Daily Notes on Literature, Pop Culture & Media, and Academia

Anand Giridharadas’s “India Calling”

Posted by litdaily on January 11, 2011

Gaiutra Bahadur reviews Anand Giridharadas’s book India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, an account of how global capitalism is providing Indians with opportunities to reinvent themselves and replacing the divisions of caste with new ambitions and hopes. Giridharadas’s account provides for complexity and contradiction, but Bahadur finds his theory, that capitalism is a source of freedom for Indians and an opportunity to radically rewrite their life trajectories such that “servants might become masters,” as both “seductive” and “inspiring wariness”…more>>

Giridharadas worked in India, the homeland his parents left behind, and he refers to the Indian Americans working there as “India’s stepchildren.” If “India’s stepchildren” are Indian Americans like Giridharadas, who have relatively comfortable jobs and whose investments are sought by the Indian government, I wonder in what category we might place the millions who are full citizens but extremely poor, and therefore of no use to the Indian state or global capital.

In his interview with NPR about the book, Giridharadas contrasts the narratives of upward mobility in contemporary India and America:

The defining narrative that Americans have told themselves about themselves for a long time is: anything can happen here, anything is possible…That narrative in America today is in decline…Walking around India, watching TV in India, you feel that India is possessed by a narrative of hope right now and America is not.

In spite of this contrast between narratives, both India and America seem to be headed toward greater economic inequality and lesser class mobility. Giridharadas acknowledges the reality of these economic forces as follows: “I think in both countries we tend to underplay the extent to which it’s the fundamentals, not the narratives that matter.” Contrary to Giridharadas, I believe that these narratives do matter. According to this paper released by The Brookings Institution, it is precisely the narrative of American upward mobility that makes Americans “more accepting of inequality.” And now with Giridharadas’s narrative, Indians too can possess American-style optimism about their upward mobility even as it is accompanied by an acceptance of debilitating inequalities as “natural” and a denial of the role of free-markets in exacerbating these inequalities.


One Response to “Anand Giridharadas’s “India Calling””

  1. […] Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week, promoting his book India Calling, which we had blogged about here. His optimistic narrative asserts that the capitalistic American dream is alive and well…in […]

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