Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In defence of the "White Tiger"

One of the most popular definitions of journalism is that it is “literature in a hurry”. This essentiality of haste gives this form of writing its much-needed vigour, though, often at the cost of the insight that discerning readers might expect. Of late, there have been numerous examples of professional journalists making attempts, often commendable, to write fiction. Aravind Adiga, who went on to bag the Booker Prize for his debut novel “White Tiger”, is a case in point. The book has had its own share of controversies as many thought the recognition was because of the West’s fondness for “poverty porn”.
Leaving controversies aside, Adiga deserves to be congratulated for weaving a fabulous tale around a plot which could have easily degenerated into an average crime thriller. It is the story of a man who starts off as a driver in a rich household, murders his employer, runs away with his money and settles down in Bangalore where he starts a transport agency with a fleet of cabs and does brisk business in the city dotted with innumerable call centres with odd working hours. The novel has as its backdrop an impending visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, to whom the protagonist writes “letters”, perhaps never delivered, wherein he narrates his own odd “success story”.
The speciality of the book lies in the fact that it does not make one paranoid about the dangers, real or imaginary, that any relatively well-off person faces from his poor servants, drivers and other such people who deserve much credit for making our lives liveable. At the most, it calls upon the reader to look within and introspect how his or her life and conduct does influence the character and behaviour of those by whom he or she is being served and who are likely to emulate, if not idolize, them. In an odd way, the novel reminds one of stories (unable to recollect their names) by Urdu writers Manto and Ashk wherein they had depicted servants driven to delinquency by the wanton lives of their masters. While the aforesaid stories dealt with adolescent domestic helps and took up the singular dimension of sexuality as its theme, “White Tiger” is a novel very much in line with the beautiful definition given by French writer Stendhal - “a mirror which passes over a highway. Sometimes it reflects to your eyes the blue of the skies at others the churned-up mud of the road”.
Political flux, illegal coal trade, absentee landlordism surviving with the help of an oppressive feudal order, the tricks played by the high and the mighty to carry out their illegal businesses and also save their skins from punishment for crimes committed in moments of inadvertence, all these things are presented in this riveting novel. For its racy narrative and a fantastic - though firmly rooted in reality - storyline, the novel is certainly worth the time, money and energy one spends devouring it.


  1. fantastic observation. ur observation also indicates that we should focus on beauties of the effort not to find loopholes as being done with adiga's novel

  2. Very well written, Nachiketa!