Review: White Tiger

Winner of the Man Booker prize 2008, White Tiger has been read and loved throughout the world and surrounded by constant controversy in the sub-continent. I had been planning to read the book for ages but the hectic life of an MBBS had not yet allowed me to enjoy the thrilling masterpiece. So on the first day of my summer vacations I rushed to the nearest bookstore and bought it from a road-side book stall (the ones thronged with fat bearded men with caps discretely looking for sexual material) which would be my food and water for the next 48 hours.

This book follows the narrative of Balram Halwai as he rises from the appalling village Laxmangarh in North India as a child to the corrupt atmosphere of New Delhi as a youth and eventually to the rising entrepreneurial city of Bangalore as a man. The tale is actually a letter from “the white tiger” to the prime- minister of china who plans to visit India and see for himself “the truth of this rising nation”.

The tiger starts his tale with his birth as Munna into the family of a rickshaw puller in the village of Laxmangarh. He goes to a government school where his teacher rechristens him Balram. He is forced to leave the school after a year to start earning by working at a tea-shop. The landlords of the village are cruel, corrupt men who always bugger the villagers for money which forces them to go find work in the towns. Balram is a sharp boy and always looks for new opportunities by eavesdropping on people. In the town Dhandbad, where Balram and his uncle work at a tea-shop to make enough money to satisfy the landlords, Balram learns to drive and luckily gets a job as the driver of a landlord’s son. Balram’s evolution from an innocent village boy to a hypocritical, evil man who wants to break away from the never-ending saga of modern-day slavery in India into a free life of his own begins from here onward.

This story is stark and dark and rips away the image of Incredible-India with an unmatchable brutality. The author says it’s impossible for an average Indian to break free from what he calls The Rooster-Coop without committing a theft or murder after which his family will surely be killed in the most brutal of all ways. The author paints the image of real India with such vividness that the reader actually winces and cringes as more and more of India is exposed. From the rigged elections in villages to the murders in big cities, from thugs in Laxmangarh to politicians in New Delhi, from corrupt policemen to the vile tricks-of-starting-a-business, from rickshaw-pullers to Honda Cities &emdash; the author on one hand draws a contrast between Old and New India, and on the other explains how they still remain so similar to each other. Frustrated by the fake wonderland-like portrayals of India, on many occasions the author says, “It’s in the Indian blood to be a servant”. Neel Mukherji of Sunday Telegraph wrote “What Adiga lifts the lid on is inexorably true: not a single detail in this novel rings false or feels confected”. The movie adaptation of this book is also being made which is expected to draw even more controversy than the Slumdog Millionaire.

The book is a must-read for everyone. The crisp, fresh and matter-of-fact writing style of the author is really entertaining. His satirical take on life in India and what the leaders and media portray to the international community is witty and funny. Non-compliant to conventional literary styles, the author does have an individuality which in todays world of commercialism surely stands out. This book definitely gets a 4.5 on a rating scale of 5.

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