Thursday, December 08, 2011

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga: Impressions

So I finally read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. I finally understood what the hype was all about. And I finally know what it takes for a debut novel to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize. And those who criticised this book because they've taken it upon themselves to criticise anything that's criticiseable (I know there's no such word), well, that's just too bad! Because this book is as sharp as they can get, yessir it is!

Perhaps I fell in love with the book, but how can one help it? The book fascinates from the word 'Go!' When was the last time you saw a satirical novel written in the form of a fantastic letter addressed to the premier of China!? My jaw dropped in awe over Adiga's style of narrative at page 1 and it still hasn't closed. Throughout the narrative, the author keeps bringing up Jiabao's name, and the sense of the letter is never lost. With his ample, casual references to China, when addressing Wen (teehee, could not resist that), Adiga never forgets, nor lets his readers forget, the brilliance of his style.

The other thing about The White Tiger that has stayed with me is the bitterness. SO. MUCH. BITTERNESS. Adiga paints such a powerfully grim picture of what he calls the Darkness, one would think he was born there, lived there, endured the unendurable there. The author cleaves the nation in two halves - into the two worlds of (to use his words) 'men with bellies' and men without them. He points to one India of the shiny, glass-walled malls and the other India of the inescapable 'Rooster Coop'.

Adiga's hero, anti-hero if you like, is Munna alias Balram Halwai, son of rickshaw puller alias Ashok Sharma, owner of White Tiger Technologies, and this is his story of crossing over from the Darkness into the Light. This is the story of a 'social entrepreneur', who seizes opportunity when he sees it, since no one will lay out golden roads for him. He kills a few moralities and people on the way, but so what? There isn't another way. Adiga delves deep into the mind of a man, who has to choose between a servile existence and becoming a master of his destiny. And the conundrum ain't easy to sort. Balram Halwai drags his readers along the gutters through the confounding streets of Delhi in a driver's seat, through the whorehouse and the servants' quarters, through a servant-turned-murderer's mind, through a fugitive's head and finally to an entrepreneur's chair, writing midnight mails to the premier of China. And he does it with so much page-turning ease!

The only place he lost me was in the protagonist's moment of resolve. Adiga's plot lost a little hold at the point when Balram decided to become his own master. There are exquisite psychological symbols of despair and agony, but his clear voice is lost among those. It seems all too sudden, when Balram strikes his master down with a surprising alacrity. Perhaps it was intended thus, since life-changing decisions don't really take place in one defining moment, as they show in the movies. A switch is flipped, unnoticed, after wounds have festered for a long time.

Adiga's pen seems to singe the paper with exactly the kind of long-suffering wounds, or perhaps he is just a super storyteller. Either way, The White Tiger is, as they call it these days, RAWRing!         



k said...

I felt similar during my first read of the book. Loved the book. Maybe a second reading is due.
Liked the review. Keep reading and reviewing.

Nikhil said...

Fairly engrossing book, with a 'hatke' narrative. It's one slimy, grimy ride through what Adiga calls the 'Darkness'. The proof of which is it does stay with you after you've kept the book away. Though i wonder if you've given away too much of the plot here? :)

Urmi Chanda Vaz said...

@Nikhil: I may have, but trust me, it's no more than what is already on the jacket of the book. Read it, read it!

Nikhil said...

I have already, a couple of months back. And i liked it.

Aditya Mehta said...

Y'know, I hated this book, but now I understand it for what it is. Not that I'm going to read it again, but I get what Adiga was trying to do there.

I'm halfway through Last Man In Tower, and it's good!