Saturday, March 17, 2012


HOW INDIA BECAME AMERICA (by Akash Kapur) - Recently, both Starbucks and Amazon announced that they would be entering the Indian market. Amazon has already started a comparison shopping site; Starbucks plans to open its first outlet this summer. I grew up in rural India, the son of an Indian father and American mother. I spent many summers (and the occasional biting, shocking winter) in rural Minnesota. I always considered both countries home. In truth, though, the India and America of my youth were very far apart: cold war adversaries, America’s capitalist exuberance a sharp contrast to India’s austere socialism. For much of my life, my two homes were literally - but also culturally, socially and experientially - on opposite sides of the planet. All that began changing in the early 1990s, when India liberalized its economy. Since then, I’ve watched India’s transformation with exhilaration, but occasionally, and increasingly, with some anxiety.

More than half a century ago, R. K. Narayan, that great chronicler of India in simpler times, wrote about his travels in America. “America and India are profoundly different in attitude and philosophy,” he wrote. “Indian philosophy stresses austerity and unencumbered, uncomplicated day-to-day living. America’s emphasis, on the other hand, is on material acquisition and the limitless pursuit of prosperity.” By the time I decided to return to India for good, in 2003, Narayan’s observations felt outdated. A great reconciliation had taken place; my two homes were no longer so far apart.  This reconciliation had both tangible and intangible manifestations. Something had changed in the very spirit of the country. India is infused with an energy, a can-do ambition and an entrepreneurial spirit that I can only describe as distinctly American. But other things have come to India, too: pollution, crime, and a feeling of anxiety for those, like me, who are torn between celebrating and lamenting its change.

Another brick has come down in the great wall separating India from the rest of the world. Starbucks and Amazon, two emblematic companies of American consumerism announced their arrival into the Indian market. India’s remarkable process of Americanization has in so many ways been a wonderful thing. It has lifted millions from poverty; villages grow more prosperous, but there are also more troubles due to new violence. Ancient social structures are collapsing under the weight of new money.

For people with no spiritual interest, life is just eating, sleeping, mating and defending. The consumer society has been given itself the task of exhausting all efforts to meet these four activities and make them sophisticated, which are so elementary, by the way, that even animals have already perfected them quite a while ago. ... You can no longer easily distinguish between necessary and unnecessary, and almost nothing invites us to be aware of the suffering caused to other living entities to produce the various articles and products sold. While we are all consumers, the dynamics of materialism and progress infuses us that we have born only to consume, produce and consume again. This is certainly problematic and impoverishes the spirit. ... It's like a kind of lack of control in desires and the purchase capacity.

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