Released in the year of Slumdog Millionaire, Aravind Adiga’s debut is viewed by me with the same eyes that watched Danny Boyle’s multi-award winning film. The White Tiger is an exciting story gift-wrapped in the foil of India’s ugly side.
The book is actually the protagonist writing to China’s premier Wen Jiabao on Indian entrepreneurship and his life. Balram Halwai, born in corrupt India, brought up ruthlessly, having made his way through life by climbing slowly but steadily, having waited for that one big moment, is now an entrepreneur.
Balram Halwai is ‘the white tiger’, the rarest of rare creatures, one that comes along once in a generation. He is fully aware of where he is going, never ceasing to remind the reader of the part of India he has come from is dirty, messy, despicable. Getting his break in the form of a job as the chauffeur of a good man, Balram Halwai reshapes his own destiny… not wanting to be a servant for the rest of his life, he works out his role as a master.
Aravind Adiga thrills with the conviction in Balram Halwai’s words, his desire for freedom, and with the pacing of the story. The constant hammering at the home country is funny, at least to me. Bihar is made fun of, Gandhi is made fun of. The few hundred Hindu gods too, with a mocking remark here and there. Delhi, Bangalore… Mumbai has been spared. Maybe the author felt sorry for the city after watching Slumdog Millionaire and decided to dip his beak into the rest of the motherland exclusively.
Not that anyone thinks of India as a superpower, but it’s easy to see why Indians would squirm at the thought of other countries reading The White Tiger. It’s like taking a guest to the loo and showing them a piece of shit floating in the commode.
And as much as we like to see a man beat all the odds and sprint a lot farther than is expected of him, we might not return for the thrill if his ass crack’s always on display.