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Capital: A Portrait of Delhi in the Twenty‑First Century (Delhi. Stolica ze złota i snu)
Rana Dasgupta

translated from English by Barbara Kopeć-Umiastowska
published by Czarne, Wołowiec

Global capitalism in Delhi mirror
Delhi during a period of transformation: The economy, previously controlled from above, gave way to global capitalism. And the former capital of India is now governed by quick money. Dasgupta examines the souls of those who took advantage of the change, i.e., the billionaires operating on the global markets, as well as the middle classes whose dreams still prevail over the uncertainty of the future. How did the economic boom change relations between parents and their children? Why did a wave of violence against women flood Delhi? Why is the fate of the poor only getting worse? The British author of this book presents a series of reflections on how bridges between the past, the present and the future might be built. Many cities of our contemporary times that have forgotten that it was not just all about taking, may well see themselves reflected in the mirror of Delhi.
Olga Stanisławska

Rana Dasgupta

Rana Dasgupta
is a British novelist and essayist based in New Delhi. Throughout his varied body of work he has consistently explored the themes of globalization, migration and the twenty-first-century city. Born in Canterbury, England, he studied at Balliol College, Oxford and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2001, he moved to Delhi to write. His first novel, “Tokyo Cancelled”, appeared in 2005 and was shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize. “Solo” (2009) won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. In 2014 he published “Capital”, a non-fiction account of the stupendous changes engulfing his adopted city as a result of globalization. It was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. Rana's essays have appeared in such periodicals as “Granta”, “The Guardian”, and “New Statesman”. He is a visiting lecturer at Brown University.

Barbara Kopeć-Umiastowska

Barbara Kopeć-Umiastowska
(b. 1950) – studied mathematics at the University of Warsaw. She worked at the Institute of Computer Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences, at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, and at publishing houses. She has translated books by Samuel Beckett, A.S. Byatt, Michael Chabon, Ursula Le Guin, Sue Townsend, Evelyn Waugh, and also texts from various fields, for example, “Woman. An Intimate Geography” (Kobieta. Geografia intymna) by Natalie Angier and “Will In the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare” (Shakespeare. Stwarzanie świata) by Stephen Greenblatt. She is a laureate of the Association of Polish Translators and Interpreters Award, and the Award of “Literatura na Świecie” monthly. Recently, her translation of “The Turn of the Screw” (Obrót śruby) by Henry James was published. Barbara Kopeć-Umiastowska is a member and founder of the Open Republic Association against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia. She listens to music, plays chess, and walks a lot. She lives in Warsaw.

Report on global future

Elżbieta Sawicka
Elżbieta Sawicka, juror, reviews Rana Dasgupta’s „Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First-Century Delhi”, translated by Barbara Kopeć-Umiastowska

The author of this extraordinary book, who was born in Canterbury as the son of a British Indian family, has now lived in Delhi for a number of years. In India, he is both an outsider and insider, which is undoubtedly helpful in grasping the spirit of this multi-million peopled metropolis.

The portrait of the city Dasgupta creates is fascinating, albeit simultaneously dreadful. He presents Delhi in times of rapid transformation, engaged in a race towards global capitalism. The price of this chaotic development is the escalation of violence (in particular, towards women), corruption, deepening social inequalities, the disintegration of interpersonal relationships. On top of it all, it involves the slow death of the old culture and a devastated landscape. Everyone is paying the price in this mega-city: the fabulously rich new elites, and slum-dwellers. And, as the author warns, there is no going back to the past.

His story of India provides a dose of reliable historical and sociological knowledge. However, the author-reporter’s forte is conversations. They are most brilliant – with developers, a drug dealer, a renowned fashion designer and corporate employees, with millionaires and paupers. We are indebted to the translator, Barbara Kopeć-Umiastowska, who succeeds in making them glitter in Polish as well.
Elżbieta Sawicka

Laureate of the 8th edition

Olga Stanisławska
Laudatory Address by President of the Jury Olga Stanisławska for Rana Dasgupta

The world is not ending, it is only just beginning

“The book I began to write felt like a report from the global future,” confesses Rana Dasgupta. It is not in the West, but in places like Delhi that we see most clearly what he calls a “strange and disquieting reality, this one we are all heading towards.”
The city that fascinates Dasgupta is a city on the other side of a neoliberal transformation. The economy, previously shepherded by the state, is unleashed in 1991. Instant fortunes grow in a capital which roils with new ideas.
It is true that in the highly-calibrated reality of a megalopolis of twenty million people, everything takes on a completely different dimension, yet for Polish readers this description of a watershed moment does not sound entirely unfamiliar.
Rana Dasgupta was born in the United Kingdom in 1971. In 2001, he moved to Delhi to write. Ten years later, he had written two novels, both of which take place thousands of kilometers from India: Tokyo Canceled and Solo, both hailed around the world. When Salman Rushdie presented him as the most unexpected and original Indian writer of the new generation, Dasgupta was already working on a new book: an epic work of literary journalism, which we honor today with this award.
In Delhi, the initial shock of economic transition is long past. Questions are arising. Now that India is going through a astounding boom, why are the poor getting even poorer? Why do even those who benefited from the economic change seem to live in apprehension?
This book is the product of several years of inquisitive conversations and an extended search for the history, rhythm, and mesh of Delhi. For those who know how to look as Dasgupta does, those who possess his curiosity, his knowledge, and depth of reflection, even a path through the city becomes a moment of close reading—the traffic, a concert of qawwali music, the gravel on the footpath of an oligarch’s estate.
Dasgupta is a master of making connections. He builds a portrait of the city from the stories of its inhabitants, yet weaves in his own internal debates, a historical essay, or a miniature treatise on language or architecture. Everything here has a purpose.
This does not prevent the city in this book from pulsating with life; we are touched by waves of smells and sounds, or sudden moments of rapture. Dasgupta’s artistry is characterized by the temperance and nobility of the classic British novels. One could say a specific way of being in the world. The habit of taking the reader seriously—here we receive a remarkably clear prose, yet one never shying away from complexity.

The English title of the book is Capital, meaning both a capital city and economic capital itself.
It is a story of how the ideals of the era of Prime Minister Nehru—an ethos of service to the nation—became discredited, supplanted by the principle of maximizing profit. “Everything exalted and nurturing was passing away,” writes Dasgupta, “and nothing could replace it except a flood of baseness.”
But it seemed the deficiency was in the imagination, he notes. No one had yet been able to imagine Delhi.

Dasgupta explores the inner life of those who benefited from the changes. Who are these Delhiite business magnates who have taken seats at the global top table ? A few of the people he converses with are not far from the level of the steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal—deciding the fate of thousands of steelworkers in Dąbrowa Górnicza, Poland or miners in Omarska, Bosnia. Some go so far as to consider buying up thousands of hectares of agricultural land in Ethiopia or Guinea.
Beside this wealthiest élite, what are the dreams and fears of the ordinary people who come from the rising, affluent parts of the city? Dasgupta shows their dilemmas: how to live when everything around you is becoming a commodity, when they themselves are becoming commodities, up to and including the very tissues of their bodies: welcome to a world where at times even a hospital, instead of treating people, may convince patients they are ill in order to conduct more costly tests.
In the living room of an elegant house, on a park bench at night, people share their secrets with Rana. Men and women. Those who can buy a jet by the age of forty and those who sense they will never become billionaires. A former dealer and a retired colonel; a fashion designer at the height of his fame and a social worker; Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs.
Listening in on these intimate stories of successful or unsuccessful marriages or arguments with one’s mother-in-law, we suddenly begin to understand how profoundly the economic boom has reshaped family bonds.
Women, Dasgupta reminds us, have become icons of the transformation. Why then has violence against them never been as high as it is today? How is it possible they have simultaneously become scapegoats, that those men whose sense of identity has been most shaken as a result of the changes blame them for everything? “Delhi,” writes Dasgupta, “was in the grip of one of those mad moments in human history, in other words, when terrible violence is imagined by its perpetrators as constructive and principled.”

In order to better understand the mechanisms of the present, to be able to imagine the future, Dasgupta explores the legacy of history. Contemporary Delhi, he notes, was born of trauma on a massive scale. The tragic Partition into India and Pakistan destroyed a certain idea of a shared culture, he writes.
The cruelty that accompanied this division was a cruelty of people forced to sacrifice a love which was now forbidden in the modern world: neighborly sentiment, a sense of all being in this together.
It is here, in remembering the suffering of those who came to the city, and in the absence of those who abandoned it, that Rana Dasgupta discovers the roots of today’s Delhi. Its drive to mad consumption, its constant fear of losing things both tangible and intangible.
Among the more affluent inhabitants of the city, their strange spiritual disquiet has never fully departed. For them, “wealth remained, at some level, external,” writes Dasgupta. “It did not feel ‘mine,’” and they lived in overwhelming fear of its collapse. More than that, the craving for possessions went hand-in-hand with the contrary impulse—a half-conscious dream to abandon earthly goods in search of something else. “Delhi’s businessmen,” notes Dasgupta, “turned to gurus not only to help them keep their wealth, therefore, but to help them endure it.”

Rana Dasgupta does not judge anyone. Yet the foundation of this book, its depth, the oxygen that sustains it, is the moral question he poses.
Delhi’s bourgeoisie is an island in an ocean of poverty—and it is precisely to this poverty that it owes its prosperity. Land appropriations drive millions upon millions of impoverished farmworkers to the outskirts of the city. The system does not need this human surplus. Yet it is precisely thanks to their existence it can constantly cut costs.
The Indian boom, writes Dasgupta, is born of the logic of global consumerism—new, fast, and cheap. “The death of rural life in Asia, which affected many hundreds of millions of people, provided the hopeless reservoir on which this logic could draw.”
“The system we are part of feeds on desperation,” says one factory owner. “The only way to keep everything in check will be the increasing militarization of the world.”
During the industrial revolution, Dasgupta reminds us, Europe exported a third of its population overseas, having no room for them. What will come of the “surplus” population of India?
The world is not ending, it is only just beginning. We must try somehow to imagine it.

Meanwhile, affluent Delhiites live their glory years off of the reality of Indian poverty. What about us? We now know enough to be able to ask ourselves as well whether we are beneficiaries of the Indian boom and what place we have in this story, a history of cut costs and a reservoir of despair.

Rana Dasgupta talks with women on the periphery of Delhi. There, he encounters self-reliance and togetherness such as he has not seen anywhere else. In his wanderings around the outskirts of the city, he also comes across a forgotten river, the Yamuna. Life outside of environmental context is the reward the middle classes expect from capitalism, he notes. The ancient knowledge that one cannot only take has been forgotten.

This story begins with the image of an enveloping blue light: the chlorinated swimming pool of the billionaire Rakesh. It ends on the Yamuna, whose waters have been transformed into a sewer.
“But we also know this about our own time,” writes Dasgupta, “that we are able to use what our predecessors built far better than we are able to build for those to come.”

“For the unborn,” reads the dedication to his book.

Olga Stanisławska

Translated by Sean Bye


Capital. A Portrait of Delhi in the Twenty-First Century (Delhi. Stolica ze złota i snu)

translated from English by Barbara Kopeć-Umiastowska

published by Czarne