Adiga, Aravind

Review: “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga [2009]

‘ “You were looking for the key for years/But the door was always open!”‘ – p.253.

In a long letter to the Premiere of China, Wen Jiabao, a self-proclaimed entrepreneur from Bangalore, Balram Halwai, begins his letter upon hearing that the Premiere would like to meet some ‘real’ people in India during his visit. The letter/autobiography details Balram’s childhood in the backwater village of Laxmangarh where its residents lived in poverty and where their future seemed bleak at the very best. Balram’s father instills hope in him that things may change because he was the special son, the son that will finally break the cycle of poverty. Taken out of school soon after his father dies of Tuberculosis (five years of education was more than enough, according to his grandmother) and forced to work in a teashop, Balram finally gets his break when he takes driving lessons. He successfully gains employment as a driver/servant to one of Laxmangarh’s ruling family’s younger son who had just returned from New York and later moves to the bright lights of Delhi with them.

Adiga paints a stark picture of a modern day India filled with corruption, unbreakable cycles of poverty and the dissolvement of the hard won democracy that Gandhi and Nehru stood for. The police, public servants and politicians are all involved in bribery. Poor villages, such as Laxmangarh, and slums have their right to vote sold to politicians by the ruling landlords. Adiga also points his finger, curiously, at Indians like Ashok, the son who had returned from New York, who fly in and criticise the way of things, the corruption and poverty and yet who also cannot bear to give up their luxury lifestyle bought by bribes. The letter is written in the wee hours of the morning over seven nights, no doubt referring to the days it took for the Christian God to create the new world. In this case, it refers to how Balram eventually created his new world.

The writing is wonderful and lively and the story engrossing and stimulating. It’s an amazing achievement for a first time novelist but I cannot say if it is deserving as the winner of the Booker prize.