Breaking Out: An Indian Womans American Journey

Padma Desai



Padma Desai grew up in the 1930s in the provincial world of Surat, where she had a sheltered and strict upbringing in a traditional Gujarati Anavil Brahmin family. Her academic brilliance won her a scholarship to Bombay University, where the first heady taste of freedom in the big city led to tragic consequences—seduction by a fellow student whom she was then compelled to marry. In a failed attempt to end this disastrous first marriage, she converted to Christianity.

A scholarship to America in 1955 launched her on her long journey to liberation from the burdens and constraints of her life in India, with a growing self-awareness and transformation at many levels, as she made a new life for herself, met and married the celebrated economist Jagdish Bhagwati, became a mother, and rose to academic eminence at Harvard and Columbia.

How did she navigate the tumultuous road to assimilation in American society and culture? And what did she retain of her Indian upbringing in the process? This brave and moving memoir, written with a novelist’s skill at evoking personalities, places and atmosphere, and a scholar’s insights into culture and society, community and family, tells a compelling and thought-provoking human story that will resonate with readers everywhere.

What will you learn from this book

  1. Cultural Adaptation: Desai's memoir highlights her journey of cultural adaptation, as she navigates the challenges of adjusting to life in America while preserving her Indian identity and values.

  2. Educational Pursuits: The book discusses Desai's pursuit of education and academic success in America, including her experiences as a student and later as a professor at prestigious universities such as Harvard and Columbia.

  3. Career Challenges: Desai reflects on the challenges she faced as a woman of color in academia and the corporate world, including discrimination and gender bias, and her efforts to overcome these obstacles through determination and resilience.

  4. Family Dynamics: "Breaking Out" explores Desai's relationships with her family, both in India and America, and the cultural and generational differences that shape these connections.

  5. Professional Achievements: The memoir celebrates Desai's professional achievements as an economist and scholar, including her groundbreaking research on the Soviet economy and her contributions to the field of international economics.

  6. Identity and Belonging: Desai grapples with questions of identity and belonging, as she straddles the worlds of India and America and seeks to reconcile her dual cultural heritage.

  7. Gender and Empowerment: The book examines issues of gender empowerment and women's rights, as Desai confronts societal expectations and stereotypes to carve out her own path as a successful academic and public intellectual.

  8. Cross-Cultural Perspectives: Through her experiences in America, Desai gains valuable insights into cross-cultural communication and understanding, fostering greater empathy and appreciation for diverse perspectives.

  9. Legacy and Inspiration: "Breaking Out" serves as an inspiration for women and immigrants seeking to pursue their dreams and break barriers in their chosen fields, offering lessons in perseverance, courage, and resilience.

  10. Reflections on Success: Desai reflects on the meaning of success and fulfillment, highlighting the importance of pursuing one's passions and values, even in the face of adversity and uncertainty.

Language English
ISBN-10 0670085782
ISBN-13 9780670085781
No of pages 222
Font Size Medium
Book Publisher Penguin India
Published Date 28 Apr 2012

About Author

Author : Padma Desai


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