There are 7 billion people on the planet, and nearly 1.2 billion of them live in India, making it famously the world’s biggest democracy by far. In the thriving, striving new Indian economy, businessmen make sudden, amazing fortunes, as the American robber barons did in the 19th century, and regularly place on the Forbes list of the world’s most wealthy. Yet at least 300 million Indians live in desperate conditions, many of them starving. The poor are sometimes literally bulldozed out of the way for developments, the underclass of the dispossessed and disenfranchised is huge: The go-go sub-continent might look like a democracy only for the elite. “With its overlap of extreme wealth and lavish poverty … its competing ideologies, its lack of uniformity, its kindness and profound cruelty, its complex relationships with religion, its parallel realities and the rapid speed of social change — India is a macrocosm, and may be the world’s default setting for the future,” writes Patrick French in “India: A Portrait,” in which he mingles historical analysis with on-the-spot reportage, aiming to capture the country in all its teeming, volatile complexity. The result is rich, engaging and indeed multi-hued.
more from Richard Rayner at the LAT here.