Arvind Adiga was perhaps the first Indian author that I read and I must confess, that I wasn’t disappointed. The book is a portrayal of India through the eyes of an illiterate villager raised in a remote village. Adiga conveys a brutally honest impression about contemporary India and the two faces that coexist in a feudal society disguised as a democracy.
The White Tiger does not restrain in any subtle, gentle or mellowed moments. Even though in certain areas it is toned down with the usage of similes or metaphors, it is harsh, realistic and as crude as the contrast of black and white. It’s an expulsion of rage and hatred for the system with absolute sarcasm. No frills, no sentimentality or emotion. The book is pure ‘India bashing’ all the way.
The plot revolves around “Munna”, later baptised by his teacher as Balram Halwai, born to a rickshaw puller and raised in a small village controlled by crooked feudal landlords. Balram terms the village as ‘the darkness,’ referring to the backward regions of India. It represents rural India, where poverty and illiteracy and feudalism still exist, whereas the “light” refers to the urban metros and cosmopolitan cities. The story revolves around Dhanbad, Gurgaon, Delhi, and Bangalore and the description of these cities are so vivid and realistic.
The White Tiger is the story about Balram’s journey from the village to the city- from the darkness to the light, and how he flees from one city to another after murdering his employer and stealing a large amount of money from him, and eventually his transformation into an entrepreneur, is narrated in active voice the form of a letter that Balram writes over a duration of seven nights.
Balram Halwai grows up in a poverty-stricken environment in a remote village; inspite of being a clever boy, he is forced to give up his basic education and is made to work by crushing coal and cleaning tables at a tea stall. Through sheer ambition to become a driver for the local landlord and with his cunning scheme, he impresses the landlord’s American bred son Ashok. Eventually Balram is brought to Delhi to serve as the driver for Ashok and his wife. Even though Balram is treated quite humanely as compared to how servants were treated in the village, he seizes an opportunity to murder his master and flees with a large amount of money. In a different city, he assumes a new identity and eventually becomes a rich businessman.
This book is a good read. The language is simple. But then, it’s definitely not for narrow-minded people since it is full of self-criticism, sarcasm, and crude language. But somewhere this book fortifies a quote by Balzac that I read sometime back – “Behind every great fortune there is a great crime”