The White Tiger is all it’s cracked up to be…

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger deserves the hype it’s had…I resisted reading it for so long, and I wish I hadn’t now.

It was one of those books that I didn’t want to end because the protagonist, Balram, was so compelling – a character that you don’t know whether to feel sympathy for as a victim of society or condemn as a murderer and a thief. The way the story of the servant-boy from a village in ‘the darkness’ who became a millionaire in India’s technological capital of Bangalore is told as a 1001 Nights-like evening-by-evening narrative to the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, is nothing short of genius too, if you ask me. The parallels between Balram and Scheherazade could definitely bear some analysis – the common girl who won the heart of a murderous king by stringing him along with magical stories night after night, and the murderous common boy who forces an international leader to listen to the story of his life night after night. Maybe I’ll come back to it another time…

One of the blurbs on the book said something about how The White Tiger talks about a side of India that we rarely hear about – the underbelly. I beg to differ. People love to read about ‘India’s underbelly’ – there’s a whole market of ‘poverty porn’, for people that get off on the idea that they are seeing the ‘real’ version of any developing country from the comfort of home – Slumdog Millionaire, Shantaram, Bandit Queen to name but a few. We hear about ‘India’s underbelly’ all the time – but not necessarily like this. The White Tiger doesn’t glamourise or exoticise poverty and corruption, or horrify people by hammering them with disturbing image after disturbing image. I think Adiga attempts to explain the experience of poverty for one man – why it exists, why it thrives and the deep anger and pain it provokes in Balram, and the lengths he is pushed to by his background, and the servitude he was born into.

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