I guess, Your Excellency, that I too should start off by kissing some god’s arse. Which god’s arse, though? There are so many choices. See, the Muslims have one god. The Christians have three gods. And we Hindus have three 36,000,000 gods. Making a grand total of 36,000,004 divine arses for me to choose from. -Balram Halwai alais Munna
What a fucking joke. -Pinky Madam
India is a land of chicken coops. The chicken coops have been in existence since Manu wrote that kings and priests came out of god’s prettiest and purest body parts while shit-eating lowly men and women came out of his holy anus. The chicken can move freely – two inches to the right and two inches to the left. If any chicken dares to poke its head out of the coop, a moment later the chicken’s family can pull the stupid chicken back in, lament the lack of a head on it and bury it quickly. Once in a while there comes a daring chicken that thinks out of the coop. Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize winning novel The White Tiger is about the chicken coop and a certain chicken that turns into a White Tiger.
The novel is in the form of a series of letters written by an unusual entrepreneur in Bangalore to the Premier of China who would be visiting Bangalore to learn entrepreneurial success. The letters tell the personal story of the entrepreneur, Balram Halwai alias Munna, who was till recently a poorly paid driver, cook and cleaner for a moneyed family. Born to a rickshaw puller, as a child he was stuck in a defunct rotting village school before being pulled out by his grandmother to help his brother in a tea-shop breaking coal. He learns driving although his caste marks him and all his ancestors as sweet-makers. Everyone thinks he should do what was written on his forehead but a fire in him burns and moves him away from the established path of penury and servitude. Joining a rich family exposes him to the wider world and sparks a furious ambition to succeed in life and to live like the rich men and women who he serves. He does this by slitting the throat of his master and stealing the bribe money that his master had drawn to give to government Babus in Delhi.
Adiga grabs our hands and places it on the pulse of new India, the India which like the moon shines brightly on one face and is utterly dark on the other. He grabs our face and rubs it on the unwashed underbelly of real India (as opposed to pretend India where the chicken masters live). The real India is where private car drivers wait for three hours while their masters have their nails manicured and their butts wiped, where a poor child is taken out of school to walk a dog that wears a silk scarf. If reality is what majority agree to, then real India is where poor people live and how they live (or die), all else is pretend India. A few may cross over to Light from Darkness but that’s only a few. Even a Revolution cannot turn the darkness into Light in India. Besides, Revolutions are not for India (again, like the moon). They are for countries like China where one man can decide to starve a hundred million chickens because they are dead weight when making The Great Leap Forward.
In the seventies and eighties, India’s social consciousness was rooted in the suffering of the impoverished middle-class (the poor were always there in the background. Naturally, not many cared). There were not many opportunities for the middle-class then. Of late, that has changed. The middle-class has surfed the waves of economic liberalization and has done well for itself. So well that it can now flaunt its well being in the face of the millions of poor friends and neighbors. Earlier, those who didn’t have money didn’t know what they missed. Now, they know it all, thanks to television, thanks to the newly rich neighbors. And, the poor friends and neighbors want a piece of this new wealth. If they are denied the opportunities, they will take it.
Adiga captures both the opportunities and the rottenness that pervades our society and our time with unceremonious and in-your-face narrative. The novel frames the issues from a very one-sided angle, that of the intelligent but culturally and ethically impoverished protagonist. This is by design however, it does make the novel limited in scope. Nevertheless, the novel succeeds in pressing home the colluding factors that make or break a person born to poverty and the senselessness of the suffering that millions of Indians go through every day. Between the lines that tell Munna’s story, the stink of India viscerally penetrates our minds that the story lingers in one’s head long after the book is finished. I highly recommend the novel. You can buy it from Amazon or elsewhere.