he runs an automotive company or a company that makes automobile components. There is -- the two large industries around the city of Delhi are car manufacturing and textile manufacturing. So he's one of the people that built up businesses in the '80s and '90s as the car industry sort of flourished. And he's an entrepreneur.
DASGUPTAHe has real estate interest and interests outside India now. He's part of a class of people whose read the signs of India's growth in the last 20 years very well and is now poised to become not just a national but an international businessman.
PAGEAnd so how did you find the people that you decided to kind of profile to tell the story of the city through their eyes? How did you locate them?
DASGUPTAWell, I think if one single-minded for 18 months, one does find people. But it was a very interesting process because in the city of clans, as you put it, your relationship to anyone is basically being in or out. You're not really in the middle. You're out for most of the time. But if you can sort of maneuver yourself into a position that person's friends are introducing, then you're suddenly in and all the doors are open.
DASGUPTAThat person will greet you with great warmth. And the conversation will become immediately intimate. So I had -- I spent a lot of time just out talking to people and meeting people. And they would tell me stories about their friends and I would say, well, I'd love to meet your friend and it went on like that. But what was interesting -- what I found very interesting was that I realized that some of the questions I was asking them, which were very intimate questions or questions that were very much about some of the things they lay awake at night thinking about or worrying about.
DASGUPTAI realized that they were not questions they were asked by other people and they were not talking about these things. And many of these conversations ended with them saying -- calling me up and saying, you know, there were lots of things I didn't tell you. Could we meet again? And they became long-term quasi-therapeutic conversations in which it was no longer clear who was driving them.
PAGEIt's clear from the passage, even just the short passage that you read that your book of non-fiction is very much a narrative. It has novelist -- the sense of a novel. Was writing it different from writing fiction?
DASGUPTAI think, as I mentioned earlier, I think all of us are venturing into unknown territory in the global story. And I think that places like Delhi, which are very difficult to describe in which -- where even when you live in them and you see what's going on, you're unclear as to what the meaning of it is, which is not the same, say, as being in Paris or New York where you have a sense that this is -- everything you're living in has been scripted before.
DASGUPTAAnd it's all quite easy to understand. It's very uncanny and bewildering place. And so I felt that it needed to be written about very carefully, just as a novelist would talk about any other -- any fictional story. It needed very precise language. It needed a metaphor. It needed, really, a descriptive effort so that we could try to understand these new places in the global economy and see what they meant to us.
PAGEAnd you are of Indian decent, but not a native of Delhi. Tell us about your own journey that got you back to that city.
DASGUPTAI have a Bengali father who comes from -- who came from Calcutta in the east of the country. And he, in his 20s, decided to go to England and study so that he could come back and improve the family's fortunes. In England, unfortunately, he fell in love and never left. He married a British woman and so I and my sister grew up in the UK. Some years later, I fell in love with somebody who's living in Delhi and I, therefore, kind of took the opposite journey.
DASGUPTAAnd so, arrived in a place that was really very foreign to me. It was not in any sense a kind of homecoming. And any idea that I had that that might be the case was crushed as soon as I arrived because I was treated like a foreigner. I didn't speak Hindi. And so, I had all the advantages and the disadvantages of an outsider while I was living there and writing this book. I think the disadvantages are obvious.
DASGUPTAThe advantages are that I think any person who comes from one place and lives in another is involved in this constant dialogue with that place in their head about whether -- why is it -- why did I not live like this before? Why do you live like this? And what do I -- how do I feel about living in between these two places? What do I wish to preserve at the place I come from? What do I wish to adopt to the place I've come to?
DASGUPTAAnd so there's a kind of deep awareness of the small rituals that constitute the new place. But it was very important in my conversations, I realized that a lot of people I was talking to felt comfortable talking to somebody who was not from their place, who'd not gone to school with them, who is not part of their gossip networks. I was a sort of blank slate. And a lot of people started talking to me about some of the very deep things that have been going on in their minds and in their lives as a result of all these massive changes in society.
PAGEAnd do you want to continue living there?
DASGUPTAI will continue living there. And, in fact, through writing this book, it felt much more -- even more invested in the city. I have a daughter who's growing up as a Delhi girl, so her future is of course very important to me. It's also a story that I feel is my story and I want to be part of -- the book is an attempt, I think -- an attempt to think through some of the great hopes and aspirations and the enormous excitement about the place that I'm living in. But also a lot of the gloom and dysfunction. And I want to be a further part of the solution of those problems.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. In fact, let's take our first call from Bob. He's calling us from Las Vegas. Bob, you're on the air.
BOBHello, good morning.
BOBGood morning. I'm American and I'm a -- 1993, I graduated high school and I went to India for a couple of years. And I guess that was sort of the very beginning, in the midst. I have no idea, no real reference point. I'm calling specifically, curiosity about what, you know, there's a big story in the last few years that made internationally has been these gang rapes that seem to stick out. I'm just trying to figure out.
BOBI remember when I was in India, I was always surprised that -- again, I was in Delhi, in Calcutta and way north. But in the cities, young boys aged 15, 20, 25-year-old men, would walk down the street, like, holding hands, pinky-pinky. Well, if I was in San Francisco or L.A. would look like a gay couple and I could never figure it out. And I'm wondering if there's something in the culture and the sense of manhood and the sense of I don't know enough about the religion, anything that would explain what's gone on there.
BOBBecause more than just saying money came in, they felt less than because women got jobs because as you said, that happened in Moscow, that happened in Poland, that happened in Prague and they weren't just big sort of state of rape, gang rape. And I'm wondering if you feel like it was always there and not reported or if there's something deeper in, you know, all men obviously have a darkness.
BOBBut there's something deeper in their cultural that goes further back in say 1991 a sense of we have money, we don't have money, and now there's this stratification. I'm curious if there's anything other than the influx of capital that would have led to what seem like a jump, if it is a jump, in these rapes that we hear about.
PAGEAll right, Bob, thanks so much for your call.
DASGUPTAYeah. It's very interesting, thank you. I mean, yes, I think there are deeper and longer term things going on there. I think what you saw in terms of walking around hand in hand is a sign of a very -- of a deep and possibly more intense form of sociality between men in these countries where one grows up in a very segregated way.
DASGUPTABut I think that one of the things that's gone on in north India is again related to this moment of partition in 1947, where both sides, men on both sides declared his own kind of war on the male power of the other, on the patriarchal power of the other so that rape and the abduction of women and even the castration of men were attempts to humiliate and insult the masculinity of the other side.
DASGUPTAAnd so there is a fragility, I think, to north Indian masculinity that dates back to all those times. So I think the issue is not just there is now capital and there wasn't capital before. It's that what has been threatened is men's power over women, their ownership of women. In one generation, middle class women have decided to go out of the house where they were for a lot of the 20th century.
DASGUPTATheir mobile ever since the economic independent of their husbands. They have mobile phones and email and all these sorts of things that connect them to worlds their husbands can't monitor. And so there's a lot of male anxiety. I have friends who get up an hour earlier than they need to so they can drive their wife to work on their way to driving -- to go to work themselves. And at the end of the day, they do the reverse job and pick the wife up an hour out of their way so that the wife is never really outside their zone. And...
PAGEAnd what do the wives involved think about that?
DASGUPTAWell, I think that there's a -- the struggles between men and women are intense and they're clear in this book, too, the conversations about how men and women think differently about their relationships. I've never lived in a place where men and women have lived in more different worlds from each other. And my sense is that women are pretty -- middle class educated women are pretty tired of a lot of this kind of stuff.
DASGUPTAThey are -- this is why they are marrying as late as they possibly can. They're sort of fighting off their parents' request for them to look at matrimonial columns and meet men and that sort of thing. I also have interviews in the book with some of the poorest women in India who lived in the slum. They -- at the opposite end of the social spectrum from the other women I've been talking about are also the more impressive gender.
DASGUPTAAnd they too, for economic reasons, these people have moved from one slum to another. And the women were able to find jobs in the new place but not the men. The men fell apart. They were humiliated and in despair and they turn to alcohol and drugs. And it was the women who built a new town that they then lived in. It was the women who educated the kids and found ways to earn money as well as lobbying politicians and bureaucrats for electricity supplies and water supplies to the slum that they were building. So women are, in many context, the more impressive of the two sexes.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, I'm going to ask you to read a passage in your book that describes the slums that you found in Delhi and we hope our listeners will stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about a new book, "Capital: The Eruption of Delhi," and the author is with me in the studio, Rana Dasgupta. We're going to ask -- well, earlier, he read us a passage from the book that told us about visiting the home of a newly wealthy young man in Delhi. Now I'd like you to read a passage, if you would, that introduces us to the kind of the other extreme in Delhi, in terms of the economy. This would be one of the slums.
DASGUPTA"The mountain of garbage at (word?) Colony is awe-inspiring. Only nature, one would imagine, might produce something so vast. It towers over the landscape, a long gruff cliff, along whose flanks zigzags a shallow road where overflowing trucks rumble slowly to the summit. From below, you can see them driving along the cliff's flat top, unloading their cargo of trash, feeding the mountain with more.
DASGUPTA"All around them, mere specks from down below, are the people whose work it is to pick out from this megalopolis-scale pile of refuse what can still be used. Around me is an open plane where trash is sorted. The sacks full of plastic bottles are each the size of a car. In one area are piles of cushions, mattresses, and sofas, which boys are cutting open for the cotton stuffing inside.
DASGUPTA"There's another area where resounding syncopated hammers flatten out steel dust bins and casings from old air conditioners. There are phenomenal piles of twisted tires. It has rained recently, and the ground is waterlogged. Pigs and dogs bathe in the water, which stinks of chemicals."
PAGEThis does not sound like a healthy place to be living. And, in fact, there was a report just this morning by the World Health Organization that said the dirtiest air in the world is found in New Delhi. Does that finding surprise you?
DASGUPTAIt doesn't surprise me. It's -- since I'm flying back there tonight, it depresses me. But it doesn't surprise me. The air has become very bad. I mean, Delhi is now a -- is a city where it's very difficult to -- where automotive transport is essential. It's been really built and conceived for cars over the last 20 years. And car ownership has rocketed there. So it's suddenly become -- from the city I moved to, which was very lightly people with cars, it had an old road system from the British era, which was -- they were very wide roads, and it was very well-planned.
DASGUPTAAnd you felt that you were in a city that you could actually get around very easily. But, increasingly, that's not the case. It's jammed, and it's polluted. It's very hot in the summer. So air conditioners are running everywhere. There are frequent electricity breakdowns. So as soon as the electricity goes, a thousand generators start up which all run on diesel fuel, and they pump diesel smoke into the air. So we have a slightly -- a crisis, I would say, of the air.
DASGUPTAIt's not the crisis that Delhi people are actually thinking about. There are lots of other crises that they're thinking about. They're thinking about the crisis of corruption, political and business corruption. They're thinking about the crisis of how women are treated. The crisis of pollution has sort of finally evaded attention, and I think it's because, at this point in time, I feel the people in Delhi still think it's pretentious to complain about pollution. It's to European to sort of make claims on clean air or something like that.
PAGEYou do have elections going on there now in India, a six-week election process, the world's largest parliamentary elections going on. We expect the voting results to be announced on May 16. Now, the Gandhi family, so long a power in Indian politics, may be headed to a defeat in these elections.
DASGUPTAI think that's almost certain. The Gandhi family's -- the party with whom they've been associated since before India's independence, the Congress Party, has been in power now for the last 10 years. And though they introduced a number of very interesting and radical measures to equalize Indian society -- for instance, a safety net for the poorest people of -- in the country and a right to information act, which actually empowered a lot of the country's poor against political corruption because it allowed them to find out where money was going that was supposed to be spent on them -- they have planned in the last five years quite inadequately for the economy.
DASGUPTAThere are 15 million new people entering the workforce every year, and they don't have jobs. It has been a time of immense corruption where a lot of money has been drained out of public systems into private pockets. So people are dissatisfied, and they want something new.
PAGEThe polls indicate that there's a Hindu nationalist party that's likely to win in a landslide. What is the appeal?
DASGUPTAThe appeal is order and business. It's hoped by many people that Narendra Modi will be somebody that will bring order to a lot of the chaos of Indian life and will generate a business-friendly environment. The fear about him is that he is somebody who presided over the slaughter in 2002 of between one and 2,000 Muslims, and in riots that created enormous national trauma and turbulence.
DASGUPTAAnd the idea that such a man might become prime minister is -- makes many people anxious about this -- the social future of the country. It seems that -- it seems to me that if he becomes prime minister that conflicts between various social groups and indeed probably against women are going to be heightened.
PAGEHere's a question from Jonathan, an email he sends us: "How has India's caste system changed? More broadly, it's one of the world's ancient and advanced societies. How is it coping with preserving some elements of its culture while moving away from others?" What about the caste system?
DASGUPTAWell, the caste system is still very much intact. If you look at the patterns of income, you look at the patterns of people who have high office in corporations, for instance, they are often -- well, most, overwhelmingly, are high caste. So the caste system translates very well into the new economic system. And in certain domains, like marriage, even people who are very liberal and unconcerned by these kinds of matters in their personal lives, become very concerned about them again. So the caste system does reproduce itself effectively.
DASGUPTABut I think -- so I think this is one of the things that's interesting about looking at these kinds of places, is there is a Western idea that the world will become homogenized and that a lot of these traditional things will disappear as people are buying Starbucks and iPods. And that's what meaning of those objects is, the iPod and everything. Actually, it's very difficult to look at a young couple in a café in Delhi with their iPod and their Western clothes and predict what's in their heads, just because we've seen those same things in American cities.
DASGUPTAThe -- what we've seen over the last 20 years is actually a resurgence often of religious values, of insistence on various kinds of tradition. There's a back and forward motion which is very -- which gives us a strong sense of -- which is very different from what one has in the States.
DASGUPTAFor instance, people -- business families who have made lots and lots of money in the last couple of decades, they are very, very attached to certain kinds of structures that sons will look after their parents and the parents will live in their house, that all kinds of marriage rituals and things like this are becoming even more important as the general lifestyle of these people becomes less and less identifiably Indian.
PAGEWell, thinking -- you mentioned you have a 7-year-old daughter born in Delhi?
PAGEYou said she was a Delhi girl?
PAGESo what will make her distinctly a Delhi girl since she is a native there? What will make it different from who she might have been if you had stayed, for instance, in London?
DASGUPTAWell, you know, I think it's difficult to sum up a place. And that's why I spent 500 pages writing about it 'cause it's -- all these things are very complex. So there are things about her life which will be problems because the pollution, for instance, is something that she can't run away from. And there are probably -- as a girl, rather than a boy, she'll probably have issues of mobility and freedom in the space of the city, which she would not have had, say, in another place.
DASGUPTABut I think what's difficult to see from this distance from Delhi, on the other side of the world, is just how exciting it is to be in a place that is changing so fast where money is being made and there's a sense that there's a huge energy. The 20th century of India was not a particularly great time. It was -- it had lots of traumatic events. It didn't produce great material rewards for the majority of people. So no one, unlike in the West, is thinking, wow, wouldn't it be great to return to the 1960s or whatever period you think was your Golden Age.
DASGUPTAEveryone is looking forward. Everyone thinks that, whatever is to come is -- that's where our hopes can rest. And so I think you see this in the lives of the young. The young that I see around me in Delhi are extraordinary. They have a sense of their own potential and what they can achieve in their lives, even as young as my daughter, age 7, which is really amazing. So I think it's actually a very exciting place to be young despite everything else.
PAGELet's go back to the phones and talk to Tommy. He's been holding on from Kensington, Md. Tommy, thanks for being patient.
TOMMYNo problem. I lived in India for 6 1/2 years and went to high school in Delhi. And I just wanted to know if that explosion of the city that you speak of has swallowed Mathura yet, this town to the east or west of Delhi. It's along the Mathura road away from the (word?).
DASGUPTAYes. Yes, I know it. No, it's not swallowed up Mathura yet. But the expansion of Delhi has really been -- Mathura is to the southeast of Delhi. A lot of the expansion has been to the east and southwest. As you -- I don't know when you were there exactly. But...
TOMMYTo '64 from -- '61 to '64, more than...
TOMMYOr, no, '59 to '64.
DASGUPTASo, I mean, in fact, you were there during Nehru's life.
DASGUPTASo one of the things that happened in the -- in around the 1980s, Delhi just became jammed. It became full. It had been -- it had not been planned as a commercial city. In fact, Nehru rather looked down on commerce. There was very little space for business or for retail. And so people started looking outside the city. And one very amazingly prescient man in the late 1970s started buying up little pockets of land in Haryana, just the other side of the international airport.
DASGUPTAAnd he carried on buying for about 15 or 20 years until he'd amassed an enormous area where he made a private city of Gurgaon. And that's where a lot of the expansion is. That's where the new skyscrapers and shopping malls are.
PAGETommy, thanks for your call. I'm Susan Page. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones and take another caller. Harold is calling us from Alexandria, Va. Harold, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
HAROLDThank you, Susan. I just had a comment. This is an amazing topic, and I can relate to it quite well being a minority Christian from Pakistan -- that means being a minority within a minority. And I just had a comment for the benefit of the listeners. And they can get more information about what your guest mentioned, that when Pakistan was born (unintelligible) the city, all these people moved from Pakistan to Delhi, and there was a lot of rape and murder on the way, which they were kind of surprised at.
HAROLDBut I just want everyone to know that that was on both sides of the border. And it was amongst one of the largest migrations in human history of close to a million people or more, and also that this -- the way the situation unfolded was on both sides basically, not just one side. So if anyone would be interested in getting more information on that time of partition, there's amazing book, "Freedom at Midnight," which I read many years ago when I was in my teens, by an American author. That's all I need to say, but thank you for letting me talk.
DASGUPTAYeah. Listen, thank you very much for that. It's a very important point. I'm talking about Delhi, and so I'm talking about the one side of the refugee equation. You're absolutely right that this was an entirely symmetrical event, and both sides were just as violent, too. And so there's another side of the story, which is the side in Pakistan where the stories are equivalent.
DASGUPTAIt was a gruesome act, such events such as we saw also later in Yugoslavia. It's one of the mysteries of human societies about when two sides who are very nearly alike are ripped apart from each other and told they belong to different countries. The explosive power of that event can be terrible to watch. And both sides are equally affected.
PAGEHarold, thanks for our call. So this economic boom, has it sparked a kind of literary renaissance for writers and filmmakers?
DASGUPTAI think that the city I moved to was one in which, apart from lots of people starting businesses and building skyscrapers and all that kind of stuff, and shopping malls, there were lots of people writing their novels, making their films, making art works. It's -- the things seemed to go hand in hand. There's an enormous amount of things that people wish to express right now about things that are being lost and obliterated, about things that they -- that are coming into being, about all the changes that are happening in the meantime.
DASGUPTAThe art world has a particular flowering during this period, in every sense, in terms of the amazing quality and ambition of individual artists and art works that have happened, but also in terms of the market response and the number of new private galleries that are in Delhi and everything. So, yes, absolutely. This is also a cultural moment.
PAGERana Dasgupta, thanks so much for joining us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show," to talk about your new book, "Capital: The Eruption of Delhi."
DASGUPTAThank you so much for having me.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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