Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The White Tiger

Courtesy to a kind friend, I got to read the book The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. This book has won the Man Booker prize for the year 2008. So I had absolutely no doubts about the literary quality of Adiga’s writing. After all, how many books have been so honoured? Another thing I knew without any doubt even before reading the reviews and comments was the fact that the book was strong on a social cause. For obvious reasons, you cannot blame me if I thought the social cause was wild life conservation. It does voice about life conservation. Conservation of millions of lives that are treated less amiably than wild animals – the poor, people whose lives are lived by the rich because of the fact that they do not have the money and power to live their own lives. The white tiger is all about the ocean wide divide of the rich and the poor in the biggest democratic nation in the world.

Balram Halwai, the protagonist of the novel is born into a financially deprived household in a village on the banks of the river Ganga. How his life progresses from innocence to psychopathic to prosperity in alterations of darkness and light is narrated by Balram himself. The book is an extensive letter to the Chinese emissary, Mr. Wen Jiabao. Jiabao comes visiting India and his agenda includes meeting the highly successful entrepreneurs of India, to learn the nuances of entrepreneurship. The emissary will also be enlightened on the ‘success’ story of the way of India's governance, that is the democracy in the nation. Owing to the irony here, I am forced to quote Balram’s ex employer - ‘What a fucking joke!’ indeed.

Dark, ironic, sarcastic, sad, wicked, humourous in parts, innocent in parts: these are the words and phrases that could possibly describe Aravind Adiga’s debut novel. One word that I have left out so that I can singly highlight it is ‘Angry’. It is an angry book, that anger will reflect even from you when you read it. When you see the author’s face that is printed on the back cover, you will surely find it difficult to believe that this work of calculated anger is a product of that smiling person’s brain.

The language used is very fundamental, only rarely does few big words creep into the work. The very first few pages set the mood of the narration. From there on the book oozes with ridicule for the whole governance system and its leaders. Adiga has brought so many topics to the surface, not really examining them, but thrusting them on the face of the readers. Some of them are topics which nobody dares to probe and question fearing the uproar of communities, majority and otherwise. Exploitation of the poor, child labour, the practise of dowry, half-baked politicians as leaders of the country, overrating of the polluted river Ganga, religious divisions, people worshipping multiple gods with no sense of spirituality whatsoever, employers framing servants for crimes, the corrupted-to-root police force - For all these and more, the author uses the mouth piece of the illiterate, oppressed and psychically challenged Balram to sound off his concerns about the ‘free’ India. Though subtly, he has also questioned extremely delicate topics like the supposed effectiveness of Gandhian principles.

The book essays how the ignorant Balram’s mind gets twisted due to oppression and how it leads him to being irrational and radically evil. Reading through the book, you will tend to stop and think that though shameful, what has been narrated could well be the true story of a good percentage of people living in the Independent India. The writer points out that India has always been two different countries, he describes them as the light and the darkness.

In one of the reviews on the internet, a book seller admits that the sales of this book has risen since the honorary recognition given to it, but he personally does not like selling the book since he thinks that the author has insulted our country. This has been the case for the three most recent Indian books that won the Man Booker prize. Arundhati Roy's "god of small things' and Kiran Desai's "Inheritance of Loss' suffered the same fate in the hands of the angry Indian reader/reviewer. In another review a popular daily has rightly noted that the Indian tourism board will not like Aravind Adiga for what he has written in his book. It is sure to raise eyebrows across borders too, though what I hope Adiga wanted was to raise some Indian eyebrows, forcing people to think, follow the thoughts by action.