‘The white tiger’ is the debut novel of the novelist Mr. Aravind Adiga and is the winner of the man booker prize in 2008.
This book is a first person account- in form of a letter written by the narrator to the president of China- Mr. Wen Jiabao. The narrator, Balram halwai writes the letter during seven nights to tell him the story behind the self made entrepreneurs of Bangalore.
The story of Balram halwai starts in Gaya district of Bihar, which he, metaphorically, prefers to call ‘the darkness’. The story commences at a point when Balram is still a child and goes on to tell how his family and many other families are under the thumbs of powerful landlords. Aided by some powerful and gripping narration the story further tells us how Balram receives very little education and becomes a driver to a US educated, weak willed son of the land lord. In course of fulfilling his ambitions, he murders his master and sets up his business in Bangalore.
At times the story may seem a bit clichéd or even melodramatic… but the genius of Adiga lies in narration, which prevents the book from being monotonous or overwhelming and also makes the book a ‘read at one go’. Another idiosyncrasy of Mr. Adiga is his dark humor. Inch perfect use of dark humor makes the book humorous at places but simultaneously keeping it purposeful with a message. A perfect sample of the trademark dark humor is provided by the following lines from the book-
“Now, you are visiting us this week, Your Excellency, aren’t you? All India Radio is usually reliable on these matters.
That was a joke sir. Ha!”
Another trademark feature of the book is the use of analogies. The spontaneous and astute analogies derived by the author not only make the book captivating but also are extremely thought provoking.
But the pick of all the analogies is the Rooster Coop Analogy where the author compares India with a rooster coop in which people, engrossed in their highly competitive daily lives are referred to as the chicken packed in a coop in market. Another example of the excellent analogies derived by the author is a scene in which villagers are animatedly discussing about local election. The situation prevalent at the place is that everyone is a registered voter but is not allowed to vote as bogus votes are cast on their behalf. The author at this point compares them to “eunuchs discussing Kamasutra”.
But despite of all these attributes, at the end of the book, an Indian reader feels cheated. A bit like the movie Slumdog Millionaire, this book seems to explore all negative aspects (poverty, illiteracy, corruption etc) of India, without even touching on anything positive. When you read the book the portrayal of India as ‘the land of all bad and no good’ hurts the ego of a proud Indian citizen.
The book gives more of a foreigner’s view of India meant for foreigners. I say so because the pessimistic view of India present in the book only reinforces what the west believes India to be and I believe this may be one of the major factors contributing to its tremendous success in west.
The book cannot portray real India because
- Its tendency of polarizing- showing people either extremely rich or extremely poor. There is no section called ‘the middle class’ which forms an important and large portion of the present Indian society.
- Yes, corruption and illiteracy form an important part of the current social dynamics of India but they are not the whole of the social dynamics of India, as portrayed by the book. There is a particular, and large section of people called ‘the service class’ which is very much educated and not even half as much sunk in corruption as shown in the book.
Hence the book is an excellent, gripping and enjoyable read (even being thought provoking at times) but to say that it represents the ‘real India’ would be unjust and myopic on our part.
Though a fiction, the book handles a serious topic hence it is not your typical ‘fun filled fiction’. Hence, some might find it difficult to stick to the book till end while it is a highly recommended book for those who like serious topics.
Have a nice read.