Friday, May 27, 2011

The White Tiger Cometh

When it comes to reading material, you won't find me running to the bookstore to buy the latest bestseller or prize winning book. I have yet to read The Da Vinci Code or The Harmony Silk Factory (popular books at one time) and don't plan to.

As for the Life of Pi (winner of The Man Booker Prize 2002), I did read all 356 pages of it, coz it was a Christmas present from a friend and I believe in doing justice to presents! That was the only reason I was seen carrying that book around way back then.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga however is an exception. Admittedly I have come to the book a bit late, it was published in 2008 and won The Man Booker Prize the same year. An exception because of the subject matter the author choose, and the voice in which the story is narrated.

Unlike a slew of other Indian authors who have taken the publishing world by storm with stories of sweeping family sagas and the plight of immigrants in the West, all well peppered with the heady scents of saffron and jasmines, Adiga has taken the road less traveled or perhaps not taken.

His subject matter is the poverty that still lurks beneath India's often hyped economic miracle, as seen through the eyes of the novel's protagonist - Balram Halwai. Where other writers might have narrated Balram's story as a touching saga of one man's crawl out of the darkness into the light, Adiga does the opposite.

Balram Halwai (Halwai denotes that he comes from a caste of sweet makers) does not lament his fate. Far from it, from the novel's very first page, he is writing a letter to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.Wen is about to visit Bangalore to find out what makes an entrepreneur. Why? Because China despite its booming economy has no entrepreneurs.

This is where Balram steps in, because he doubts the Indian government will be able to offer the Chinese Premier any useful information on the subject. So over the course of seven nights and seven letters, Balram tells Wen what makes an entrepreneur through the story of his life.

Adiga's Balram is witty and charming, a somewhat philosopher, and as he smoothly informs Wen from the beginning of the book, a man who murdered his employer in cold blood. But as he patiently explains - it's all part of the journey in becoming an Indian entrepreneur.

As Balram tell the Chinese Premier, the trustworthiness of servants is the basis of the entire Indian economy.

"In the world's greatest democracy, the jails of Delhi are full of drivers who are behind bars because they are taking the blame for their good, solid middle-class masters. We have left the village, but the masters still own us body, soul and arse."

This novel is a dark comedy, a mocking take on contemporary India - the corruption, the poverty, the caste discrimination. Adiga is a sharp social commentator, nothing escapes his acerbic pen, even the gods and the revered river Ganges are not spared.

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1 comment:

{erisha} said...

this book sounds interesting! perhaps, I'd get my hand on a copy :)

i've never really read that many books from Indian writers before, often because there aren't as many available in comparison to the entire book market, but i've read about two or three and they are pretty good, not the kinds that normally centers on family sagas and tradition, as what you've talked about in your post.