The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India by Siddhartha Deb- An Analysis by Kristyn A. Stone
Book Review: The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India
Siddhartha Deb writes “The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India ” to show the stereotypes people have about India, while also showing how life in India is actually far from the ideals that many people think of. He is from India, and he therefore has an in-depth knowledge of India’s inside information, so he shows how India is becoming more globalized and modern while still retaining the complex cultural system of caste and status. Throughout the book, the author encounters different types of people, from the rich to the poor and from the famous to insignificant. Even though some of the people would be considered not important to people who view India from the outside, he shows how they are actually very significant in interpreting the daily lives of Indians all over the country.
In the introduction of the book, he goes through his own life and what he has gone through to get where he is in the present. He is a journalist turned novelist, and met many people and challenges on his way. The introduction is very technical with not much of a storyline like most fiction novels. In many instances, he alludes to the face of India as being happy and prosperous in opposition to the normal lives that most Indian people lead. In some of the first situations he gives, he tries to show the face of the modernizing India. With the up and coming jobs like the telemarketers, he enlightens readers on the importance of job security. The telemarketers go through a lot to obtain and keep their job, but they think that the money is worth it. Many people go without electricity throughout certain times of the day, but they make what they consider ‘good money’ by working these long hours and because it is a new age type of job.
In India, if you are not born into privilege, you are struggling somehow. The Gatsby-like guy that he encounters produces big budget movies that no one hardly watches. He also runs a school that is not recognized by the government. He promises future students many things including a trip to Europe and a new laptop for everyone. Rahul tells Deb that in Arindam Chardhuri’s school, the students pay seven lakhs (hundred thousand), and that the operating cost of schools are low. He goes on to say “…you know how much teachers get paid in India. So, the money gets spun off into other businesses (p. 31).” This shows just how much big-business privileged people take advantage of the other working citizens of India. Teachers, who should be the heart of countries are paid such a little wage. Even though they have to have certain qualifications to be able to teach. It’s far worse than America, even though it can be seen that the 1% hold most of the money, while the other 99% struggle. Whereas the wage gap in America is widening, the economic gap in India is already very wide.
Another economic absurdity is the case he encountered with the migrant workers working in the factory. In America, and many other first-world countries, there are laws in place to help workers. Some of these laws include: maximum working hours, overtime pay, no children workers, and etc. However, the factory that Deb encountered seemed to break every law that most people take for granted. Not only this, but when he was given permission to talk to the workers, the workers did not want to tell him about their situation. Many of the workers were illegal—Muslims coming from Bangladesh or children. These people worked many hours, and some of them lived on fifty cents a day. They were also refused some government assistance. This just shows the wide gap between what is shown in the media about India vs what is the norm in the country.
Even besides economics, Deb also gives insight into a small scene that he encountered. The police were looking for someone, but they were doing it illegally. They were stopped by a man without uniform, holding a pistol (instead of a rifle). Deb’s friend concluded that the target “would probably be gunned down in cold blood, with a report released later to the media to say that the person had been killed in an active encounter and that he had shot first at the police (p. 166).” Even in his title “The Beautiful and the Damned,” he is taking a look at India through stories of the beautiful people (the rich, entrepreneurs, and the powerful), and also through the eyes of the damned (the poor, migrant workers, and people who are not moving up in life no matter how hard they try).
Even in Esther’s case, she studied biochemistry in college, and then went on to get a master’s degree in botany; she wanted to be a doctor. However, she chose the food industry because it meant that she still thought she had opportunities to come. She kept speaking about if she was home, she would be married with two kids, and that would be it. However, she has to take three different modes of transportation and thirty rupees just to get to a job that makes her work from twelve to two in the morning. It can be seen that her situation is not abnormal. Many people work hard to gain an education because they have dreams, while in reality, only a few people make it to the upper classes of the world. Esther takes care of her sisters and brother. She also talks about how the men in her family (and around her) stay at home while the women work. The men want to find “the right job” rather than just any old job. In contrast, Esther has worked many jobs, and she is not scared to do the dirty work that others refuse to do. There is not just a contrast between classes or cast in India, but there is a wide contrast between the sexes still. Deb mentions “the warmth and hospitality the sisters displayed was characteristic of the north-east, but it was the urban anonymity of Delhi that had allowed them to entertain me, a man from a different ethnic group, in their house (p. 226).”
All in all, Siddhartha’s book enlightens the readers on the real world of India. He characterizes many people and he even mentions that he knows he could never compile the whole of India by only alluding to the lives of five people. He does, however, mention other people and their lives to try and compensate for the loss of substance. India is a huge country, with millions of people. It would be like trying to speak about the whole of America by only representing five of its people. However, he does give a great insight to people who have never traveled there, or for people who have left but forgotten what India was really like for the average person. He makes sure to note many things that India needs to work on. His novel is a loud cry for change in India. He knows that life is not fair or even close to fair, even though the Indian media portrays these happy faces to the outside world. He makes sure to give the reader a sense of what is actually happening inside of the country, and the changes that imminently need to occur to better the lives of the citizens.
Deb, Siddhartha. (2011). The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India. New York, NY: Faber and Faber, Inc.