The White Tiger
|Media type||Print (hardback)|
|LC Class||PR9619.4.A35 W47 2008|
The White Tiger is the debut novel by Indian author Aravind Adiga. It was first published in 2008 and won the 40th Man Booker Prize in the same year. The novel provides a darkly humorous perspective of India’s class struggle in a globalized world as told through a retrospective narration from Balram Halwai, a village boy. In detailing Balram's journey first to Delhi, where he works as a chauffeur to a rich landlord, and then to Bangalore, the place to which he flees after killing his master and stealing his money, the novel examines issues of religion, caste, loyalty, corruption and poverty in India. Ultimately, Balram transcends his sweet-maker caste and becomes a successful entrepreneur, establishing his own taxi service. In a nation proudly shedding a history of poverty and underdevelopment, he represents, as he himself says, "tomorrow."
The novel has been well-received, making the New York Times bestseller list in addition to winning the Man Booker Prize. Aravind Adiga, 33 at the time, was the second youngest writer as well as the fourth debut writer to win the prize in 2008. Adiga says his novel "attempt[s] to catch the voice of the men you meet as you travel through India — the voice of the colossal underclass." According to Adiga, the exigence for The White Tiger was to capture the unspoken voice of people from "the Darkness" – the impoverished areas of rural India, and he "wanted to do so without sentimentality or portraying them as mirthless humorless weaklings as they are usually."
Balram Halwai narrates his life in a letter, written in seven consecutive nights and addressed to the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao. In his letter, Balram explains how he, the son of a rickshaw puller, escaped a life of servitude to become a successful businessman, describing himself as an entrepreneur.
Balram was born in the rural village of Laxmangarh, where he lived with his grandmother, parents, brother and extended family. He is a smart child but is forced to leave school in order to help pay for his cousin's dowry and begins to work in a teashop with his brother in Dhanbad. While working there he begins to learn about India's government and economy from the customers' conversations. Balram describes himself as a bad servant and decides to become a driver.
After learning how to drive, Balram finds a job driving Ashok, the son of one of Laxmangarh's landlords. He takes over the job of the main driver, from a small car to a heavy-luxury described Honda City. He stops sending money back to his family and disrespects his grandmother during a trip back to his village. Balram moves to New Delhi with Ashok and his wife Pinky Madam. Throughout their time in Delhi, Balram is exposed to extensive corruption, especially in the government. In Delhi, the contrast between the poor and the wealthy is made even more evident by their proximity to one another.
One night Pinky Madam takes the wheel from Balram, while drunk, hits something in the road and drives away; we are left to assume that she has killed a child. Ashok's family puts pressure on Balram to confess that he had been driving alone. Ashok becomes increasingly involved in bribing government officials for the benefit of the family coal business. Balram then decides that killing Ashok will be the only way to escape India's Rooster Coop. After bludgeoning Ashok with a bottle and stealing a large bribe, Balram moves to Bangalore, where he bribes the police in order to help start his own taxi business. When one of his drivers kills a bike messenger, Balram pays off the family. Balram explains that his own family was almost certainly killed by Ashok's relatives as retribution for his murder. At the end of the novel, Balram rationalizes his actions and considers that his freedom is worth the lives of his family and of Ashok. And thus ends the letter-to-Jibao, letting the reader think of the dark humored tale and the "rooster-coop" trap of life, introduced by the writer.
The White Tiger takes place in a time in which increased technology has led to world globalization, and India is no exception. In the past decade, India has had one of the fastest booming economies. Specifically Americanization in India has played its role in the plot, since it provides an outlet for Balram to alter his caste. To satisfy Pinky’s want for American culture, Ashok, Pinky, and Balram simply move to Gurgaon instead of back to America. Globalization has assisted in the creation of an American atmosphere in India. Ashok justifies this move by explaining "Today it’s the modernest suburb of Delhi. American Express, Microsoft, all the big American companies have offices there. The main road is full of shopping malls—each mall has a cinema inside! So if Pinky Madam missed America, this was the best place to bring her". By blackmailing Ram Persad, the other driver, Balram is promoted and drives Ashok and Pinky to their new home.
Ashok is even convinced India is surpassing the USA, "There are so many more things I could do here than in New York now...The way things are changing in India now, this place is going to be like America in ten years". Balram is noticing the rapid growth as well. From the beginning of his story he knows that in order to rise above his caste he should become an entrepreneur. Although his taxi service is not an international business, Balram plans to keep up with the pace of globalization and change his trade when need be. "I‘m always a man who sees ‘tomorrow’ when others see ‘today.’" Balram's recognition of the increasing competition resulting from globalization contributes to his corruption.
Throughout the book, there are references to how Balram is very different from those back in his home environment. He is referred to as the "white tiger" (which also happens to be the title of the book). A white tiger symbolizes power in East Asian cultures, such as in Vietnam. It is also a symbol for freedom and individuality. Balram is seen as different from those he grew up with. He is the one who got out of the "Darkness" and found his way into the "Light".
In an interview with Aravind Adiga, he talked about how "The White Tiger" was a book about a man’s quest for freedom. Balram, the protagonist in the novel, worked his way out of his low social caste (often referred to as "the Darkness") and overcame the social obstacles that limited his family in the past. Climbing up the social ladder, Balram sheds the weights and limits of his past and overcomes the social obstacles that keep him from living life to the fullest that he can. In the book, Balram talks about how he was in a rooster coop and how he broke free from his coop. The novel is somewhat of a memoir of his journey to finding his freedom in India’s modern day capitalist society. Towards the beginning of the novel, Balram cites a poem from the Muslim poet Iqbal where he talks about slaves and says "They remain slaves because they can’t see what is beautiful in this world." Balram sees himself embodying the poem and being the one who sees the world and takes it as he rises through the ranks of society, and in doing so finding his freedom.
Balram was born to the low caste in India, meaning that he grew up in very poor living conditions. As a child, Balram was seen as being smart. However, growing up, he was exposed into a lot of corruption and immoral behavior, e.g., the shopkeeper selling his employees' votes to the Great Socialist during election time. His childhood molded the person he was going to become in the future. Balram ends up doing anything to get himself into a higher caste and into the "Light". Balram becomes very selfish, evident by his many of his actions being equivocal in nature. This can be seen as both an immoral and moral way to improve oneself, especially if the country as a whole cheats, lies, and is full of deceit. His actions might be justified from the standpoint that anything since he was part of the losing crowd he might as well join the crowd that is winning, also known as "if you can't beat them join them." Finding ways to ensure the competition does not succeed, finding ways to get ahead of everyone else, and coming out on top are all a big part of the world and if you are constantly losing then you might as well play dirty to win. It can be seen as being moral because of the competitive nature of our globalized capitalist economic system. In a capitalist economy, any way one can get ahead is fair game. However, if one is looking at this from a non-personal standpoint, the actions Balram does are very immoral. He cheats people to put himself in a position to gain for himself. Balram does everything in his power for personal gain, even killing his boss.
The book shows a modern day, capitalist Indian society with free market and free business. It also shows how it can create economic division. In India there are not social classes, there are social castes. The novel portrays India’s society as very negative towards the lower social caste.
The novel is based on the disparities of two worlds: darkness, inhabited by poor and underprivileged who cannot even meet their bare minimums; and the lighted world, inhabited by zamindars, politicians, businessmen etc. who shamelessly exploits the ones from darkness, making them even more poor and grows their own grandeur.
Balram refers to it as the "Darkness". When Balram was asked which caste he was from, he knew that it could ultimately cause a biased stance in his employer and determine the future of his employment. There is definitely a big difference seen in Balram’s lower caste from back home and his current higher caste in their lifestyles, habits, and standards of living. This novel is showing how our economic system today creates socioeconomic gaps that create a big division in society. It limits opportunity, social mobility, health, and other rights and pleasures that should be given to all. There is a big difference in the amount of money spread around in society today and this book is alluding to that fact.
The rooster coop
The narrator frequently mentions the rooster coop when describing the situation or characteristics of the servant class in India and he also defends himself for murdering his master with it. The narrator first describes how the rooster coop looks like in the market in Old Delhi, in order to give the visualization to the audience: "Hundreds of pale hens and brightly coloured roosters stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages, packed as tightly as worms in a belly, pecking each other and shitting on each other, jostling just for breathing space; the whole cage giving off a horrible stench…The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying .es those chickens living in a miserable condition with the poor class in India. "The very same thing is done with human beings in this country" From his analysis of the structure of the inequality in the country, the narrator comes to believe that liability for the suffering of the servant also lies with the mentality of the servant class, which he refers as "perpetual servitude". This ideology is 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".
According to his philosophy, individual action is the key to break out of the rooster coop and the servants are self-trapping. He validates his evil actions to his master by saying, "I think the Rooster Coop needs people like me to break out of it. It needs masters like Mr. Ashok – who, for all his numerous virtues, was not much of a master – to be weeded out, and exceptional servants like me to replace them.’’
The caste system
A key component in The White Tiger is the discussion of the India caste system. The caste system in India is a social system that divides the Indian population into higher and lower social classes. Although said to be disappearing in urban India, the caste system still remains in rural India. A person is born into a caste, and the caste one belongs in determines his or her occupation. Balram gives his own breakdown of the caste system in India, describing that it was a "...clean, well-kept orderly zoo". But no longer - because that caste system broke down, and the powerful with the big bellies took over anything they could - and now there are only 2 castes in India - the haves and the have nots. Balram was born into the Halwai caste, meaning "sweet-maker", and was the son of a rickshaw puller - not a sweet-maker, because someone with power stole his destiny of being a sweet-maker from him.
Adiga brings awareness to the corrupt India caste system by having Balram work the country’s system to get what he wants and to become an entrepreneur by any means necessary, including murdering his boss. Balram educates the Chinese Premier throughout his letters about the corruption and immoral ways of India’s caste system and its economic gap. Although it may seem that Balram’s position in society will forever remain the same, he manages to go from a sweet shop worker, to a personal driver for a rich man, and finally to an owner of a small business.
Balram’s quest to becoming an entrepreneur shows the oppression of the lower caste system and the superiority of the upper caste. He tells the story of how India still has a caste system and political and economic corruption is still present. Balram shows the country of India in which a person high on the caste system can bribe people such as police officers with money to cover up murders, sabotage political opponents by rigging votes and money, and have privileges such as shopping in a mall specifically for those of high social and economic importance. He also shows the side of India in which those who are born into poverty and low castes may forever remain there and so will their children. Balram is a rare exception, as he experiences both sides of the caste system and manages to move up the social ladder.
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- "Review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga". The Telegraph. 09/08/2008. Retrieved 2008-10-16. Check date values in:
- The White Tiger: A Novel [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]. amazon (Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates). ASIN 1416562591.
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- "BOOK REVIEW: THE WHITE TIGER BY ARAVIND ADIGA (WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2008)". Stories In Moments. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
- Adiga, Aravind (2008). The White Tiger. Free Press. p. 147.
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- Aravind Adiga Official website
- Adam Lively, Review in The Sunday Times
- David Mattin, Review in The Independent
- Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Review in the London Review of Books
- Interview with Aravind Adiga in Rediff
- Analysis of the novel at Let's talk about Bollywood
- The White Tiger - uRead.com
- Roy, Pinaki. "Inside Tiger's Jaws: Rereading Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger". Booker Prize Winner Indian English Novels: A Kaleidoscopic Study. Eds. Nawale, A., and V. Bite. Jaipur: Aavishkar Publishers and Distributors, 2011. Pp. 164–78. ISBN 978-81-7910-341-8.
|Man Booker Prize recipient