Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The White Tiger

I read this novel last week. It is a debut novel of Aravind Adiga, published in 2008 in both US and UK by Freedom Press and Atlantic Books respectively. It is really what it says on its cover - completely bald, angry, unadorned portrait of India, as seen from the bottom of the heap ... (quoting Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times). I usually am not a fan of books published by western publishers on India - especially written by Indians. They normally depict India in a very bad manner. "Bash India" series of books seem to be particularly attractive to the western press. Look what happened to "Slumdog Millionaire" - that's the India which appeals to a Western mind, probably.

I read the novel with this bias and I realized my mistake. I realized why this book was awarded the Booker Prize in 2008. This novel is a brilliant page turner, full of anger and dark humour, an epic battle of loyalty to master, dedication to family and a strong desire to be someone. What ultimately wins is clear in the beginning chapters itself - but how it all happens is what compels you to read the novel.

I won't spill the beans, but try to tell you what it is all about. Okay here I go:

The novel is a story of a gecko fearing village boy transforming into an entrepreneur White Tiger who "drives IT forward". Between these two end points lies a tight, crisp narration of the transformation as dictated to the visiting premier of China. The transformation lifts Balram Halwai from the north Indian village darkness into entrepreneurial lime light of Bangalore. It happens, thanks to someone else's money, hard work and dedication - an overall urge to break out of the "Rooster coop" and "make it". Of course, Balram was never seeking glory but only breaking away from the darkness. It sounds a like an ideal plot for the next Hindi movie. I can imagine my friend Santo sketching it in his mind. But it is not.

Author surprises you with his accuracy and keen observation. Some of the themes are continuously sustained - for example - making of the rich, anger of the deprived and craving of the rich. Though guilty of a heinous act, the hero remains tender. The balance between these two is well achieved in the novel.

Vijay - the uniform clad local bus conductor evokes dreams of success in the young Balram. Despite granny Kusum's iron grip on everyone's life, Balram learns driving, acquires his employment as a driver through drama and moves to the position of the head servant by exploiting an important find. Then begins Balram's transformation from darkness to, could I say, light. Also well-narrated is the opposite journey of a sensible man, Balram's master. Initially Balram seems to be happy with his short term goals of emulating his master. But one incident which invites Balram to be part of his master's family and the way "they" corrupt his good master accelerates the breakaway - and ultimately Balram snaps. His ability to spot opportunity and lessons from his own life helps Balram to complete his transformation in a somewhat positive way. Yet, his sense of servitude doesn’t seem to go away as he is still willing to massage the lotus feet of his master and visiting premiers.

The novel employs some of the concepts which are fairly known to its readers - at least the Indians. For example: corruption, village education system, election disease, honour amongst the themes to name a few. But, there are new ones such as hierarchy amongst servants, "side-business" opportunities for the employed, cravings of the rich etc. The vivid descriptions in the novel made me to close the book in shame only compel me to reopen. To my horror, I could relate to some of the thoughts expressed in the book. May be, there is a part of Balram in each of us.

Iqbal, Ghalib and Rumi are referred here and there. Some of the things stick in your mind from this book - whether it is said by Aravind - the author or the Muslim poet. Here is one teaser for you: “... the moment you recognize what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave ...”

And one more:

You were looking for the key for years

But the door was always open!

Well done Aravind, kudos.

No comments:

Post a Comment