On A Successful Note

The White Tiger – Arvind Adiga

That I read this book almost a year after Arvinda Adiga won the Man Booker Prize is no reflection to the story’s plot or pace. Paced quite fast and with an intriguing twist at the end of each ‘chapter’, this book, The White Tiger, is astonishingly different. I say different because Adiga has taken most of the common problems India has been battling – corruption, red tapism, hapless condition of the country’s servant class, babuism, etc. – and has put it in a neat story that runs on a very unusual line than what other authors have done in similar stories or novels.

When you read a book, at the beginning itself there’s usually something that strikes you so much that you actually end up liking it or hating it. Adiga’s proficient and on-the-dot use of adjectives is what hit me. It is absolutely vivid – it can make even a totally unimaginative person sit up and think. My particular choices to reiterate this point might be a li’l gory, but savour this: He [father] pounded it with the pot of toddy until the pot broke. He smashed its neck with his fist… the air became acrid: a stench of crushed flesh. He picked up the dead lizard and flung it out the door. My father sat panting against the mural of Lord Buddha surrounded by the gentle animals.

Or this: Around six o’ clock that day, as the government ledger no doubt accurately reported, my father was permanently cured of his tuberculosis. The ward boys made us clean up after Father before we could remove the body. A goat came in and sniffed as we were mopping the blood off the floor. The ward boys petted her and fed her a plump carrot as we mopped our father’s infected blood off the floor. Adiga manages to stir the reader’s imagination right on target.

The story starts with a letter that Balram Halwai is typing out for the Chinese Premier who’s visiting his current place of living, Bangalore. It is a flashback from then on. Halwai, who is a “successful entrepreneur” now wasn’t one a few years ago. Situations can make entrepreneurs outta people. And how! He belonged to that caste of Indians, in a village off Delhi, who made sweets and served people at home or hotel. Meek and unquestioning he was in his childhood. But things changed. He changed. His parents couldn’t even bother to name him anything and just called him the oft-used nickname ‘Munna’, and he was lost in this giant joint family. No one went to school beyond the third or the fifth class. If you were a girl you were married off to some rich ass, who would later come back and haunt the rest of the womenfolk in the family for dowry or something or someone else in ranson. If you were a boy, you were expected to carry on the family trade, and in time, marry a rich girl, who would bring in dowry. And, bigger that what he paid for his sisters.

The fact that the whole novel is Halwai’s monologue to the Premier doesn’t even come across on to your face as the writing is superb. Although I find some of Adiga’s phrases and ideas a little more than slightly condescending towards India and most things Indians, it does serve its purpose to drive home the bitter truths that we Indians and NRIs face. Like, for example, that those outside the upper class and upper middle class are mostly the servant class. And by calling them the servant class, he clearly stresses that they are in that position out of their own choice and lack of initiative to break out of it. And Halwai’s life story is about one such chicken that made it out of the coop. I won’t describe the story further or give out the plot. Grab a copy and read, is what I’d say.

Adiga’s lucid descriptions hit the nail on the head. Whatever he wants to say, he says it clear and out. Life’s triumphs and failures faced by Halwai are depicted with much poise.  The scenes and characters in the book come right out of it, and make you feel you’re in fact watching a movie and not probably reading a book!

Verdict: Those who’ve read the book will, I guess, agree that those souls who haven’t should get a copy and read! A well-written book. He certainly deserved the Prize for this work.

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Rating: 9.3/10 (4 votes cast)
On A Successful Note, 9.3 out of 10 based on 4 ratings

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This entry was posted on Sunday, May 9th, 2010 at 2:26 pm and is filed under Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


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