I recently re-read Aravind Adiga’s 2009 debut novel The White Tiger, and felt it deserved to be commented upon, at least briefly. I shall not waste words summarizing the storyline: you will find an adequate job in this Wikipedia entry.
I shall recommend this book, especially to young readers (by which I mean anyone under forty) for several reasons: a) it is well written, and I am always proud to see fellow Indians who can write decent English, and that too with a minimum of vulgarity (there is far less here than in J.K. Rowling’s recent works!); b) its protagonist comes from the vast Indian underclass, of which far too little is written especially in English, and yet without knowing them and about them, you can never know more than a little of India; c) it will bring home to you in a shocking if not painful way how little the worst of India has changed in the hinterlands, despite all the surface busyness and glitter and wealth in the big cities; d) the writer is brutally honest about the plight of Balram Halwai and quite unapologetic about it, despite showing how the man suffers from occasional qualms of conscience, and even mocks cruelly at the likes of himself now and then, e) it will underscore in graphic detail why I am not gung-ho about the ‘development’ trajectory India has been following for the last quarter century, and f) what he has to say about the traditional Indian family and what he calls the chicken coop (in his opinion the greatest Indian invention ever) are truly worth reflecting upon.
The little conceit about addressing the book in the form of a series of letters to the visiting Chinese premier I shall leave unanalyzed. Make of it what you will.
Adiga’s prognosis is that anyone who wants to be what he calls an ‘entrepreneur’ and make good in contemporary India – Balram ends up running a taxi service for IT-sector employees in Bangalore – has got to be a hardnosed, amoral, aggressive wheeler dealer, and stop at nothing, from flattery to bribery to murder, as long as he can get away with it. Reminds me of the late-19th century America which was rebuilt by a host of robber barons. Well, if that is India’s fate, so be it. I am old enough to have stopped dreaming of better things. May my daughter’s generation forge ahead with eyes wide open and guarding their own flanks. But it won’t hurt anybody if the class that came to study with the likes of me remembered gratefully the sort of privilege they were born into. Maybe there is more to life than buying new shoes and smartphones every few months, just maybe?