The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young by Somini Sengupta

Karma

Taking recourse to seven diverse real life stories or rather strenuous struggles, Somini Sengupta reveals the arc of paradigm shift that is catapulted Indian into the forefront of global capitalism and economic development. An India that surges ahead with optimism, outlook, drive – a far cry from the sordid environment the author herself experienced in her younger days before she emigrated to the United States of America leaving behind a confused, desolate and desperate nation reeling from the after effects of an autocratic emergency imposed upon by a power hungry Prime Minister.

Somini Sengupta returns to India in the role of a correspondent for the New York Times and the panorama spread out before her eyes is one of a coruscation of ambition, iridescence of previously entrenched beliefs and an inescapable fervour that seems omniscient and omnipresent. Anupam, the son of a auto-rickshaw driver has his sights set on getting himself into the hallowed portals of one of the famed Indian Institute of Technology (“IIT”) centres, an achievement that would redeem his family from the clutches of poverty, deprivation and squalor. Rakhi is a reluctant fundamentalist who joins the dreaded Maoist Rebellion in the jungles of Chattisgarh after her helpless family sinks into a quicksand of penury. Exasperated by the pressure of killing, the strains of camouflage and enervated by a constant fear of being either killed or captured by the armed forces, Rakhi takes the extraordinarily dangerous step of betraying her comrades and surrendering to the police. Under the aegis of a lackadaisical witness protection programme, Rakhi speaks to the author about the circumstances that led to her life taking a strange and unenviable twist, for the worse.

Somini Sengupta, in her book intertwines narratives, by dwelling into her own past and juxtaposing the chosen path of her protagonists thereby lending a stark albeit clear contrast. A contrast that both differentiates as well as integrates the India of the present from the India of the past. The stories are spontaneous and inspiring in addition to being the mirror that reflects the progression of India towards economic prosperity and also a regression unto social imbalance triggered by a still persistent medieval belief system that has at its edifice an ineradicable attitude towards caste, colour, creed, community and gender. It is this contrast, which as Somini Sengupta, illustrates in her work, cleaves India. While the son of an autorickshaw driver proves the power of meritocracy by securing a place for himself in an educational institution hitherto thought of as merely for the elitists, a pair of educated, well-to-do, real estate owning brothers murder their own kith and kin under the nauseating justification and ruse of ‘honour killing’. It is also a cleave which on the one hand recognises that there is no future for a country that does not envisage an empowerment of the woman and the preservation of her dignity; while on the other hand leaves a woman lying without a stitch on, with her entrails streaming out of her on a busy stretch of a bustling road, not before the hapless victim was gang raped by a bunch of drunken perverts – in a moving bus.

“The End of Karma” is neither a fairy tale nor a gloomy portent. It is a binding narrative that tries to pry into the machinations of an economic superpower with the highest concentration of youth in its population, which in trying to punch beyond its weight has both succeeded and failed beyond all reasonable expectations.

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