Wednesday, January 21, 2009

#36 - "Planet India" by Mira Kamdar

I decided to read Planet India (2006) by Mira Kamdar directly after reading The White Tiger, which is now one of my favorite books. With my interest in India at an all time high and my actual knowledge at incredible depths, any book would probably have been informative, but Planet India was also one of the books listed in the Reader's Guide for further reading at the end of The White Tiger, so I picked it up. And I was immediately transported back to my undergraduate days where I was enjoying life and majoring in International Relations. Now that I have matured and evidently turned all cynical and apathetic when it comes to news and politics, finding most of it propagandic in nature, it's been awhile since I've really studied and thought about other countries, their relationships, and their effect on the rest of the world, preferring to stick my head in the sand rather than contemplate how we keep screwing up. But India is an incredibly complex and fascinating country. I feel like I could read about India, its history, its people, religions, clashes, poverty, etc. forever and still have something to learn. Planet India was probably a good first step on this journey, giving a pretty comprehensive overview of the major issues India faces today.

All books reflect their author's biases, hopes, and political leanings, and Planet India is certainly no different. Mira Kamdar currently lives in New York, but she spent some time in India when she was growing up and still has family in India. She is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute and has provided expert commentary for CNN International News, the BBC, and NPR. She identifies and is proud of India and has a generally liberal outlook, all of which is clear from her writing.

Planet India begins by discussing the importance of India to the world, especially with the recent technological boom that has money from all over the world, including the United States, flowing into the country. India is the world's largest democracy with growing purchasing and political power. Not only is India an important location for outsourcing cheap labor, but also selling American goods to a newly-funded, young Indian population that is ready to spend. Kamdar discusses the business side of Italy by interviewing many prominent Indian business people. I found this section of the book to be the most difficult to read. I am always more interested in social and human stories than the tales of companies and the billions of dollars they are making. In addition, I felt that Kamdar often made unsubstantiated statements or opinions, most often without enough explanation and sometimes highlighting her nationalism. Sometimes these statements, I think, are more what she wants India to become, but this isn't always clear. For instance, Kamdar says that Brazil gained wealth but wasted that opportunity by letting the wealth disparity increase instead of bringing up the country as a whole--unlike India. Of course, just a couple pages later, Kamdar says the wealth disparity in India is increasing as well. I certainly got the impression that the first section of the book was a little inflated with pride for India and some optimistic bragging, which sometimes made it hard to get a clear picture of what life is actually like for the people there.

Kamdar certainly does not ignore the poverty in her country, though. She talks about the slums and the construction workers, basically homeless, who live in tents or under tarps right next to the glamorous and luxurious apartments, malls, and offices they are building. Kamdar discusses the incredible problems of the farmers who live in the 600,000 villages throughout India, including the rash of suicides that coincided with the hopelessness of dealing with: debt, failing crops, a starving family, and having no way out. She also mentions the water crisis, the lower status of women in society and its effects, various environmental crises, enormous rates of poverty and illiteracy, castes in India, government corruption, hate and violence between Hindus and Muslims, as well as recent, violent terrorist attacks. I certainly would have liked more information on these social issues, but there is only so much you can fit in one book.

I could probably continue writing about this book and the goings-on of India forever and still want to write more. Kamdar convinced me of the importance of India as a growing power in world relations as well as influence in America as the Indian-American population increases. I am now even more interested in reading about the social history of India and maybe getting some other opinions on what India needs to do to successfully deal with its crises and if it can be successful at educating, providing basic needs, and finding jobs for its many, many citizens that currently live in poverty with few, if any, opportunities.

No comments: