Cover image of "Run and Hide," a novel that highlights economic inequality in India today

For millennia, the huge peninsula we call India today has been Asia’s pivot. South of the central Asian steppes, midway between the European trade routes of the Middle East, the Chinese behemoth, and the East African coast, India has long been one of the most diverse places on the planet. Waves of invaders have swept across the land over the centuries. Speaking five hundred languages, thirty of them by at least one million native speakers, India abounds with contradictions. Its population, soon to overtake China’s, is riven by differences in religion, caste, and class. In such fertile ground, economic inequality flourishes. That gap is the theme underlying Pankaj Mishra’s gripping novel, Run and Hide. Inequality underpins the reality of India today as it edges ever closer to dystopia under the right-wing Hindu government of Narendra Modi.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Three central figures personify the New India

Mishra traces the intersecting lives of three brilliant men who meet as roommates at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. The three have come to IIT through the sacrifice of their parents. All their families are poor. Together, they represent the “New India,” a country of fast-rising wealth and soaring expectations driven by science and technology.

  • Aseem Thakur sees “himself as a mascot of triumphal self-invention,” an untouchable who gains enormous wealth in the United States—and ends up in prison for violating American securities law.
  • Virendra Das embarks on a career as editor and publisher of a literary magazine. He achieves fame as the host of literary festivals.
  • Arun Dwivedi, too, ventures into the arts, earning a modest living by writing book reviews and working as a translator for hire.

Arun narrates the story, addressing a novelist and former lover in the second person. We will meet her only much later.

Run and Hide by Pankaj Mishra (2022) 336 pages ★★★★☆

Photo of the IIT Delhi campus, where future millionaires study, contributing to economic inequality in India today
Scene on the campus of IIT Delhi, where the three principals in the novel meet and become friends. Image: Wikidata

Enduring prejudice and massive inequality

In Run and Hide, Mishra explores the widening gap between Hindu and Moslem and the enduring prejudice that keep so many Indians mired in poverty today because of their low caste. While a few gain great riches, the great majority still live in impoverished villages with little hope of bettering their lives. Fortune magazine’s “rich list” includes 142 Indian billionaires collectively worth $832 billion today. As I write, Indian industrialist Gautam Adani ranks third in the world on the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires list with a net worth of $135 billion. Yet these few exceptionally successful men, and perhaps 800,000 millionaires, represent a minuscule fraction of the country’s population of 1.4 billion. The contrasts are staggering. You have only to view Mukesh Ambani’s lavish 27-story palace rising out of a Mumbai slum to see it with your own eyes.

Mishra writes well and displays penetrating insight into Indian society today. The novel combines social commentary with drama and romance. It’s well worth reading for anyone eager to understand that vast and complicated land.

About the author

Photo of Pankaj Mishra, author of this novel about economic inequality in India
Pankaj Mishra. Image: Aslu – Ullstein Bild via The Guardian

Pankaj Mishra is best known in India and the UK as an essayist but has also written two novels. His work has appeared in leading publications in both the US and Britain. He was born in a North Indian city in 1969 to a family impoverished by post-independence land distribution. Mishra received a bachelor’s degree from Allahabad University and a master’s in English literature from the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He is married.

For more reading

You might also wish to see:

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.