“I am India’s most faithful voter, and I still have not seen the inside of a voting booth.”
Whenever I buy a book, I write my name and date of purchase on the first page (in the past, I also signed my name on random pages, a habit I have since gotten rid of). The first page of The White Tiger tells me I bought it on 15th Nov 2009. I also remember a bus journey from Bangalore to Kerala, when I first flipped through a few of its pages, shut it, and snored for the rest of the trip.
There is a time and place for certain books. Or, there are certain books for certain moods. In the interest of never leaving a book unfinished, I’ve been picking up some previously abandoned books since the past few months, such as Chokher Bali, The Girl On The Train, this one etc.
Genre: Literary (also maybe, crime, cultural, but most definitely literary)
Summary: Balram Halwai, a man from the “Darkness” (lawless villages of India), gets the opportunity to come to the “Light” (New Delhi, or the cities of India) when he is hired to be the driver of a rich family. He is now a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore. He writes his story over seven nights, addressed to the Chinese Premier Mr Jiabao who is visiting India shortly. He confesses that he murdered his employer, Ashok before coming to Bangalore. He then recounts why he murdered Ashok and how he turned from faithful servant to successful entrepreneur.
Balram Halwai is an almost detestable protagonist. The kind that you dislike, but at the same time cannot help but respect his genius. He speaks of everything in an utterly irreverent tone, and his take on all subjects, big and small, is written with cynical wit. He is ignorant and naive in some matters (“Do these women in the city have no hair on their legs like the ones in the village?”) whereas highly shrewd in some of his other observations (“The Rooster Coop of India does not let anyone escape – it is secured from the inside”) You can dislike him all you want but you will admire him!
The only people more despicable than The White Tiger’s intriguing protagonist are his rich employers, and the politicians of India. Personally, I feel, The White Tiger was a few years ahead of its time – there are parts of the narrative that resemble what is happening at present (I won’t mention any, as I don’t want to give out spoilers). But what I will say is, had this book been released, say, in 2015 (seven years after its actual release), it would probably have been banned. Balram Halwai mentions that the Indians worship Hanuman – who was a faithful servant to his master Lord Ram – and as a result, servitude (or the possible need for it) has become an essential part of the Indian psyche. According to Balram, this is what helped the Brits and the Mughals to rule over the country and Indians merely bowed their heads because they were only too happy to be ruled. Honestly, I cannot dispute any of Balram’s thoughts and logic. But only imagine, had this book been released recently, with all its cheeky commentary (there’s more where that bit about Hanuman came from) on the flaws of India(s) – that of the Darkness and the Light – what would have been its fate?
As for the rating – I will give it two different ratings. It is a brilliant book, and Aravind Adiga is nothing but a masterful storyteller. For the ingenuity of the plot, I’d give it a 4/5. However, if I were to base on taste (and this is STRICTLY me), I am not too fond of political dramas, so on a taste-based scale, I would give it a 3/5. But like I said, that’s just me. The book on its own is a must-read.
Get it here: Amazon
*Favourite quote at the beginning of the post. The context is how the elections in Indian villages are always rigged and how those in the villages never really vote, as somebody else always uses their name to vote for whom they want.