Sunday, November 02, 2008

White Tiger

At first thought, it is Chetan Bhagat that starts of in a rural setting with generous helpings of intellect and garnished with perspective. But Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger is more than that.
The tone is almost flippant but a tone like that is necessary for a story like this, Balram Halwai is a driver from a small village lakshmangarh, who follows his master in delhi , becomes a criminal and ends up an entrepreneur in Bangalore.

Bangalore of the new India.
In a narrative of the New India we haven’t read before told through the eyes of a man from the darkness writing to Chinese Premier Wen Jibao after becoming a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore.

We Indians have stopped seeing contrasts of what it means to work in the house of a lady whose handbag costs ten times the monthly salary she pays you. Adiga tells the story and its dark and touching at the same time.You don’t know whose side you are on, the man who was murdered or the man who murdered - the rich,the poor, the light , the dark.

‘’Who would have thought that the only person in the household to have a conscience will be the woman who wears short skirts’, Halwai asks, when a child gets hit by a family member who was driving drunk and halwai is made to take the blame for it..

Adiga rips apart the lives of India’s rich who live quite comfortably beyond the law for most part and he startles us into thinking about Balram as he passes from darkness into light and the world of Bangalore’s call centres, South Indian coffee and the mothers of murdered sons. ''See, sometimes i think that i will never get caught . ......I have switched sides. I am one of those who cannot be caught in India. ''

His masters laugh at him for being unable to say ‘’Pizza’’ and for saying ‘’pig’or ‘’maal ‘’ for ‘’mall’’.

The real success of this book lies in the fact that it tells you the contrasts without sounding journalisty or patronizing or unnecessarily intense. The tone then is not flippant, really but just matter of fact.
And being urban middle class Indians, it must have occurred to us, the mind of the darkness but we never dared to think it so articulately.


I have never appreciated firangs writings on India ..except William Darymple types.
But sometimes I think , that we are much more blinded to India’s contrasts being Indians and seeing hundreds people settle down to sleep on the pavements as we head back home from office.And there is this argument that Adiga himself has lived much of his life outside India.
But Halwai is as convincing as a potrait of a driver to a rich family can get.

I can imagine the grateful but dumb look on his face when he is told that he is free to not go to jail for a murder he hasn't commited.I can't feel the humiliation he feels when he can't pronounce worlds alien to his tongue and when his masters laugh , his anger , his opportunism and you know, his 'paaapaness''

The other day I saw a perfect shot .

We could start shooting you know, with marine drive, the way every other slick Hindi movie nowadays starts.

Accompanied with a romanticized voice over about Mumbai. The city of dreams.
We then come to NCPA apartments- the world’s second most ( or one of the ten most ok), residential complexes, tilt down and pan left.The road is quite and smooth and mercs pass by, there are women with expensive dresses and smooth legs passing by .

Passing by two three year old bare chested children sleeping on a piece of sack next to ncpa on the road at 9:30 PM one October evening.

‘What a’fucking joke!’’

1 comment:

Aditya said...

Of course its a place of contrasts, be it Bombay or Bangalore.

I realized it for the first time when a group of friends guzzled up jugs of beer at a pub only to wake up next morning and asking me how much did they pay because they didn't remember much. I figured the amount they paid that night could very well sponsor a child's education for one year. These contrasts exist elsewhere too but you won't find the spectrum so wide as it is in India.

And its another irony that most of the writers (Indians at that or of Indian origin) who write and get nominated for the Pulitzers/Bookers refrain from setting base here. Ghosh, Mistry, Adiga, Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, you name it. Maybe with their intellect they are the best judge for they have seen the best (and the worst) of both worlds -- the west and India and that perhaps stimulates it all eventually.