Wednesday, April 29, 2009

White Tiger

This post is long over due. I would have read White Tiger even if it had not won Booker. In fact a review in The Hindu by Amit Verma should have actually made me think twice about reading White Tiger. Because it had sounded similar to what I had felt for Animal’s People which was in Booker’s Long list or Short list an year before.   But nevertheless I did read the book. Arvind Adiga being a fellow Kannadiga, belonging to my generation, now a world famous writer and all that did make me get hold of the book. Sense of obligation, you see.  

It does not require more than 150 minutes to read White Tiger. Though at the end I felt that it is not booker-worth novel, I did greatly enjoy reading it. Did not feel negative or cheated. Of course the book does not give you the highs that you feel when you read Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children nor does it take you on a fantasy trip like Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (though in the end you feel completely jolted but the moments of fantasy lingers on with you). It is not a simple sad story like God of Small Things or Atonement for that matter. There is no irony that pulls at your heart’s strings. (Like Sir Vidia Naipaul even I learnt quite early that irony is the essence of any fiction).  It is not magical and lyrical like English patient either.    

In my opinion White Tiger is an amateurish attempt at narrating a story about a modern day bonded labourer’s evolution as a rich businessman. The journey involving murder. I felt that the plot is contrived because it is the perception and expression of an outsider about what is happening in the mind of an insider i.e Balram Halwai of ‘darkness’. The outsider being the writer i.e Adiga.  Of course, all literary plots are manufactured so to speak but what I felt about the characters and their actions in White Tiger is that they are a reflection of what and how the author wants them to be in that situation and not what they might actually be in that situation. I felt I was looking at the brutality of modern age, exploitation, oppression, corruption through the eyes of Adiga and not Balram Halwai. That’s where the book’s weakness lies, I feel. I mean, this young vengeful character was created to express my anger against people who go on splurging sprees. But in reality the situation might actually be just the opposite. Because a person doing a security job or working as a maid servant at a posh apartment complex gets handsome payment apart from the regular tips compared to the same type of job done at, say a government school or an ordinary house. So the situation does not give scope to grieve over injustice and nurse a grudge against the haves. So I felt that White Tiger is an attempt by a person with a sense of justice to get deliverance for the purported victims through his labour of love. At one point while reading the novel I was thinking that Adiga is the living version of Atonement’s protagonist Briony. In this sense White Tiger could have been the plot of any ‘angry young man’ Amitabh flick from the 70s. Because I felt it’s the work of a ‘young hot blooded’ youth out to revenge on the unfairness of the world. And that’s what quite distracted me. That’s why I felt the book has a filmy touch.                                                                                          When you put aside your initial misgivings about the characters and agree to go along with the writer then you sort of enjoy the story of Balram from rural India who goes on to take advantage of the new age economy and establishes himself as a rich businessman. It’s not a typical rags-to-riches story. There is lot of humour, cynicism, cruelty and suspense. You end up admiring the conceit and confidence of Balram even though you might not forgive him for giving the law of the land a royal slip. There are some strong statements from Balram given out as absolute truth which befuddled me. For eg, Balram says that there are only three countries in the world which never had monarchy of some sort and lists them out. I don’t think it’s factually correct.

The book made me look back upon lessons on Marx’s theory of class struggle with fondness. The revolution and complete upheaval of social structure proclaiming the rule of the proletariat as theorized by Marx did not and cannot happen. Or can it?

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