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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

whitetiger

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

0 10 April, 2010 Books April 10, 2010

About the author

Pranjal is a mechanical engineer by profession from National Institute of Technology, Jamshedpur.

View all articles by Pranjal Srivastava

35 comments

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  2. Soumendu

    d review is simply wonderful….will buy the book asap!!! critical analysis is rly rly important for a reader..so thnx a lot Pranjal. keep up the good work!!!

    Reply
  3. Alka

    I have read the book. My opinion is mixed bag. Frankly,I get angry when anyone shows India with a narrow outlook (myopic as you had put) and that to from an author of Indian origin. There is something about awards and showing India through a myopic view. May be westerners really have a biased outlook about India or they are Jealous about the potential we have. Neither way, who cares what they think? We know our future.

    Reply
    1. pranjal

      we share feelings here(getting angry)… but if we take a more objective look, this glamorizing of poverty is only a tool used to increase sales.so actually no need to get angry… universal popularity is fictitious concept. we are growing and we will grow, in that process people will talk so let them. after all as u say- who cares ;-)

      Reply
  4. prashant

    a perspicacious review sounds logical and coherent. western world does have a poor view of india but if indians like mr. adiga enforce their view then it truly hurts. as the review points out mr. adiga has seen india as it ‘was’ not as it ‘is’. kudos to pranjal for pointing this out.

    Reply
  5. Ankita

    Firstly, i am so glad that u finally managed to get ur hands on this book (*winks)and have also come up with an amazing review! *loud applause

    the book is surely melodramatic and potrays a “how very typically indian kinda story”.
    which also makes me wonder most times ,why is our nation still considered that poor and lagging in a lot many aspects(which we actually are not!)

    nonetheless. everything has good’s and bad’s attached to it,n so does the book.
    “its a must have in the shelf ,i guess”

    great work pranny.looking forward for more. *blesses!

    Reply
  6. pranjal

    thank u anks… glad that u liked the reviw :-)… and yeah i finally managed to get the book… thanks to the footpath book vendors of kolkata :-)

    Reply
  7. Dr. V.K. Srivastava and Mrs Nisha Srivastava

    Very good review. Keep it up. Very critical analysis of Adiga’s narrow view about Indian society.

    Reply
  8. mani

    Welcome to ginger chai. I am impressed with your range of vocabulary and grasp over the language.
    Hope to see more from you

    Reply
  9. chetan

    a good review..

    you are right that book doesn’t reperesent true india
    i read this book, sometime ago,
    a good narration, but i didn’t like it

    Reply
  10. Pritesh Shah

    I am currently reading this book , and must say its captivating and absorbing . . . Kudos to writer for now . . Will comment more when i finish reading it . . By the way nice blog . .

    Reply
  11. Deepti Srivastava

    Hey Pranjal…great review….i really appreciate ur critical analysis
    By this review u hv compelled me to read this book
    Intoxicating author ;)(m not saying tht abt Adiga, thts abt u)

    Reply
  12. Nona

    Might not be a safe forum to put my comments. I read this book 2 weeks. It was an instant attachment. My 2 cents. There is nothing myopic or narrow about. It just point blank truth. And truth hurts. Anyway it Balram’s truth.

    Reply
    1. Pranjal

      truth uh? nice. and where do u come from please tell me. i would love to know the part of India which has only poverty, corruption, crime and nothing else. whatever happened to the poor govt serviceman whose son completes somehow graduation and is working with a BPO and earning some 25000 per month and living decent life. A majority of India today has that life only.
      Tell me which part of India you consider most underdeveloped? UP? Bihar? I hail from UP and Azamgarh at that. Even that place is a thousand times better than the scenario mentioned in the book. Yes people might be dying of hunger but this is not default state of affairs for an average Indian but the book pictures otherwise. what it does is, it constantly dwells on the poor side so much that it appears The only way to earn money in India is crime. I don’t know what place in India have you been to dude but I can assure you, if you think so, you are sadly mistaken.

      Reply
      1. Nona

        Don’t get overly sensitive Pranjal. I don’t mean any offense and it’s nothing personal. It is my observation as an outsider. I am of Indian origin (and a very proud one too) but not from India. The 3rd generation of Indian in Malaysia when the powerful Brits packed up farmers to do hardcore work in the countries they were reigning. I have visited India 4 times (Bangalore, part of Tamil Nadu and whole of Andhra Pradesh) and coming March 2011 will be my 5th trip which is to Kerala.

        Putting that aside, the story is not about a middle class boy, son of poor government serviceman whom completed graduation and earning 25000 Rp. Its about a boy from lower caste (tell me if caste does not matter any more), son of rickshaw puller whom robed away the chance of having basic education and could had been working in a small tea stall or farm until every bone in his body crushed away. But end up being driver earning 3000 Rp and later an ‘entrepreneur’.

        You seem to have a predetermined mind set that you are an average Indian. Are you an average Indian in the 1st place? You may think as I am not from India hence I don’t have the right to form an opinion yet I will. You are an above average Indian.

        1/3 of Indian population don’t even have basic sanitation, more than 2/3 don’t have connected wastewater services, Asia’s largest slum comes from India, 100 over million people living in slums, almost 50% of Mumbai population living in slums, more than 50% of children don’t even get basic education, over 400 millions are living below the hardcore poverty line, 12% of children are involve in child labour and have you seen where India stands in Corruption Perception Index.

        My very own observation since my first visit to India in 2002 till now, I see how the prices had been inflated from a basic decent plate of meals to cost local air flights. And I can see more high rise and classy building soaring up. And more people sleeping under the bridges and flyovers. Something seriously not very right here, isn’t it?

        I stand by what I had said earlier. Truth hurts where hits the most. Ignorance is never a bliss.

        Reply
        1. Pranjal

          ok here i go-
          1. i am telling you caste doesn’t matter. while yes, people might not marry in other castes as frequently as to proclaim complete extinction caste system but seriously everyone sits with everyone and eats. Even in my village at marriages all the people sit on floor and eat together and seriously i don’t even know the caste of most.

          2.400 million? let us talk on a relative scale not absolute because absolute scale often becomes misleading given our massive population. 400 million makes something of say 27% of total population do u have any idea how much it was say 10 years ago? i don’t know the figures but can safely assure you it must have been around 38-40 %. A change of 10-12% in ten years in a population as massive as India is huge. This means today people are increasingly getting an opportunity to earn their bread come out of that BPL. This means “there are other ways to earn money than crime”- if all these guys only had been committing crime to rise above BPL, India would be inhabitable. Also this means that while the hangover of poverty is still there, the state of affairs is rapidly changing.

          3. Now see, 50% of mumbai lives under slums only uh? True and Typical. Look how conveniently you forgot that Mumbai is Richest Indian City and has the Highest GDP for any city in south, west or central asia. If the city has this much money and still 50% of population is living in slums we must need to refine our definitions of slum I think. The majority of slum area of Mumbai is Dharavi. And dharavi my friend, is Switzerland compared to the shit hole described in books. Most of the people living in Dharavi are NOT BPL. Livelihood of inhibants in dharavi is not the concern the concern there is space.
          4. As for sanitation and waste water services- By 2015, the percentage of people in urban areas served by improved sanitation1 is expected to reach 80%, up from 43% in 1990. In rural areas, the projection is 48%, an incredible improvement over the coverage rate of just 1% in 1990(reference-http://www.adb.org/Documents/Books/Water_for_All_Series/Indian-Sanitation/Indian-Sanitation.pdf). look at the slope of change? Do you get my point? It IS not as shown in the book it WAS as shown in book a long time back- more than twenty years ago. But people who are ignorant still hold it true

          5. Yes corruption is there. My money, which i get deducted from my salary every month as income tax is being siphoned off by people and that makes us reach top positions in any corruption index thingy i agree. But the no of these people as compared to the number of people doing jobs and earning their money the hard way is much, much more than scammers and by the way have you notices these more scamming scumbags are getting caught?

          6. yes inflation is there but the gdp is also growing at more than 7% for chrissake. salary is increasing. do you think the malls are getting built like mushrooms despite of the fact that no has power to buy anything? purchasing power of average indian is increasing be inflation or not!!

          And Yeah I do represent The average India because I am one of those millions of kids symbolizing the rapid change that India has undergone- My monthly pocket money last year in college was about 3.5 times my father’s first salary. but that is agin talking in absolute terms. in terms of purchasing power too it must have been at least two times my father’s first salary

          Reply
        2. Pranjal

          and as for more people sleeping under the bridges and flyovers despite of skyscrapers being built- U see that because that is all u want to see. u’ll go to some big city like mumbai and notice slums like dharavi. but you won’t go to some small town like Gorakhpur and see that while people might not be extravagantly rich, the no of beggers on streets almost nil compared to big cities. people are working and earning their livlihood decently enough. But why would u do that. That’s not fashionable.
          Actually as I said in the article- this book sells because there are people who like to think of India in that respect only.
          You are the target customer of people who sell ‘glamorization of poverty’ as product- be it in a print form or movie form!

          Reply
  13. Nona

    1. For that, may be your village should be nominated as Model Village. What I have seen so far everyone sticks to their own kind. Your Model Village definitely a fresh breath.

    2. Nos under BPL had doubled up since 1990. Relative to scale is politician talk when they did not achieve their KPI. A country don’t produced more and more people so it can argue on relative basis for everything that is NOT going as planned. The increase in population was meant to increase the economic power and strength. Not to be used conveniently to camouflage facts of reality. Not everything should be measured with %. Some should use real time nos.

    3. Dharavi is not a poo-poo slum but Swiss dreamland?? This is so new to me. I can’t even begin on this one. Argument should be presented with facts. Not for the sake of winning. Mumbai is the richest city (even Ambani is there) yet it host the largest slums in Asia is a fact. The conclusion is rich is becoming richer and poor is becoming poorer.

    4. What is yesterday’s sanitation is today’s primitive system- the only way I can describe ADB’s report. From where did they cook that up. Write something nice and sweet to fund projects? Basic sanitation merely means going on with nature’s call with some dignity and not even a proper wastewater system. From 1990 to 2008 it increased from 18% to 31%. For heaven’s sake can’t even keep up with population growth.

    5. I have not noticed scum bags getting caught. But if they are. I am glad.

    6. Heard of Pareto Principle-the 80-20 rule. The increasing GDP and income refers to the 20% of people bringing 80% of moolah. That does not mean that 20% population happiness suffice. Anyway the malls are to feed vanity of the 20% rich and not to fulfill the needs of 80% poor.

    Anyway this debate is taking a wrong turn. This book is about many Balrams and not a few Pranjals. One thing in common that I agree it is not your regular glamourous Bollywood masala-everything well ends well. It about staring at the raw ugly truth heads on.

    Anyway I conquer to agree to disagree on the above matters as it will lead to no where. And I have some almonds to roast before lunch. Adious! Good day!

    Reply
    1. Pranjal

      since We have agreed to disagree, I think i don’t need to take pains in writing another page comment but one thing i’ll sure tell you- my village is no model village. it is the usual educated indian village which you are oblivious of because of your skewed perception.
      by the sniff of your statements, you sound more like a communist. And jeez, has anyone ever won any argument with a communist? I doubt that.

      Reply
  14. Nona

    Oh ya Pranjal. My sixth trip to India (may be in 2012), I will plan to include Gorakhpur and Azamgarh. Assuming they are all in state of Uttar Pradesh.

    Reply
      1. Nona

        Most unfortunate Pranjal, invitation accepted. Azamgarh is 835 km away from New Delhi (as per google earth). I will plan up for 2012.

        My almonds roasted with cinnamons turned out amazing be it cooked by a communist or socialist . (definitely not capitalist)

        Adious friend. I will check out this portal continuously. It has some amazing stuff.

        Reply
  15. Manipadma

    That was an interesting exchange of views and believe , it was totally informative as well as entertaining. I am sure many will agree with Nona and so will there will be people who will srick to Pranjal’s argument. But that’s life for us.
    Nona I have seen you here for the first time in GC. Please keep on visiting GC. Their might be difference of opinions but that in fact enriches people’s perceptives.We wopuld love to have your feedbacks. :)

    Reply

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