Ramayana Remake 

cover

Like most of us, I was introduced to Ram and Sita in my childhood by the most reliable source-my Grandmother.For those who know the Ramayana, The Scion of Ikshvaku is something of a shocker. But for anyone who is familiar with Amish’s previous works, the book meets all expectations; for Amish weaves better webs than a spider.

The characters are familiar since they are taken from Indian mythology but this is as far as the resemblance goes. The story is completely fictitious and only takes a base from the real story.Amish’s effort to chisel out a fictitious mythology from the real one falls flat on the face.

For example, King Dashrath is shown as a man who attacks his enemy just to satisfy his ego and pride. He ignores his son Ram during the early years since he blames his defeat in the battle on his first born son .As the story proceeds, Dashrath turns a full circle when he realizes that he will be remembered throughout history as the father of the next Vishnu- A truly selfish man indeed.

At the beginning of the book, for some strange reason, the wealthy trader Kuber rubs shoulders with Dashrath to cut some cost in trades, thereby reducing a portion of the commission that King Dashrath believed was rightfully his.I thought it was a little far fetched that a king has to live on commissions. In any case, during the following meeting, Dashrath locks horns with Raavan and the unsuccessful meeting ends with Dashrath yelling for blood. He gets ready to get into war to teach Kuber a lesson; despite his dwindling resources that have been drying out and the treasury has no money either. The rest of the chapter is Dashrath screaming his head off to Kaikeyi while she feeds him Rotis.

In the next scene, after great consideration Dashrath has his forces take up a battle formation but Raavan’s army have drawn their war tactic from the movie Braveheart,so, they have a trick up their sleeve. They secretly have brought huge spears, which are laid hidden on the ground. Thus, when Dashrath’s army charges,they run into a pike wall that kills the horses and shatters their charge. To add to this, they’re on a beach and surrounded by ships and a fort, which house expert archers who shoot arrows left, right and center. Eventually Dashrath gets stabbed and falls, and suddenly Kaikeyi decides that it’s up to her to save her husband and charges into the battlefield to retrieve her husband. She gets pretty pissed on the way too and swears at the Sun God like it’s his fault “Damn you, Lord Surya!”

The absurdity doesn’t stop there; according to the royal astrologer, a baby born before noon would be remembered as the greatest king in history, but if the baby is born after noon, it would suffer a great personal misfortune. As a matter of convenience, Ram is born exactly at midday! When the doctor confirms it with the astrologer, I almost expected her to pull out a digital watch with calibrated time sensors to show him the stopwatch. Thankfully daylight saving wasn’t conceptualized back then or it would have been a bigger mess.

The main plot of Scion of Ikshvaku revolves around the point to see whether Ram is worthy of becoming the crown prince of Ayodhya . Ram is exhibited as an ordinary prince-in-waiting who is hell bent on following rules. Lakshman is a warm fellow. Bharat is more practical-a playboy, a true friend and a good brother. I didn’t see much about Shatrugnan, except that he is studious and is always immersed in his books. Being potential crown princes, the brothers start discussing politics in their early teenage. Ram unwaveringly sticks to the laws. Frankly I was a bit fascinated by the portrayal of historical masculine and feminine society of their ancestors. Did he mean the patriarchal and matriarchal societies that exist today?

Meanwhile Bharat is on a dating spree.  Perhaps girls grow on trees considering he mysteriously finds plenty of girls in the jungle. And when he is not fooling around with the tribal girls, he has some strong opinions about how to run a kingdom. Ram however, doesn’t seem to be too concerned about Lakshman’s loud whispering or the constant conspiracy theories. Also, Lakshman seemed to have a secret connection to Kolkata considering he was constantly addressing his brother as dada.  Ram, however, is more concerned about aerodynamics of the arrow and is usually making some vital adjustments to his annoyingly interfering angavastram, which only the frequent saree wearing ladies of India can relate to.Since the holy men in Ayodhya wore blue robes, I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was an Ayodhyan Pope loitering about too.

Even though the overall scheme of events and the plot follows the original Ramayana, the author gets mixed up at times, like Sita’s swayamvar that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Swayamvar in ancient India was a practice where the woman could choose a husband from among a list of suitors by evaluating their skills through competitions like debates or warfare. The swayamvar from the Mahabharata is possibly the most popular, when Arjuna competes to win Draupadi’s hand. Almost everyone must have heard of the archery contest and the prize-the hand of the beautiful princess Draupadi in marriage. The challenge was to shoot the eye of the moving idol of fish fixated on a turntable mounted on the ceiling, while looking at its reflection in a vessel of rippling water on the ground.

Instead, here we suddenly have Prince Ram Chandra of Ayodhya shooting arrows at the fish trying to win the hand of the princess of Mithila, Sita. Imagine my surprise at the blatant mix up of the scenes. For a moment I thought I was possibly confused, but then how could I be? I am named after the Pandava prince Arjuna-the invincible archer. Dear Amish, the Ramayana and Mahabharata are two different epics altogether!

In some chapters, I was appalled when I came upon the parts where he has taken extreme liberties. One such is Manthara being depicted as a wealthy business woman of Ayodhya instead of the poor handmaiden. According to our mythology, Kaikeyi banishes Ram to make way for her son Bharath to become the crown prince, while Manthara poisons her ears against Ram. But in this book, the exile is self-imposed and Ram adamantly banishes himself against everyone’s wishes for using mustard gas on Raavan’s troops. He must have perhaps secretly planned an extended honeymoon in some jungle resort with his newly wedded wife.

We all know Sita is a strong character, but Amish stretches it by appointing her the prime minister of Mithila. Sita’s introduction is quite unsettling too .She is shown facing an angry mob for saving a boy- thief. The mob attacks her and she fights a few of them without breaking a sweat. I wonder, which kingdom will have subjects that would dare to attack the Prime Minister, just to punish a petty thief.

Another such incident is Manthara’s daughter and Ram’s sworn sister Roshni being gang raped by a group whose leader was a juvenile. The law did not allow the death sentence for him. Perhaps Amish didn’t expect the readers to find the glaring similarity between Nirbhaya rape case of Delhi and a fellow being acquitted because he was minor.

Yet again, “Pushpak Viman”  is a mythological flying  chariot  but here this flying ship had helicopter rotors! The story took place in an era when there were certainly no helicopters. As far as I know and have read, the “Pushpak Viman” was a chariot and had small wing-like contraptions on its side. It was said to resemble the body of peacock and said to have traveled faster than any other chariot and hence termed as flying! The technology of Pushpak Viman is said to have been way ahead of those days. It would still have been acceptable to portray it as a hot air balloon, but comparing it to a helicopter is outrageous.

Again there are some glaring differences. As per Hindu mythology, Jatayu, is the nephew of Garuda-the Eagle.All scriptures say that Garuda happens to be the greatest enemy of the Nagas. But here Jatayu is a Naga himself and so is Hanuman .The Nagas here are described as a feared race of deformed mutant humanoids with astonishing martial skills. These Nagas are mutant-human entities who are perpetually either too happy blindly serving the humans, or destroying them outright.

When you set a story in a certain period, you are obligated to stay true to that period. “Police” was coined around the 15th century, yet he goes on doodling about the police force of Mithila. If you thought this was bad enough, it gets worse.  There are terms like courtrooms, judges, scientific experiments, glass and metal, diplomatic offices, and biological warfare!  The wheel was only invented in 3500 BC and you are already on to biological warfare in 7300 BC ! At this rate I expected Ram to bring in the U.S Peace Corps and Coalition forces along.

At some places I felt the author’s imagination was going over board. Instances when the subcontinent is called ‘India’ are too modern, especially during 3400 BC. There are references to the Big bang theory, split atoms and the Ice age .The language is so contemporary that it becomes jarring at various places with the choice of words like” pay the bills”; Bharat says “what the hell”, Lakshman says “the law is an ass”. Guru Vashishta says “I love my India”, as for the icing on the cake – maybe Ram practiced fencing with the three musketeers in the gurukul; since he often uses the French term “Touché”.

If I wasn’t confused enough, the people of Ayodhya were equally confused too. First they hate Ram because the King hates his own first-born since he considers the boy an ill omen and blames him for the defeat in the battle against Raavan. Next thing you know the King loves Ram for saving his life in a singular hunting expedition. So suddenly the people of Ayodhya love him too. Again to add to the confusion, when it’s time to choose a crown prince, Dhasharath is still confused. So he ends up making Ram the commander of the police force of Ayodhya; And Bharat, the external affairs minister; possibly because he is good at having affairs since his Gurukul days.

In conclusion, the book does not have any great literary merit, although there is a considerable improvement from the shocking language of the Shiva trilogy. Amish’s writing has definitely improved if compared to his previous works but still his world building skills need more work. But despite, these issues, I have to mention that the learning of Ram while in Gurukul are impressive and noteworthy. The Scion of Ikshvaku begins and ends with Sita’s abduction, just like a snake with its tail in its mouth. After I read the book my reaction was exactly how all Indians react to annoyance- slap the forehead with the palm and exclaim “Hey Ram!”

Advertisements

Power and Paradox

Image

The Godfather by Mario Puzo introduces the central character on the back cover, in a very unorthodox and contradictory manner.

Tyrant, Blackmailer, Racketeer, Murderer – his influence reaches every level of American society. Meet Don Corleone, a friendly man, a just man, a reasonable man. The deadliest Lord of the Cosa Nostra. The Godfather.

The Godfather is an intense portrayal of organized crime. The book explicitly portrays the American Mafia from close quarters. It’s a compelling tale of blackmail, extortion, murder and strict family values. The Godfather is the story of organized crime set in the 1940’s that revolves around the Corleone family and ‘Don Vito Corleone’. The book introduces and details the life of Don Corleone as the head of one of the five mafia-families in America. Don Corleone is identified as a just, reasonable and a very influential man. He is well respected and is equally feared by all. His power is legendary, as are his policies. The Don, respectfully referred to as the Godfather, has a set of values, which he abides by, no matter what the consequences. The book goes on to draw a parallel between the “system” and many forms of unlawful but lucrative business, showing that both are equally corrupt and their very existence is inevitable from the involvement of the Mafia.

Don Corleone is a man of contradictions. He is ruthless yet compassionate, ready to lay down his life for a friend, but does not hesitate to kill the same friend at the slightest hint of treachery. He is fiercely protective yet tolerant. He is a man who lives by his own rules and refuses to recognize or bow down to another person’s authority or force. He ensured justice to everyone around him and helped the needy and expected only friendship in return. The sincere friendship, which the Godfather held in high regard. The friendship that he offered honestly and generously in the name of which he offered favors, and collected them in due course of time. Over the years, he helps out many families and fosters many godsons, in return of an unwritten promise that they would standby the Godfather whenever he needs their services.The Don himself is projected as a generalised God figure .He is above the law and provides justice to everyone who comes at his door and the book describes him very aptly in a short summary

Don Vito Corleone was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promises, nor the craven excuse that his hands were tied by more powerful forces in the world than himself. It was not necessary that he be your friend, it was not even important that you had no means with which to repay him. Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man’s troubles to his heart. And he would let nothing stand in the way to a solution of that man’s woe. His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of “Don,” and sometimes the more affectionate salutation of “Godfather.”

The book explains the transformation of Vito Corleone, a simple man, to a powerful Mafia boss known as “the Godfather” the mastermind of the ingenious mafia underworld.

The Corleones’ war against the Five Families for its supremacy is a brilliant, tactical and strategic manipulation, with every character playing a part in whatever little piece he has to play. Every single character of the book has a purpose and has a persona hidden from others.

What makes The Godfather so fascinating is the fact that it is almost impossible to classify it under a single genre. It has generous parts of crime, passion, love, lust, treachery and all other emotions. The book is perhaps written a little recklessly. The language is simple and crude. But the plot has a certain flow and you can turn one page after another without realizing it. The scenes are well described and suggest clear-cut visualizations. This book is definitely a must read. Like the Don says, this book is “an offer you can’t refuse

Of Commandos and Coalitions

Image

The Fist of God by Frederick Forsyth is based on the enterprise of coalition forces set during the Gulf war and is quite fast paced and intense. The research and the groundwork are very precise, wherein the plot, set through Middle East, Washington, London, Saudi Arabia and Baghdad. The descriptions of places and people are quite detailed and vivid, once you manage to understand the first few chapters, it gets quite gripping.

The story revolves around, Major Mike Martin, a British SAS officer, born and raised in the Middle East. He passes for an Arab owning to his dark complexion and perfect Arabic. When the story begins, he is operating undercover in Kuwait, posing as a tribal nomad, known as the Bedouin. With bare essentials he recruits, organizes, and trains a resistance movement consisting of students, but then suddenly, he is pulled out of this covert operation and reassigned to a more dangerous mission in Baghdad. His new directive is to make contact with a traitor in Saddam Hussein’s inner circle code named ”Jericho”.

As the story proceeds, Martin successfully makes contact with Jericho and passes on classified information. In due course, the Iraqi counter-intelligence begins to hunt him down; the irony is that, the head of this spy-busting department happens to be Hassan Rahmani, who has been Martin’s classmate and closest childhood friend.

Even though, the basic plot of the book is identical to the movie The Guns of Navarone, a secret weapon hidden deep in the mountains. The weapon here is a Super gun, code named The Fist Of God, capable of firing a nuke. This weapon is so well camouflaged that the spy satellites hovering over Iraq are unable to locate them. Hence, someone has to be sent to get first hand information.

The climax is built around the identification and destruction of the secretive location that houses this powerful weapon conceived by Dr. Gerard Bull, a real life Canadian scientist, who primarily developed the super gun to launch satellites into space. It was later modified to accommodate a nuclear warhead, but as soon as Dr. Bull discovered the truth, he gets assassinated.

In conclusion, this book is a combination of facts and fiction that is absolutely a pleasure to read. One minor drawback is that there are too many characters in the book and it may get a little confusing at times. In effect, this works as a spy thriller, with detailed description of various intelligence agencies. This book is definitely a must read, it is gripping, very detailed and totally spell binding. Not a novel to be missed at all.

Denied of Divinity

Image

The third and the last book of the Shiva trilogyThe Oath of the Vayuputras , Shiva along with Vasudevs and Nagas, are in their quest for the evil that is affecting the nation. Shiva is shocked to find Brahaspati in the Naga capital of Panchavati .He cautiously reunites with this long-lost friend, who had faked his death and orchestrated the destruction of the Somras production facility at Mount Mandar.

At Panchavati, Brahaspati introduces Shiva to the real enemy, the ‘evil’, which separated the races and caused hostility among people from the same land and had always been present amongst them unrecognised. The ‘evil’, as Shiva discovers, is the ‘Somras, the elixir of longevity that had served the people of Meluha for centuries. But due to over- production it began to poison the rivers and caused deformities in the Nagas, and was in turn responsible for the drying up of the river Saraswati,. Hence, Shiva banishes the use of Somras and declares war against the supporters of ‘evil’ and starts building an army consisting of Brahaspati, Sati, Kali, Ganesh, Kartik and gathers forces to destroy the Somras manufacturing facility.

Since the kings of Meluha and Ayodhya have allied to protect Somras. Shiva expands his alliance around the neighbouring regions to eradicate the Somras with the help of Nagas,Vasudevs and Vayuputras. As the plot unfolded, I realised the Vayuputras are just a council of people who make a guest appearance once in a while and there is nothing that seems to be pertaining to any oath. According to my knowledge, Hanuman is referred to as Vayupurta, perhaps he was busy burning down Lanka when the oath was being taken.

Eventually the war takes place; Shiva seeks the help of Vayuputras by borrowing a weapon of mass destruction to intimidate his enemies and coerce them into submission. They agree to hand over the weapon, with a clause, that Shiva will not use it. But due to Satis brutal murder by Egyptian assassins, the grief-stricken Shiva unleashes this weapon and destroys the entire kingdom in spite of being warned of its consequences. The book has a tragic end with destruction of Lord Ram’s kingdom of Meluha and death of many important characters including Shiva’s beloved wife Sati.

While the concept, that good and evil are just different sides of the same coin. One eventually turns into another as it gets abused, is something that made sense, but the explanation as to why Somras turns evil was a little unconvincing. A couple of unsettling phrases and jargons are used just like the previous two books of the trilogy. Shiva using a word like ‘crap’ definitely did not go down well with me, and I am glad that just because he is divine he didn’t say “holy crap or holy shit ”. There are contemporary scientific terms scattered throughout the book that sticks out like a sore thumb. Even if they are overlooked, I wonder why kingdoms consisting of scientists capable of discussing amongst themselves through telepathic radio signals, well versed in nuclear sciences are still depending on the courier pigeons for communications. References to nuclear fission and fusion, cell division, cosmetic surgery, an ice manufacturing facility and a reference to terms like “commando”, feels out of place in a 4,000year old setting.

Throughout the book, Team Shiva uses ships to travel through rivers. Perhaps a 40-footer boat was below the Gods dignity and hence used 500 to 800 feet ships to transport hundreds and thousands of soldiers through rivers. I wonder how the Gods manoeuvred the ships through the narrow bends of a river or dealt with the rocks along the riverbeds, I can’t imagine how they managed to row over waterfalls. The concept of using ships to sail through rivers didn’t hold any water.

After reading the entire trilogy, I was as confused as Shiva himself. There were many things, which did not make any sense. According to Indian mythology Ganesh is depicted as a cheerful and fun-loving God, but here Ganesh is a gloomy young man with a facial deformity and dealing with a shaky hold on his temper, while his younger brother Kartik, is portrayed as a seven-year-old bloodthirsty furious warrior.

Shiva, according to mythology is seen as a God with immense power and commands respect, but this book failed to capitalize that image and reduces Shiva to that of a henpecked husband. Shiva’s  Tandava is legendary, but again this dance of destruction is said to be spontaneous and impulsive.  But here, the author describes a grief-stricken man assembling a nuke for two days and blowing up the kingdom on the third day. Such cold-blooded genocidal ambitions and calculated massacre of an entire city, to avenge the brutal killing of his wife are not what our Gods are made of.

The author just added to the pages in the book without moving the plot forward. Perhaps the book lacked a powerful opposing figure. Lord Bhrigu as the man behind the evil did not really cause an impact. It’s commendable that the women in the book are treated as equals and are given a lot of respect. The author uses the backdrop of ancient era and weaves a fanciful story around a few names from our mythology by throwing in a few philosophical statements related to Dharma, Morality and Karma. The quotes from Gita, Vedas, and Upanishads have also perhaps been used along with some names from the Arabian folklore.

In this book, the Hindu Mythology that we see as divine has been given a half-baked scientific outline and the legacy of Lord Shiva, has been reduced to that of a romantic Bollywood action thriller. The entire trilogy though generated a lot of curiosity within me, but now with my last review on the series, all I can say is that the author is inspired excessively with thriller, action, and romance. The books had enormous potential if they were executed in a more mature manner. In summary, it is good in certain parts, and may be enjoyed by those Indian readers who are not very picky about facts and details of mythology.

Legion of the Lesser God

Image

The second book of the Shiva trilogy, The Secret of the Nagas, begins in Ayodhya with a clash between Shiva, Sati, and a sinister Naga who is suspected to be responsible for the death of Shiva’s friend, Brihaspati. Subsequently there is a death threat on Shiva’s beloved wife Sati too. So, Shiva is obsessed to hunt down the dangerous Naga.

Team Shiva, consisting of Sati and their associates’ travel to Varanasi, which has a large settlement of Brangas, the only people who know the whereabouts of the Nagas. While in Varanasi, Sati has a baby named Karthik. So, Shiva leaves her behind in the city and travels with the rest of his legion to the land of the Brangas. But the Brangas are reluctant to disclose the whereabouts of the Nagas since they provide a certain medicine to the Brangas.

Meanwhile, in Varanasi, Sati is on a discovery spree. She finds out that she is related to two of the Nagas. The first one is Kali, the queen of the Nagas, who turns out to be Sati’s twin sister born with an extra pair of hands. The second is Ganesh, who turns out to be Sati’s son from a previous marriage. Ganesh was born with facial deformities, which made him look like an elephant. Sati never knew about the twin sister and her father King Daksha had told her that her first child was stillborn. As the story unfolded, I realized that the big Naga secret is nothing serpentine or mystical, but Nagas are just ordinary mortals with a horde of physical deformities.

Shiva returns to Varanasi with the legendary Parashuram; and then rather unhappily, reconciles with Ganesh and Kali. After some twists and turns, the entire entourage travels to the land of the Nagas. The discovery of the Naga kingdom-Panchvati seems to be the whole motive of the book.

The author uses the term ‘India’ throughout his books, which I found a bit out of place. ‘Bharat’ would still have made sense but am sure the modern term ‘India’ was not coined during the era of the novel. Again there are modern jargons scattered throughout the book. Concepts like examinations to segregate Chandravanshis and Suryavanshis, reminded me of IIT competitive exams. Or the temples built at great heights that act, as transmitters for radio waves didn’t ring any bells. I can’t quite digest the fact that people knew of “radio waves” and “accumulator machines” four thousand years ago.

One more thing I found ridiculous was the description of the Prime Minister of Branga. He wears a lot of gold jewellery. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wearing gold jewellery, but the author must have run out of creativity or perhaps he thought no one would notice the similarity when he described the Prime minister and named him Bappiraj after Bappi Lahiri.

Am not sure what Shiva really wants. Everyone follows Shiva on his search for evil; there are a few love stories sprinkled in-between, and a lot of travelling.  The mother and son relationship between Ganesh and Sati is quite Bollywood style.

To sum up the novel, Team Shiva travels to one city, meets some king and fights some villains and discovers some secret, then moves on to another city, meets another king, fights more villains, more secrets, and so on. The story moves on from place to place and suddenly introduces new characters at each city, without much information on what each one wants, its just a trip to Panchavati, and as it enters Naga territory, the book is over. The Secret of the Nagas is deprived of any secrets.

Something Like Shiva

Image

The first book of the Shiva trilogy, The Immortals of Meluha seemed like a mythological Bollywood fantasy novel that takes one of the most powerful Gods of Indian mythology and portrays him as a mortal man. While the concept of portraying that mortals augment to be Godlike through their deeds, is commendable indeed. But the author takes some familiar characters from our mythology and paints a whimsical version of Shiva’s life that I found amateurish in many ways. The attempt to link up the modern way of life into the old era is quite like linking the Old Stone Age man to Project management principles.

The story, set about 4 millennia ago, revolves around a tribal chieftain in his early 20s, who migrates to a region called Meluha, where the Suryavanshi clan are in dire peril. The mighty river, Saraswathi, is slowly drying up. And they are at war with the Chandravanshi clan. To make matters worse, there is a rogue outfit called the Nagas causing terror attacks. The Nagas are described as a race of deformed humanoids with astonishing martial skills. This reminded me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

There are a few things that I found to be a bit disturbing, like the usage of modern day slang and jargon that was perhaps non-existent those days. Shiva swears quite often and it was quite upsetting to read phrases like “Ditto, Oh Hell, Dammit etc.” I couldn’t imagine the Supreme Lord describing an enemy soldier as a “son-of-a-bitch”.

The author perhaps has been inspired from Hollywood too. During the war, Shiva commands the soldiers to make a tortoise like formation; they work on a Spartan strategy to confront the Chandravanshis, while they pass through a narrow pass. All these things reminded me of the movie 300.The plot and the settings describe many situations and terms, as if they were living in the current era instead of four thousand years ago. I almost expected Shiva to pull out his laptop to chart out the course of war and plan his new strategies. Even if I read the novel independent of the Indian and mythological contexts, I still found the story line and the plot, trying to build a connection between a Tribal nomad and Organizational behavior.

However, the storyline and plot reminded me of a romantic Bollywood movie that is set between alongside the strained relations between India and Pakistan. The author has used the modern term ‘terrorist outfit’ and dated this concept hundreds of centuries ago when terrorism and extremism were unheard of. Similarly, the depiction of the Somras manufacturing facility seemed to me as a portrayal of a nuclear reactor, and its destruction by the Nagas reminded me of the secret nuclear facility in Iraq that was bombed during Operation Desert Storm by the coalition forces. There are many more modern terms scattered through out the book like “foreign office, “immigration executive, immigrants kept in quarantine, doctors with “field-work experience.” At one place, a soldier is addressed as “private” which made it seem like it had American GIs too.

The author should have done more homework on the customs of that era, the existence and timing of the various Indian Gods in the Hindu mythology, so that the readers could connect in a much better way with the story. Sprinkling some Sanskrit and Hindi words throughout the novel does not make it realistic. Just giving the entire plot a real feel is not enough, unless the plot makes sense too. The dots are all there but they don’t seem connected.

Wisdom through the windshield

Image

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”