The White Tiger
by Aravind Adiga
The eponymous White Tiger is Balram Halwai, son of a rickshaw puller, scion of the caste of sweet makers, entrepreneur and narrator of this, at times ridiculous, at times, shocking, tale of India in transition.
Over the course of a week, Balram recounts his rags to riches story for the benefit of China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao, on his visit to find out the truth about Bangalore. He wants to make clear the unimaginable squalor and deprivation that exist behind the astonishing success story of his country’s economy.
‘Effervescent India’, with its economy threatening to grow at 10% annually, is a nation of rapidly expanding cities, glitzy shopping malls selling luxury brands from all over the world, vigorous stock markets and a flood of foreign investments. Yet, by the parameters on which a nation’s true progress and success is judged, it falls hopelessly short. The other India, millions of people living below any western marker of civilization, is excluded from this jamboree and the gap between rich and poor shows no sign of diminishing. Their only escape is presently through premature death (70% of the population are under the age of 35), suicide (thousands of farmers have swallowed pesticides to put an end to their misery) or through armed insurrection. Balram compares their trap to a ‘rooster coop’ where the birds are kept in their cage by the manacles of caste, religion and poverty.
Balram describes his own childhood as a clever boy growing up in the rural hinterland; his delight at becoming driver to a local wide-boy; his move to New Delhi; his efforts to improve himself through legitimate means; until, disillusioned by the excesses and corruption of his masters, he finally takes the only way he knows out of the rooster coop.
THE WHITE TIGER is a rattling good read – a picaresque tale told with wit and insight of a beguilingly cunning desperado - but it is also a full-throated outcry against the hideous chimera that is the new India. It has been short-listed for the Booker Prize and we wish Aravind Adiga the best of luck with it.