The Scientific Indian

Book review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


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.


  1. #1 rajesh
    December 30, 2008

    you missed the best part of the chicken coop analogy. it is protected by inside

  2. #2 dr. ram sharma
    March 22, 2009

    I still remember my childhood,
    Love, affection and chide of my mother,
    Weeping in a false manner,
    Playing in the moonlight,
    Struggles with cousins and companions,
    Psuedo-chide of my father,
    I still have everything with me,
    But i miss,
    Those childhood memories

    Man has become octopus,
    entangled in his own clutches,
    fallen from sky to earth,
    new foundation was made,
    of rituals, customs and manners,
    tried to come out of the clutches,
    but not
    waiting for doom`s day

    of this century,
    in the hope,
    era has changed,
    to see something new,
    everything will be changed,
    but what happens with thinking,
    do something positive
    it will take years,
    to build

    I am tired,
    of callling,
    i am finding none,
    to come with me,
    none is hearing me,
    hearts have been locked,
    windows of ears have been closed,
    its my fate,
    pain is my destiny,
    i have no complain,
    towards anyone

    I want to forget everything,
    dropping wounds,flowing tears,
    hunger,despair and sting of poverty,
    wall of discrimination,
    i want to forget this,
    but people wants,
    not to heal this,
    my efforts have become useless,
    my wounds are still live

    O! ROSE
    O! rose,
    left thorns,
    in my orchard,
    i am bleeding,
    my orchard has no fragrance,
    still now,
    many plants grew,
    but weather is not favourable,
    greenary has lost,
    trees are cut,
    belief no more,
    system crushed,
    orchard has become desert

    The faces of hopes,
    have become dim,
    greenery has disappeared,
    like ghosts,
    the shades have become mirage,
    skyscrappers are creating tensions,
    green colour is our reliever,
    we hope to save this greenery

    Destroyer of men`s obstacles,
    beginners of every auspicious work,
    lover of modakas[ sweets],
    ardent obedient to his father,
    having the trunk of an elephant,
    a transplantation of the head of an elephant,
    driver of mouse-van,
    save us from all hurdles, all obstacles
    is like,
    having a burning coal,
    in his hands,
    and burning himself,
    it is a volcano,
    destroys all the limbs,
    it is an earthquake,
    that shakes itself,
    it is a bomb-blast,
    that blasts its own body,
    it is a bullet that kills himself,
    drive away anger
    USE OF
    What is the use of,
    hiding the miseries,
    what is the use of,
    relations are very fragile,
    what is the use of,
    testing them,
    the thirst of the earth can`t be quenched,
    what is the use of,

    I am burning dream,
    of your eyes,
    i am cold scorching ,
    of the moon,
    you have forgotten,
    which by burning to ashes,
    i am that dream,

    Propaganding of skills,
    creating useless thrills,
    destroying the image of others,
    accumulating the maximum opportunity,
    showing the maximum generosity,
    at the cost of others,
    climbing step by step on the heads of others,
    naked play of money,
    partition and bargaining of honey,
    always for their sake,
    this progress is fake,
    this is retrogress

    The nature has dressed green saree,
    white, red, yellow coloured flowers,
    have made its border,
    the cuckoo is singing in the trees,
    all these are welcoming the spring,
    All are praying goddess Sarawati,
    all have sung auspicious songs,
    the noise of birds, the naughtiness of wind,
    all have come to welcome spring,
    new zeal, new weather, new environment,
    we welcome you o! spring

    How beautiful are eyes,
    but they have no light,
    how many rivers have dried,
    in the heart of desert,
    you can see everything,
    you can recognise everything,
    but why this darkness was in your fate,
    the light of eyes denied,
    what kind of punishment it is?
    but don`t loose heart,
    don`t off the light of your insight,
    don`t go away from the battlefield,
    of life
    open the eyes of your mind

    Dakness is hovering in streets,
    how can i get brightness,
    how are persons of two faces,
    chilhood is burdened with tons,
    no one is to support here,
    every country is terrorised,
    humanity is moaning now,
    devils are prospering

    This darkness will disappear,
    have patience,
    after all the sun will rise,
    have patience,
    this destruction will stop,
    have patience,
    Lord Buddha will emerge once again,
    have patience,
    Lord Krishna is coming,
    to create the symphony of love by his flute,

    The farmer,
    the drops of sweats,
    with seeds in the fields,
    seeds germinate with labour,
    whether it is a farmer or a labourer,
    every one is priest of labour,
    but today we are going away from labour,
    we are searching short cuts,
    without labour,
    without labour
    man is not man

    Where has gone that world?
    of my imagination,
    where has gone the compassion,
    which was among mankind,
    where has gone that society?
    which had love and love only,
    in place of hatred, jealousy and malice,
    where has gone that people?
    who dedicated themselves to the society,
    will this world of my imagination,?
    return again
    when the people,
    will recognise their humanity the

    You are vivacious,
    like the flowing river,
    my life is controlled,
    like a dam,
    you are homogenious,
    mingle many streams within you,
    but i am infinite sea,
    but provide me patience,
    to control the speed of the anger,
    otherwise there would be destructionmselves

New comments have been disabled.