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India: Background information when reading The Weight of Heaven

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The Weight of Heaven

A Novel

by Thrity Umrigar

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar X
The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2009, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

India

This article relates to The Weight of Heaven

Print Review

According to the U.S. Department of State, India's population is estimated at more than 1.2 billion and is growing at 1.6% a year. It has the world's 12th largest economy - and the third largest in Asia behind Japan and China - with total GDP in 2008 of around $1.2 trillion (which, to put it in context, is less than the USA's budget deficit in 2009).

Although India occupies only 2.4% of the world's land area, it supports over 15% of the world's population. Only China has a larger population. India's median age is 25, one of the youngest among large economies. About 70% live in more than 550,000 villages, and the remainder in more than 200 towns and cities.

Services, industry and agriculture account for 55%, 27% and 18% of GDP respectively. Nearly two-thirds of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood. 700 million Indians live on $2 per day or less, but there is a large and growing middle class of more than 50 million Indians with disposable incomes ranging from 200,000 to 1,000,000 rupees per year (~$4000-$21,000). Estimates are that the middle class will grow ten-fold by 2025.

Religion, caste and language are major determinants of social and political organization in India today. However, with more job opportunities in the private sector and better chances of upward social mobility, India has begun a quiet social transformation in this area. The government recognizes 18 official languages; Hindi, the national language, is the most widely spoken, although English is a national lingua franca. Although 81% of its people are Hindu, India also is the home of more than 138 million Muslims - one of the world's largest Muslim populations.

The United States is India's largest trading partner and its largest investment partner, with a 13% share of investment. India's total inflow of U.S. direct investment was estimated at more than $16 billion through 2008.

One of the biggest barriers to successful business transactions between the United States and India are the cultural differences that exist between the two societies. In the US, punctuality, adherence to deadlines, and efficiency are standard business practices. Indian business, however, typically proceeds at a much slower pace. Impatience is perceived as rude and disrespectful. Hierarchy is very important and senior colleagues are obeyed and respected; consequently silence doesn't necessarily mean agreement, only an unwillingness to counter (i.e., disrespect) authority. Disagreement is rarely expressed in a direct manner. Self-esteem is an essential part of Indian culture, and therefore any individual criticism in business situations must be done in private and with sensitivity. Other cultural tips for doing business in India can be found here.

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Weight of Heaven. It originally ran in May 2009 and has been updated for the February 2010 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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