The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga has been getting rave reviews all over the blogosphere plus it is a Man Booker winner, so I went into it with pretty high expectations.
And for the most part, the book delivers and how!
Balram Halwai is the White Tiger (a creature so rare that it is seen only once in every generation) who by hook and by crook manages to become an entrepreneur owning a call-center taxi business in Bangalore. This is the story of his journey from darkness (a driver in the heartlands of Bihar) to light (running a call-center taxi business in Bangalore). He achieves this by murdering the man (Mr. Ashok – the lamb) who he works for and stealing his money. This is the story in a nutshell…
However, the sequence of events that show the poor, half-baked boy grow into the White Tiger, is what makes this book so terrific. His chronicle of his father’s poverty, and his growing rage at the injustices meted out to him make this book so powerful. You can literally feel the rage and sarcasm leap out of the page.
He bitterly mocks almost all the sacred Indian institutions – Hindu Gods, Gandhi, Indian family values, et al that have combined to enslave him and his family in poverty. Here is a sample of the kind of writing you can expect…
At the end of the market is a tall, whitewashed, conelike tower with black intertwining snakes painted on all its sides – the temple. Inside, you will find an image of a saffron-colored creature, half man half monkey: this is Hanuman, everyone’s favorite god in the Darkness. Do you know about Hanuman, sir? He was the faithful servant of the god Rama, and we worship him in our temples because he is a shining example of how to serve your masters with absolute fidelity, love, and devotion.
These are the kinds of gods they have foisted on us, Mr Jiabao. Understand, now, how hard it is for a man to win his freedom in India.
I think this is the point where I fell completely and utterly in love with this book. I love it when a book stops me in my tracks and makes me challenge my existing beliefs. However, if the above sentence offends you, please walk away from this book, because there are plenty more provocative statements there…
I also loved his analogy of roosters in the coop to describe the servant’s (or poor man’s) inescapable status in India.
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.
However, Balram is the White Tiger, and he shows it by breaking out of his cage, and preying on the lamb and making away with the spoils – robbing enough money to set up his own business in Bangalore.
This is probably the best book I have read so far this year. The moment I finished it, I was flipping back the pages to re-read some sections – not something I usually do.
Many times, while reading this book, I could literally visualize it in my mind as a movie. For some reason, I kept seeing Amitabh Bachchan as Balram. In the seventies, Messieurs Salim and Javed wrote so many screenplays that deal with similar themes as this book…Deewar is a classic example. And I kept thinking, how I wish this book could have been made into a movie starring Amitabh Bachchan (in his heyday of course). I would so love to see it…
Last words: I was not offended by this book AT ALL. To me, it reflects the harsher realities of life in backward pockets of rural India. To be honest, I think there are similar pockets in so many countries.
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