(terribly late) Book review– a side effect of being idle

I know this comes in really really really late. But fcuk cares rite?

Can a simple boy, an Indian, a low-caste one, rise from the shackles of poverty and malnutrition to become a successful entrepreneur in one of India’s fastest growing cities? Can an observant yet unassuming chai-wala, from a forgotten village in Bihar, become filthy rich without actually playing a reality TV quiz contest? Aravind Adgia’s “The White Tiger” tells us how one man, did just that.

Mr. Adiga has woven a story around a 21st century India, that, how do I put it… has been showcased far too many times by Bollywood and more importantly Rajnikanth films. Yes, it is the second most successful plot of in the Indian film industry. A rags to riches story. (The first being dil, dosti and dher saara dishum dishum.) However, to sum up a Man Booker winner as so, would tantamount to murder by insipidity.

Through 7 letters written to the Chinese Premier, our protagonist, Balram narrates a tale, which he insists will be an eye-opener. Why? Because apart from the lessons on globalization that it will teach the Chinese Premier, it also tells the dark tale of a poor man’s journey during the era of India shining. Born to an “upper-caste rickshaw puller” in the village of Laxmanbargh, Balram, our protagonist, is shrewd, observant, curious and also terribly poor thanks to the feudal lords that have control over all the fertile lands in the village. A topper of the class, despite being promised a scholarship, ends up, due to family responsibilities in a tea-shop as a coal breaker. His hunger for money and repute, eventually leads to his resignation, and to the city as the driver of an extremely affluent business family in Delhi.What follows is a fantastic narration of the lifestyles of rich families in Delhi and of their servants. Mr. Adiga successfully paints a picture of the real reason why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in this country.  (Something I believe director Shankar, had explained brilliantly in his movie, Shivaji).

The plot is predictable from the first chapter. However Balram isn’t. His sensibilities, come across as a needle prick. Predictable, yet twitchy. (He even goes on to make some suggestions to the Chinese president on running a country.)  Other portrayals, especially of the street smart servants and of rich businessmen like Ashok, only make the reading more enjoyable.

Contrary to popular opinion, the image of two Indias did not quite work for me, as neither is it new or as good as most reviews suggest. Yes, the idea of a scholarship student working as a coal breaker is heart meling, but isn’t it just old wine in an old bottle? What did work for me was Mr. Adiga’s description of  the world of Indian servants. Filled with unapologetic jibes and wisecracks, the similarity between a servant and his master (who in turn works for someone else) is brought out beautifully. The White tiger is interspersed with ideas such as “there are only two kinds of India, an India of big bellies, and another  of small bellies.” and  they probably are the only reason why you would want to complete the book.

Do not read the White Tiger for the truth behind India Shining, but for the craziness with which it’s characters think and evolve. Read it for Aidga’s crafty analogies with China, his take on servitude and for the ingenious portrayal of the protagonist, Balram Halwai.

P.S: Now that, that’s done, I gotta admit, I did not intend to sound cocky. It’s just that I expected a lot more from a man booker winner. Anyways here are some of my favourite anecdotes from the novel.

I thought, What a miserable life he’s had, having to hide his religion, his name, just to get a job 
as a driver—and he is a good driver, no question 

of it, a far better one than I will ever be. Part of
me wanted to get up and apologize to him right there and say, You go and be a driver in Delhi. 
You never did anything to hurt me. Forgive me, brother.

I turned to the other side, farted, and went back to sleep.”

“Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many, Mr. Jiabao. A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent—as strong, as talented, as inteligent in every way—to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.”

“The dreams of the rich, and the dreams of the poor – they never overlap, do they?  See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream of?

Losing weight and looking like the poor.”

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