One night two summers ago, I was in a car speeding across the border into the eastern Indian state of Bihar. The unlit, pitch-black freeway didn’t deter traffic from barreling forward at breakneck speeds. In the inevitable accident, a young man was shredded by a truck. A politician showed up, but instead of taking charge, he distracted the police with laughter and gossip.
Preventable death or official callousness is not unique to Bihar, but this particular incident seemed, to me, typical. Bihar is a state that until recently took the troubles that bedevil all of India and amplified them to levels that were unbearable even by Indian standards. In Bihar, an accident was carnage and apathy was criminal neglect. Although matters have since improved, to survive, the poor still traffick their children and the rich still get out.
Few writers are better placed to examine this near-dystopian state of affairs than the novelist Amitava Kumar, a native son, although now a professor of English at Vassar College.