The White Tiger is the debut novel by Indian author Aravind Adiga. It was first published in 2008 and won the Man Booker Prize for the same year. The novel studies the contrast between India's rise as a modern global economy and the main character, who comes from crushing rural poverty. Other themes touched on include the tensions between India and China as Asian superpowers, religious tensions between Hindu and Muslim, familial loyalty versus independence, the experience of returning to India after living in America, and corruption endemic to Indian society and politics.
The novel takes the form of a series of letters written late at night by Balram Halwai to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, on the eve of his visit to India. In the letters, Balram describes his rise from lowly origins to his current position as an entrepreneur in Bangalore, as well as his views on India's caste system and its political corruption.
Balram is the White Tiger of the book's title - a title he earns by virtue of being deemed the smartest boy in his village, Laxmangarh, a community deep in the "Darkness" of rural India. The son of a rickshaw-puller; his family is too g coals and wiping tables. poor for him to be able to finish school, and instead he has to work in a teashop, breakinThrough these experiences, Balram learns much about the world and later states that the streets of India provided him with all the education he needed.
After learning how to drive, Balram gets his break when a rich man from his village, "The Stork," hires him as a chauffeur, allowing him to live in Delhi, the "Light". The city is a revelation. As he drives his master and his family to shopping malls and call centers, Balram becomes increasingly aware of immense wealth and opportunity all around him, while knowing that he will never be able to gain access to that world. As Balram broods over his situation, he realizes that there is only one way he can become part of this glamorous new India - to murder his employer's son, Ashok. Recently returned from a stint in America, Ashok is conflicted by the corruption and harshness of life in India. However, his complicity in corruption leads to his demise and Balram's chance to become an entrepeneur, and thus a cog in India's new technological society.
* Born in a village in heartland India, the son of a rickshaw puller, Balram is taken out of school by his family and put to work in a teashop. As he crushes coals and wipes tables, he nurses a dream of escape – of breaking away from the banks of Mother Ganga, into whose depths have seeped the remains of a hundred generations.
The White Tiger is a tale of two Indias. Balram’s journey from darkness of village life to the light of entrepreneurial success is utterly amoral, brilliantly irreverent, deeply endearing and altogether unforgettable.
Discussion points Balram’s narrative takes the form of a series of letters to Wen Jiabao, premier of China, why do you think Aravind Adiga’s chose this device to tell Balram’s story?
Balram describes himself as “a man of action and change,” “a thinking man,” “an entrepreneur,” “a man who sees tomorrow,” and a “murderer.” How would you describe him?
Do you agree with one reviewer who said “my main criticism is that the writing is almost too good”?
The White Tiger gives us an insight into the rapidly changing India. What does the reader learn about Balram’s definition of entrepreneurship?
Do you think The White Tiger is a cautionary tale or an optimistic one?
In his debut novel, Aravind Adiga takes on some hefty issues: the unhappy division of social classes into haves and have-nots, the cultural imperialism of the First World, the powder-kegged anger that seethes among the world's dispossessed, and entrapment. But his skills as an author protect the novel from becoming one of those horrible didactic stories in which characters and plot are little more than mouthpieces and vehicle for delivering Great Truths. The White Tiger entertains and gives pause for thought. This is a good combination.
The plot centers around Balram Halwai, a laborer born and raised in a small village utterly controlled by crooked and feudally powerful landlords. The village is located in 'the Darkness,' a particularly backward region of India. Balram is eventually taken to Delhi as a driver for one of the landlord's westernized sons, Ashok. It's in Delhi that Balram comes to the realization that there's a new caste system at work in both India and the world, and it has only two groups: those who are eaten, and those who eat, prey and predators. Balram decides he wants to be an eater, someone with a big belly, and the novel tracks the way in which this ambition plays out.
A key metaphor in the novel is the rooster coop. Balram recognizes that those who are eaten are trapped inside a small and closed cage--the rooster coop--that limits their opportunities. Even worse, they begin to internalize the limitations and indignities of the coop, so that after awhile they're unable to imagine they deserve any other world than the cramped one in which they exist. Balram's dream is to break free of his coop, to shed his feathers and become what for him is a symbol of individualism, power, and freedom: a white tiger. But as he discovers, white tigers have their own cages, too.
Of course, it's not simply the Balram's of the world caught in the rooster coop. Adiga's point seems to be that even the world's most privileged suffer from a cultural and class myopia that limits perspective and distorts self-understanding. The White Tiger is a good tonic with which to clear one's vision and spread one's wings.Kerry Walters (Lewisburg, PA USA)
Towards the end of this debut novel, its voluble, digressive, murderous protagonist makes a prediction: "White men will be finished in my lifetime," he tells us. "In 20 years time it will just be us brown and yellow men at the top of the pyramid, and we'll rule the world." He's talking about the phenomenon at the heart of this dazzling narrative: the emergence of that much-heralded economic powerhouse, the "new India".
You have, no doubt, read about it. In fact, you may have done so courtesy of Aravind Adiga, who is Time magazine's Asia correspondent. But with The White Tiger, Adiga sets out to show us a part of this emerging country that we hear about infrequently: its underbelly. We see through the eyes of Balram, who was born into the "darkness" of rural India, but entered the light that is Delhi via a job as driver to Mr Ashok, the son of a rich landlord. Now, though, Balram has escaped servitude and is himself a rich businessman. What's more, his unlikely journey involved a murder.
The result is an Indian novel that explodes the clichés – ornamental prose, the scent of saffron – associated with that phrase. Welcome, instead, to an India where Microsoft call-centre workers tread the same pavement as beggars who burn street rubbish for warmth.
Adiga's whimsical conceit is to give us Balram's story via seven letters to the Chinese prime minister, who, Balram has decided, must be told the truth about India before a forthcoming state visit. So Balram begins: he tells of Delhi's servants, who live in rotting basements below the glass apartment blocks that are home to their employers. He tells of how Ashok's family bribe government ministers, and how national elections are rigged. Ashok, trendy and liberal, is forever expressing guilt over Balram's treatment, but his fine words never come to anything.
It's a thrilling ride through a rising global power; a place where, we learn, the brutality of the modern city is compounded by that of age-old tradition. "In the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India," says Balram. "These days there are two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies."
Soon enough, of course, Balram must tell us just how, exactly, he grew a Big Belly himself. Tired of a life of servitude, he takes the violent action that secures his place among Delhi's rich. Adiga's plot is somewhat predictable – the murder that is committed is the one that readers will expect throughout – but The White Tiger suffers little for this fault. Caught up in Balram's world – and his wonderful turn of phrase – the pages turn themselves. Brimming with idiosyncrasy, sarcastic, cunning, and often hilarious, Balram is reminiscent of the endless talkers that populate the novels of the great Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal. Inventing such a character is no small feat for a first-time novelist.
Arch-defenders of India's claim to be truly democratic, even-handedly prosperous and corruption-free (and these must be few outside of the Indian cabinet) might balk at The White Tiger. Everyone else, surely, will be seduced by it. David Mattin
(Source: The Independent)