The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India


Siddhartha Deb grew up in a remote town in the northeastern hills of India and made his way to the United States via a fellowship at Columbia. Six years after leaving home, he returned as an undercover reporter for The Guardian, working at a call center in Delhi in 2004, a time when globalization was fast proceeding and Thomas L. Friedman declared the world flat. Deb’s experience interviewing the call-center staff led him to undertake this book and travel throughout the ...

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The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India

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Siddhartha Deb grew up in a remote town in the northeastern hills of India and made his way to the United States via a fellowship at Columbia. Six years after leaving home, he returned as an undercover reporter for The Guardian, working at a call center in Delhi in 2004, a time when globalization was fast proceeding and Thomas L. Friedman declared the world flat. Deb’s experience interviewing the call-center staff led him to undertake this book and travel throughout the subcontinent.

The Beautiful and the Damned examines India’s many contradictions through various individual and extraordinary perspectives. With lyrical and commanding prose, Deb introduces the reader to an unforgettable group of Indians, including a Gatsby-like mogul in Delhi whose hobby is producing big-budget gangster films that no one sees; a wiry, dusty farmer named Gopeti whose village is plagued by suicides and was the epicenter of a riot; and a sad-eyed waitress named Esther who has set aside her dual degrees in biochemistry and botany to serve Coca-Cola to arms dealers at an upscale hotel called Shangri La.

Like no other writer, Deb humanizes the post-globalization experience—its advantages, failures, and absurdities. India is a country where you take a nap and someone has stolen your job, where you buy a BMW but still have to idle for cows crossing your path. A personal, narrative work of journalism and cultural analysis in the same vein as Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family and V. S. Naipaul’s India series, The Beautiful and the Damned is an important and incisive new work.


The Beautiful and the Damned is a Publishers Weekly Best Nonfiction title for 2011.

Winner of the 2012 PEN Open Book Award

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Splendid . . . Similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald . . . Deb works largely within the format of the profile, which allows him to closely inspect the dents made by modern India in his characters’ lives. . . There is a nuance to even the direst of Deb’s pessimisms—an acknowledgement that India’s lives are newly precarious precisely because they could swing either the way of opportunity or the way of ruin.” —Samanth Subramanian, The New York Times

“Siddhartha Deb is a marvelous participatory journalist, a keen observer of contemporary India. In The Beautiful and the Damned he dives head-first into the places where change is happening, temporarily inhabiting these evolving, often confusing sub-worlds, talking to those benefiting from (and victimized by) said changes, and explaining in prose both highly personal and sociologically insightful how India’s people and culture are coping . . . Much like fellow participatory journalist George Orwell . . . Deb is a distinctly sympathetic firsthand observer of the contradictions between rich and poor . . . Anyone wanting to understand contemporary India’s glaring contradictions, its juxtapositions of glittering boomtowns with horrific slums, should read Deb’s wonderfully researched and elegantly written account.” —Chuck Leddy, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[An] incisive new look at life on the subcontinent . . . One of Deb’s most stunning achievements is the way he deconstructs India’s IT industry. With remarkable clarity, he describes a business dominated by Brahmins (India’s ruling caste) in which, contrary to common perception, call center workers struggle to eke out a sustainable living, and where even for those who do succeed there lies at the end of the road little more than an ersatz version of suburbia . . . For those who have never been to India, the book will be an eye-opening read. For those more familiar with the country, it will be essential.” —Nitin Das Rai, The Daily

“This brave book strikes a rare note—as a work of journalism and as an interpretation of India’s maladies. The Beautiful and the Damned digs beneath the self-congratulatory stories India tell itself—all the better to expose the stories it seeks to repress.” —Parul Sehgal, Bookforum

“This is a brilliant and sensitive book that succeeds in shifting our gaze from the dazzling glass and steel towers of the business park to the collateral damage suffered by people caught in the age-old tensions between economic mirage, constricting cultural tradition and overbearing social expectation.” —Stanley Stewart, The Sunday Times

“In his subtle, sometimes startlingly intelligent narrative, Deb is drawn to the idea of pretence, and to pretenders, of which he—writer, confidant, friend, provincial, global traveller—is one himself . . . In these pages, Deb is quickened by his extraordinary feeling for the texture of lower middle-class life, as well as his unerring sensitivity to the way a country yet again transforms itself.” —Amit Chaudhuri, The Guardian

“A compelling read. The author’s experience as a journalist ensures that he hardly wastes a word, his local knowledge gives him depth and empathy, while his status as a novelist seems to protect him from intrusive literary flourishes . . . While computer boffins may be the new Brahmins, many of them are actually the old Brahmins. Such points are generally overlooked by those keen to promote the newness of the new India, and Deb generally offers a shrewder, more humane perspective than most travelogues.” —Roderick Matthews, Literary Review

“Siddhartha Deb has gone under cover to write a hands-on account of India’s vigorous capitalism . . . Deb’s perception is that starkly unequal social, political and economic conditions have developed in India over the past quarter century. As a first-hand report, this is authentic, assured and absolutely engrossing, acutely pinpointing the aspirational tragic-comic ironies of modern India.” —Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)

“Siddhartha Deb is one of the most distinctive writers to have emerged from South Asia in the last two decades.” PANKAJ MISHRA, author of The Romantics

Samanth Subramanian
Deb…borrows his title from F. Scott Fitzgerald, and his mission is similar to Fitzgerald's: to ponder, at intimate range, lives within a society in great ferment…Deb works largely within the format of the profile, which allows him to closely inspect the dents made by modern India in his characters' lives…they are all patiently observed and thoughtfully composed.
—The New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
Deb grew up in northeastern India, won a fellowship to Columbia, published two novels plus lots of reviews and other pieces (e.g., Boston Globe, n + 1), then returned to India to work underground for the Guardian at a call center in New Delhi. He turned his experiences into this account of the massive contradictions of India, where BMWs idle before gentle cows. India's future matters, and as a novelist Deb should give his writing a narrative arc. Read with Patrick French's India: A Portrait, out in June.
Kirkus Reviews

A frank look at modern India, told through the stories of its most hopeful and its most desperate people.

After working undercover in an Indian call center as part of a journalistic assignment, novelist Deb (Creative Writing/New School;An Outline of the Republic, 2005, etc.) asked himself a very simple yet loaded question: Who am I? Where do I fit in this modern-day India? It's this query that spurred the author to begin his quest; over five years, he assembled a somewhat coherent portrait of this jumbled country of contradictions. The book tells the story of five different people, from a man Deb likens to Jay Gatsby because his wealth is tainted by the suspicion of his fellow Indians, to a factory worker who works a dangerous job with no benefits or compensation in case of injury. Each of his subjects comes from a different part of India, with dissimilar backgrounds and disparate fortunes; each has experienced hardship on some level. These stories are sometimes droll and always have at least a tinge of tragedy. Deb impressively chronicles the dichotomies that exist within India while keeping the narrative intensely personal. He puts a human face on horrific statistics that are so large as to be incomprehensible—e.g., from 2004 to 2005, "the last year for which data was available, the total number of people in India consuming less than 20 rupees (or 50 cents) a day was 836 million – or 77 percent of the population." Though the book lacks an overarching narrative to tie these stories together, which can make it a difficult read at times, Deb briskly moves the story along. The author successfully argues his broad points about India's status as a country of opposites while maintaining the reader's personal connection with the people in it.

With passion and grace, Deb deftly paints a vivid picture of the difficulties and dichotomies facing the people of today's India.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865478732
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber
  • Publication date: 9/18/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 701,451
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 8.05 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Siddhartha Deb

Siddhartha Deb, who teaches creative writing at the New School, is the author of two novels: The Point of Return, which was a 2003 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and An Outline of the Republic. His reviews and journalism have appeared in The Boston Globe, The Guardian, Harper’s Magazine, The Nation, New Statesman, n+1, and The Times Literary Supplement.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

The Great Gatsby: A Rich Man in India 27

Finding a rich man - the controversial reputation of Arindam Chaudhuri - the Satbari campus - the Power Brands Awards Night ? the ambassador of the world - cigar therapy - a leadership seminar-the enemies - the aspirers - the namesake

Ghosts in the Machine: The Engineer's Burden 72

An earlier incarnation -supplying happiness - low context and high context - Special Economic Zones - the million-dollar house - the Nanopoet - the Gandhi computer - what the Master said-a fascist salute - caste in America - the stolen iPhone

Red Sorghum: Farmers in the Free Market 121

The dying countryside - the navel of India - the chemical village - McKinsey and Vision 2020 - Victory to Telangana - the farmers' market - Prabhakar and the overground Maoists - Dubai and debt - the dealers - 'Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone'

The Factory: The Permanent World of Temporary Workers 165

The encounter squad- India's first Egyptian resort - the steel factory - Malda labour-the barracks - reading Amartya Sen - the security guards - the Tongsman -ghost workers - Maytas Hill County

The Girl from F&B: Women in the Big City 207

The arms dealer-why Esther wanted F&B - the accident - recession in America - the Delhi Police manual-the momo stand-Manipur-the luxury mall-the boyfriend- Munirka again

Acknowledgements 251

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