Monday, June 30, 2008

Frog Elephant to Tiger

By Sunil K Poolani

White Tiger

Aravind Adiga

HarperCollins

Price: 395; Pages: 321

Behram Contractor, one of India’s legendary editors, once said that writing simple English is the biggest challenge a writer often faces. He was right. He wrote well. He won thousands of admirers. And when I read Aravind Adiga I was reminded about the Contractor’s famous words.

Adiga, through his reportage and columns in the venerated Time magazine, always amused me. He packed much punch in simple words and sentences and it did wonders. He still does that; he is quite young, too. And when I opened his debut novel to savour, I knew what I was expecting.

The novel in question, by now discussed to death, is treatise to the condition the Indian nation is in. Adiga searches for the impossible. He takes the last mile, where none of today’s journalist (if you can call anyone by that moniker) would tread: in a hard way; the weather-beaten way. And, thus, exploring a story he wanted to narrate — in an inimitable style not many a scribe-fictionist in India could easily achieve to do.

Like the writing, the story of White Tiger, too, is reasonably effortless. Born in abject poverty (a pig’s life is much better than him), Balram Halwai (whose age is unknown) is the son of a rickshaw puller. He was taken out of the school to work in a teashop and through various meanderings he somehow gets a break when a rich village landlord hires him as a driver for his son, his daughter-in-law and their two Pomeranian dogs.

From behind the wheel of a Honda he explores the metropolis of Delhi with a gleeful eye. And since then his life is on a rollercoaster ride. He learns English. He sees the dark façade behind the life of many rich people in Delhi and their moral debauchery. Balram’s language and his scorn for the rich only increases as time passes — so does his ambition to become a rich man at a time when the country is going through a new-fangled economic boom, primarily BPO operation.

To cut the story short, Balram eventually murders the landlord’s son (by then the daughter-in-law has left the son) and steals the son’s money to start life anew in another booming, glitzy city: Bangalore.

Balram kicks off an entrepreneurial venture, of hiring vehicles to ply BPO employees, and he has to grease several palms to achieve a dream of a big man in these times.

The novel is a telling tale of two Indias: Balram’s journey to achieve his goals is totally amoral and at times very nasty; it shows both the good and bad sides of today’s make-belief world. Nevertheless, most of the times the novel is uproariously funny, too, and Balram keeps a bold face even when he learns his entire family has been massacred by the landlord’s goons.

White Tiger is written in a novel way: in the form of letters to the Chinese Premier from ‘The White Tiger’, which is Balram. This debut work explores and defies all conventional norms of feel-good writing and comes as a cruel testimony of today’s murky world where only money counts.

Adiga’s is a voice to be watched and White Tiger is a worthy addition to your bookshelf. I am deeply impressed.

-- Deccan Herald

1 comment:

Laju K. said...

Well, Sunil, the author Aravind Adiga won the Booker Prize this year, making him the third first-time novelist. Congrats to Aravind! and you gave a positive review.....