Writer and former journalist Deepti Kapoor dropped in to studio for a chat with Ryan Tubridy about her new novel Age of Vice; set in New Delhi in the early 2000's. The story begins with a horrific crime; and the fallout of that event opens up a chink in the armour of Bunty Wadia, a super-rich oligarch and head of a powerful North Indian gangster network. The tale unfolds through the relationships between Wadia’s adult son Sunny, his servant-turned enforcer Ajay and a journalist, Neda.
Some of Ryan's listeners have already read the book, which was released in January"A 21st century New Delhi mash-up of Gatsby, The Godfather and Succession"; is how one Tubridy Show texter described the book - Deepti says she’s pretty happy with that. Her novel is the first of a trilogy, she says, drawing on personal experience as a reporter in her twenties. This was back in the early 2000s, when she says she experienced the flowering of huge wealth for some in India; especially in New Delhi. Deepti says she saw Delhi go from a "sleepy, sedate city" under the former socialist regime, to one which had aspirations of being a player on the international stage. She describes working as a city reporter during a time of head-spinning change:
"Documenting the changing city, driving around a lot in the day, talking to all kinds of people, reporting on the new metro, new malls and cinemas and bars and restaurant; and at night, I was partying with a set of very wealthy young people, whose families' wealth had quadrupled in this new century. And they were having these very Gatsby-like, crazy extravagant parties."
With the pace of development and the rise of what Deepti calls the North Indian Mafia, Ryan asks if she would describe it as a time of hope or one fuelled by greed and corruption? Deepti says the benefits were undeniable at first:
"At the time in the early 2000s, when I was part of it as a young journalist and as a young woman, I just saw the hope and the optimism. I saw the creation of a new middle class. I saw the way the city transformed and for me and for people like me, we had opportunities we never would have had before."
As time passed, Deepti moved away from the city, met and married her English husband, became a yoga teacher and ultimately a fiction writer. She says looking back, the explosion of wealth for a few was founded on widespread crime and exploitation:
"Now, of course I realise that these hopes and dreams were actually founded on the broken dreams of many. So really what my novel is, what Age of Vice is, I know it’s about the rich and the super-rich, but it’s really a novel about inequality."
India’s transition from colonialism through to the embrace of capitalism and everything in between is reflected in the history of many other countries, she says:
"What happened in India is a version of crony capitalism, or I would call it gangster capitalism, which you can see in countries like, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, what happened in Russia. Same thing happened in India. In India you don’t have the Mafia on the other side of the law and that’s what distinguishes India from other countries, in that the Mafia is the law, in many states."
Ryan asks about the current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, who is both extraordinarily popular and also arguably teetering on the verge of autocracy; what does Deepti make of him?
"Modi is incredibly popular. This is his 8th or 9th year and he was elected for a second time in 2019 and I guess what I would call him is a populist authoritarian strongman. He also likes to promote the image of himself as a strongman, who doesn’t bend."
Deepti now lives in Portugal with her husband. She says that the current government in the country of her birth are dismantling some of the most important pillars of any democracy, including the media:
"What lot of people are extremely scared of is this rollback of democratic rights, that Modi’s government is presiding over. Especially media; India has always had a pretty critical, independent, free and fair media; but that is severely threatened now."
Hear about how Deepti opted out of the fast life, what many tourists get wrong about India and similarities she sees between Ireland and India and in the full interview here.
Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor is out now, published by Fleet and Deepti is speaking at the Maynooth Festival on the 6th May 2023, more on that here.