After a really tedious read of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, I admit I was a little hesitant to pick up Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize winner (Roy’s book dimmed my view of the Booker Prize’s standard) The White Tiger.
I was blown away. Breezed away? Because I breezed through the book in just two days. It was such a refreshing book, darkly humorous, told by a whimsical protagonist with a simple narrative structure. In short, everything that Roy could not (would not?) deliver.
This is the world’s best book
That is how Balram Halwai would have described the book. He is simple. He is cunning and he has the belly. That fire within an individual to do what it takes to rise to the top. And Balram Halwai needed it. He was born into an oppressive family in the cow belt (that is how we south indians refer to the BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh) states of the north). Not that the south is in many ways better. He is corresponding with none other than the premier of China (yessir) on what it takes to make it big in India as an entrepreneur. As he himself describes, he is first a social entrepreneur and then a business entrepreneur. As much as I am tempted to out the plot I shall hold back some details so that when you pick the book and read it you don’t blame me.
Middle Class Democracy and Classism
The biggest advantage going for Adiga is Balram’s dubious insights into how the country runs. He states facts in passing that are accepted in most Indian chai conversations about politics and corruption. Muslims are rogues and Nepalis are whores in his mind, mostly. Not in a bad way. Thats the way of the world, you see, and he does not fault anybody for it. He is loyal, devoted and greedy. He subverts the crooked caste system, electoral system and corrupt police to escape from the rooster coop of social class.
Talk to any Indian and they always at some point get philosophical about whether India or China have got it right. Whether democracy is all that it is touted to be and whether India as a nation will ever “catch up” with China. Which makes the letter writing to the Chinese premier all the more interesting. Balram also is only as heartless as he is allowed to be. If he displayed qualities of goodness too soon in life he can never escape his predicament. This is what Adiga says keeps the working class of India from rebelling. Otherwise why and how can 99% of the population ever serve the rich when they know that toiling all their lives away honestly is not enough to even buy a decent house and education for their kids?
The White Tiger is sardonic. It is well written and presents an Indian perspective that is unapologetic about the choices one is forced to make oblivious to the rights and wrongs in the struggle to stay afloat.