The White Tiger By Aravind Adiga
2008 was a year reminiscent to most Indian book lovers. Chennai born Aravind Adiga and Delhi bred Amitav Ghosh were the Indian names among those shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. It was the then 34 year old Adiga who walked away with the £50,000 award for his ambitious debut novel ‘the White Tiger’ , a book whose complex take on the whimsical notions of Indian modernity were marvelled yet criticized by literary figures and readers alike.
Adiga’s protagonist Balram Halwai, a self-confessed scoundrel cum “successful” entrepreneur, writes a letter to the visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in which he narrates his rags-to-riches story, a tale devoid of all traits bearing resemblance to honesty, loyalty or kindness and where greed unashamedly greets you in its entirety.
Balram, son of a rickshaw puller, is drawn out of his rural life in Laxmangarh and forced to work at various places by money-hungry relatives. He eventually ends up as a driver to an insensitive yet filthily rich son of a landlord. His sojourn in Delhi is marked with painful descriptions of how an uncouth villager perceives city life.(The conversations he has with fellow drivers on crime and urban women for example)
There is greed all around him in the form of politicians, officials and the wealthy and soon enough Balram, kindled by all that avarice, murders his master and runs away with the money. The fruits of his sin help him abandon his past and he flees to Bangalore where he assumes a whole new identity as a taxi-cab runner.
Adiga’s social commentary is intense, dark, verbose and most of the times, bitter to swallow. His intrepid and unassuming observations of the caste system and his theory of how all Indians are part of ‘the rooster coop’ are brilliant both in prose and idea. Though the excess of superficial characters and lack of ‘the silver lining’ slightly mar the flow of the story, Adiga doesn’t make an effort to appease us and lets us go through what he calls as “self-examination”. “The White Tiger” is a book that is rich in detail and hard on thought. The Indian inside us may not exactly find the book scintillating but the reader part of us would definitely find it splendid enough to fetch a Booker!
***The reason why this review comes 5 years late is that I wrote this piece for my department magazine 'Magbyte'. I read this book when I was 15 years old and didn't like it back then. Now having re-read it, it's not a bad book after all...!