The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, 2008
Published by Atlantic Books
First line: “Sir. Neither you nor I can speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English.”
Book Rx: For brashly confident souls who feel like sticking it to The Man.
I come from a country not too much unlike India, where Men with Big Bellies and Men with Small Bellies live. In my country, the Men with Big Bellies tend to get away with a lot — thankfully for these guys, people have short memories — and their crimes of plundering my country’s coffers and killing her innocents are swept away under the proverbial Rug of History.
So, while I’ve been fortunate enough to have been born into a middle-class family, the scenes Adiga describes are all too frustratingly familiar:
‘It’s the way it always is,’ my father told me that night. ‘I’ve seen twelve elections — five general, five state, two local — and someone else has voted for me twelve times. I’ve heard that people in the other India get to vote for themselves — isn’t that something?’
The story is told in the form of nightly letters written by Balram Halwai (a self-proclaimed “Thinking Man” and “Entrepreneur”) addressed to Premier Wen Jiabao, Sixth Premier of the People’s Republic of China. It traces Balram’s rise from Chai-walla; to chaffeur for the wealthy, naive Ashok Sharma and his wife Pinky Madam; to infamous murderer; to Bangalore entrepreneur.
While Balram’s story was thrilling I couldn’t find myself liking him 100%. I feel squeamish when I think about what he did to break out of the Rooster Coop, the coop where
… a handful of men […] have trained the remaining 99.9 per cent — as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way — to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.
What I do appreciate is how Balram grabbed his destiny by the balls, how he drove it to where he wanted to be, and how he encourages others to do the same. But will his countrymen listen?
An Indian revolution?
No, sir. It won’t happen. People in this country are still waiting for the war of their freedom to come from somewhere else — from the jungles, from the mountains, from China, from Pakistan. That will never happen. Every man must make his own Benaras.
The book of your revolution sits in the pit of your belly, young Indian. Crap it out, and read.
Instead of which, they’re all sitting in front of colour TVs and watching cricket and shampoo advertisements.
Replace ‘cricket’ with basketball and ‘shampoo advertisements’ with ‘The Voice,’ and the same story applies, sadly.