Monday, December 08, 2008

The White Tiger

I read Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger this past weekend and absolutely loved it. The literary scene these days is dominated by one or two hit wonders - heavy-weights with real oeuvres to their credit are a thing of the past . With that, it has become increasingly harder to come by fiction that holds your attention and actually offers a refreshingly take on the human condition. Adiga offers generous portions of both in this book, his debut novel.

The bar for a desi author writing about India when being read by a desi reader is automatically set higher because the reader knows the score. Adiga's India and Indians are entirely believable which is more than what can be said about a lot of other books of this genre - namely contenders for the Great Indian Novel mantle.

Adiga is not subtle in taking on everything that defines India and telling it like it is - be it the mind boggling number of deities, secularism, marriage, family, casteism, bureaucracy, corruption, lawlessness, entrepreneurship, outsourcing - you name it, Balram Halwai has an opinion and more often than not it is not a politically correct one. Adiga's is a robust counterpoint to all the "India Shining" rhetoric and is one that would find favor with anyone who is skeptical about that "shine".

As a desi born and raised in India, some of the most memorable parts of The White Tiger include Balram's dread of indoor geckos, the concept of a half-baked person, the Rooster Coop and the Indian concept of entrepreneurship. Then are are gems of wisdom scattered through the book like this one :
One fact about India is that you can take almost anything you hear about the country from the prime minister and turn it upside down and then you will have the truth about that thing.
Per Balram there are legions of half-baked people in India who end up the way they do because they never get an opportunity to complete their schooling. What's more, it takes such half-baked clay to make entrepreneurs.
- all these ideas, half formed and half digested and half correct, mix up with other half cooked ideas in your head, and I guess these half-formed ideas bugger one another and make more half-formed ideas, and this is what you act and live with
I have not come across a better explanation of what ails our semi-literate and neo-literates masses.

I know a lot of desis including myself who are absolutely terrified of the indoor gecko - it is an irrational fear that just cannot be explained to those who do not have it. It is not surprising therefore that several desi writers have featured the gecko in their stories about India - in fact the description of a domestic scene would ring incomplete and untrue without one or more of them on the walls. That a close encounter with a gecko might alter the course of Balram's life is quite plausible.

As for his theory about Rooster Coop of Indian society - which is possibly the highest point of the novel, you must read the book. I would not be able do justice to Adiga's priceless metaphor in a blog post. In summary, this a book you don't want to miss and it reads at a terrific pace I might add.

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