From Gandhi to Gatsby

From The New York Times:

The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India By SIDDHARTHA DEB

Book Deb, the author of two novels and an associate professor at the New School, 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. “A country that has seen a sudden infusion of wealth and a rapid disengagement with its past tends to throw up people who are traveling very quickly and seem to have no clear antecedents,” Deb writes in the book’s first chapter, almost by way of laying out his thesis. This describes the Roaring Twenties as well as it describes India in the 21st century.

That splendid first chapter, titled “The Great Gatsby,” profiles the most Fitzgeraldian of Deb’s figures. Arindam Chaudhuri is hard to miss in India: He appears, in regrettable suits and a glossy ponytail, in large newspaper advertisements nearly every day, hawking the top-notch M.B.A. degrees his management institutes claim to dispense. Chaudhuri’s advertisements suggest snake-oil patter, so Deb patiently seeks to reveal the man within the salesman. Chaudhuri is, we find, startlingly insecure, so unsure of his place in modern India that he trusts no one and is driven by “this Manichaean idea of people divided into the loyal and the disloyal, of Arindam at odds with the rest of the world.” In a neat inversion, Chaudhuri makes his living off identical insecurities in his students — students who can scrape together his tuition, but whose English may not be quite be as good as their Hindi or who think they lack the sophistication required in India’s corporations. Many of Chaudhuri’s graduates can find employment only in his own enterprises, their salaries paid, in a sense, by their successors, the education-starved young men and women thronging the institute. The scheme in its entirety, Deb realizes, carries the sour whiff of Ponzi. (When this chapter was excerpted in the Indian magazine Caravan, Deb and the magazine were promptly sued by Chaudhuri; thanks to an injunction, the Indian edition of the book has been robbed of its first ­essay.)

More here.