Friday, December 21, 2012

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga in his Booker prize winning novel "The White Tiger" explores the life of a citizen of the "dark" India. How lack of education doesn't hold a entrepreneur back in India. But what holds him in the "Chicken Coop" is his morality and various societal norms.

The story is told by Balram Halwai as a narration in a letter addressed to the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao. He tells how a son of rickshaw puller, escaped a life of servitude to become a successful businessman. The story is told in seven nights and Balram takes on the responsibility of educating the Chinese premiere on "entrepreneurship" before the start of an official visit to India.

Balram begins the novel by describing his life in Laxmangarh. There he lived with his grandmother, parents and brother and extended family. He is a smart child; however, he is forced to quit school and forced to work in a tea-shop with his brother. While working in the teashop he begins to learn about India’s government and economy from the customers' conversations. Balram describes himself as a bad servant and decides that he wants to become a driver. After learning driving he gets job as a driver of Ashok, Son of the landlord. He comes to Delhi with Ashok, when Ashok is sent to Delhi to deal with the corrupt political brass in connection with the coal business back home. In Delhi the separation between poor and wealthy becomes even more evident by the juxtaposition of the wealthy with poor city dwellers.

Balram plots his escape from "Chicken Coop" which is one of the central metaphors of the book:
Quoting :-
"Go to Old Delhi ...and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundreds of pale hens and brightly colored roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages…They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they're next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with human beings in this country.”

The chicken coop is a way to describe the social relations, the culture, the laws, courts, and ultimately the violence that binds the poor to an oppressive system. Aravind Adiga makes the reader think.

The Book ends with Balram escaping the Chicken Coop by murdering his master. He sets us his Business in Banglore with the money he stole and bribing his way in the system. He is a citizen of "The light" now.

Arvind's humorous perspective of India’s class struggle in a globalized world makes this book a page turner. His witty yet accurate portrayal of contemporary India leaves us much to think upon. At a time when India is referred to as an "Emerging Nation", Arvind makes us realize that large numbers of people are not benefiting from the economic boom and that social tensions are increasing.

Caste divide may be reducing but another divide is increasing as the rich-poor gap grows. Balram shows us the face of India which is getting increasingly ignored. The face of the vast Indian underclass, people who live as laborers, as servants, as chauffeurs and who by and large do not get heard. These faceless nameless people are responsible for "India Shining" as much as the neo entrepreneur. We are ignoring them at our own  peril.

I give "The White Tiger" a rating of 3.5 / 5. I loved it for the way Arvind has written it. The book is not a typical Bollywood type thriller yet it captivates you and you keep turning the pages. Arvind takes on some very heavy issues like cast system, religion, touches upon the anger of the poor but the book doesn't become preachy in any way. The White Tiger entertains and gives pause for thought. It lost points because the story felt it followed the typical arc with the standard complications leading to a climax that was predictable even if it wasn't already spelled out for in the 1st chapter.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice review. I am sure I am picking up white tiger next.
    loved the flow and structure of the review.
    Waiting for more Savio. :)