Thursday, November 13, 2008

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger -A Mirror of Delhi Life by Shaleen Kumar Singh

The White White Tiger of Aravind Adiga is a captivating story and an authentic account by a journalist of Time magazine in Delhi so, it encapsulates in itself ‘economic growth, the Burgeoning of an aggressively consumerist’, call centre, an IT class, predatory capitalism, rampant corruption, greed, inhumanity, absolute inequality of class, caste, wealth and religion and of course, the lively and realistic picture of metro life. Adiga has a finely alert eye and ear of a journalist, so his narrations are realistic, humorous, ironical and satirical. Adiga has served as correspondent for Time magazine, The Financial Times, and MSNBC in Delhi and has experienced the pulse of contemporary India peeping through the window of New Delhi the capital of the largest democratic nation of the world. Actually, Adiga’s novel is a confession and a series of seven letters written over seven nights by a ‘self taught entrepreneur’ called Balram Halwai or the White Tiger of the title. He addresses ‘himself with comic bumptiousness to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about whom he has learned is coming on a fact finding mission to Bangalore, this once cowed and unworthy servant wants to show the August foreign dignitary, the true entrepreneurial spirit of the country’ as well as the soft and carefree life of the upper class and the hard, grim and pathetic life of the lower class. Here the comment of Andrew Holgate deserves mention when he says:
Hardly there is anything in this book escapes scathing comment. Democracy is a corrupt sham, big business hand- in glove with arrogant, overweight politicians. Prostitution is endemic, as is poverty, which insinuates itself into the cracks of the New Delhi streets and suppurates just out of sight in old city. In one memorable scene, Balram beginning to unravel, emotionally, stumbles upon a slum and finds himself confronted by a line of men defecating almost as it they are adding to a wall of waste that divides them from the modern world beyond. (Holgate)

Though the story teller Balram Halwai is born in a village in the dark heart of India, in the house of a rickshaw puller, yet he lives in the city of Bangalore and talks of the city of Delhi. In the words of Balram, Adiga writes about his story:
Like all good Bangalore stories mine begins far away from Bangalore. You see, I am in the light now, but I was born and raised in Darkness. (14)

Besides, commencing from Bangalore Adiga widens his vision and sketches the picture of modern India- and says:
Please understand, Your Excellency, that India is two countries in one: an India of light and an India of darkness. The ocean brings light to my country. Every place on the map of India near the ocean is well-off. But the river brings darkness to India- the black river. (14)

And from there, he continues discussing about ‘the village of Laxmangrah, in the district of Gaya- the town where Lord Buddha sat under a tree and found enlightenment and started Buddhism which then spread to the whole world including China and other cities like Dhanbad, Calcutta and Delhi keeping the inequality among classes and inescapable truth that the benefits of India’s remarkable economic success are not dispersed fairly side by side. Especially Delhi life is primarily to be noticed where this inequality is visible fairly. When at first, Adiga talks of Delhi life in the novel in his conversation with Wen Jiabo, he says:
Now since I doubt that you have rickshaw pullers in China-or in any other civilized nation on earth-you will have to see one for yourself. Rickshaws are not allowed inside the posh parts of Delhi, where foreigner might see them and gape. Insist on going to old Delhi, or Nizamuddin-there you’ll see the road full of them-thin, sticklike men, leaning forward from the seat of a bicycle, as they pedal along a carriage bearing a pyramid of middle-class flesh-some fat man with his fat wife and all their shopping bags and groceries. (27)

Besides, there are innumerable examples given by Adiga which give graphic pictures of the busy life of Delhi -from the ‘Hotel Sheraton’ the finest in Delhi where ‘late night drinking’ and accidents are so common, ‘the rich people living’ in ‘big housing colonies like ‘Defense Colonies, or Greater Kailash or Vasant Kunj’ and inside their colonies the house having numbers and letters. ‘But this numbering and lettering system’ follows no known system of logic. Delhi is the place where all the roads look the same, all of them go around and around grassy circle’ ‘where men are sleeping, or playing cards, and then four more roads go off from it. So people ‘just keep getting lost and lost, and lost in Delhi. (119)
At another place the miserable lives of the poor living by the sides of the road are visible in the novel:
Thousands of people live on the sides of the road in Delhi. They have come from the darkness too-you can tell by their thin bodies, filthy faces, by the animal like way they live under the huge bridges and overpasses, making fires and washing and taking lice out of their hair while the cars roar past them. These homeless people are a particular problem for drivers. They never wait for a red light-simply dashing across the road on impulse. And each time I baked to avoid slamming the car into one of them, the shouting would start from passenger’s seat.”(120)

The narration of Adiga has brought many Environmental, Social, Cultural, Political and Moral drawbacks before the people. Traffic Jam, Corruption and Pollution are such problems which are chiefly tackled by Adiga. The life of the people of Delhi is devoid of time but is full of pollution, corruption, ‘cars, scooters, motorbikes, auto-rickshaws, black taxies, jostling for space on the road.’ The pollution is so bad that the men on the motorbikes and scooters have a handkerchief wrapped around their faces- and …..’There’ is ‘a good reason for the face masks, they say air is so bad in Delhi, that it takes ten years off a man’s life’. (133)
The people cannot breathe outside the car rather the people sitting in car breathe ‘just nice, cool, clean, air-conditioned air’. The traffic jam a common problem of Delhi and NCR is also mirrored by the novelist clearly:
There was a fierce jam on the road to Gurgaon every five minutes the traffic would tremble we’d move a foot-hope would rise-then the red lights would flash on the cars ahead of me, we’d be stuck again. Everyone horned every now and then, the various horns, each with its own pitch, blended into one continuous wail that sounded like a calf taken from its mother. Fumes filled the air, wisps of blue exhaust glowed in front of every headlight, the exhaust grew so fat and thick it could not rise or escape, but spread horizontally, sluggish and glossy, making a kind of fog around us. Matches were continually being struck-the drivers of auto-rickshaws lit cigarettes, adding tobacco pollution to petrol pollution. (137)

The plights of the poor persons who have migrated from villages (from the darkness of) to capital to find some light are also captured by the novelist. These village-people, the seekers of material pleasures have got nothing in the city and they are ‘still in the darkness’, in which Hundreds of them, there seemed to be, on either side of the traffic, and their life was entirely unaffected by the jam.
While on the other hand the picture of realistic lives of the rich is no loss interesting:
The rich of Delhi, to survive the winter, keep electrical heaters, or gas heaters, or even burn logs of wood in their fireplaces. When the homeless, or servants like night watchmen, want to keep warm, they burn whatever they find on the ground. One of the best things to put in the fire is cellophane, the kind used to wrap fruits, vegetables, and business books in inside the flame, it changes its nature and melts into a clear fuel. The only problem is that while burning, it gives off a white smoke that makes your stomach churn.” (157)

Adiga has with equal interest portrayed the bordom of rich person’s life, the people living in big apartments and colonies, roaming in Honda city or Marcedez Benz or eating continental dishes in Five Star Restaurants have become ostantions and have lost the simplicity and easy going attitudes towards life. Mr. Ashok, the Delhite’s following comment proves the fact:
I am sick of the food, I eat, Balram. I ‘m sick of the life I lead. We rich people, we have lost our way, Balram. I want to be a simple man like you Balram.” (238)
Adiga has observed both New and Old Delhi minutely. So he has painted both the dark and light colours of Delhi. On the one hand he discusses ‘The light’ the city, the call centers, high tech areas, big Hotels, sky-kissing buildings of New Delhi while on the other hand the dark sides of Old Delhi and its places and people, as well as the reality and hollowness behind the colorful lives of the residents of New Delhi is also brought to light. Adiga when sketches New Delhi, he writes:
Delhi-we had got to Delhi…..The capital of our glorious nation. The seat of Parliament, of the president, of all ministers and prime ministers. The pride of our civic planning. The showcase of the republic. That’s what they call it. (118)


Now, PVR Saket is the scene of a bog cinema, which shows ten or twelve films of the same time, and charges over a hundred and fifty rupees per film –yes; that, right, hundred and fifty rupees! That’s not all: you’ve also got plenty of places to drink beer, dance, pick up girls, that sort of thing. A small bit of America in India.” (204)

Now Delhi is full of grand hotels. …but in pomp and splendor, we’re second to none in Delhi. We’re got the Sherton, the Imperial, the Taj palace, Taj Mansingh, the Oberoi, the Inter-Continental and many more.” (200)
At the same time, he sketches the dark side of New Delhi and writes: Thousands of people live on the sides washing and taking lice out of their while the cars roar past them.” (120) Besides, the corruption rampant among the people of Delhi as well as the pathetic lives of drivers is no less interestingly and humorously captured by the author:
The main thing to know about Delhi is that the roads are good, and the people are bad. The police are totally rotten. If they see you without the seat belt, you’ll have to bribe them a hundred rupees. Our masters are not such a great lot, either. When they go for their late-night parties, it’s hell for us. You sleep in the car, and the mosquitoes eat you alive. (124)

At another place, he writes a realistic observation of corrupt Delhi-life:
Every day, on the roads of Delhi, some chauffeur is driving an empty car with a black suitcase sitting on the backseat. Inside that suitcase is a million, two million rupees, more money than that chauffeur will see in his lifetime. If he took the money he could go to America, Australia, anywhere, and start a new life. (174)

The pictures of Old India is no less interesting in the narrations of Adiga. The wanderings of the author in the old Delhi are narrated by the author in a pictorial manner.
…. I wandered further into old Delhi. I had no idea where I was going. Everything grew quiet the moment I left the main road. I saw some men sitting on a charpoy smoking, others lying on the ground and sleeping; eagles flew above the houses. Then the wind blew an enormous gust of buffalo into my face. (255)

He continues his narrations further:
Everyone knows there is a butchers’ quarter somewhere in Old Delhi, but not many have seen it. It is one of the wonders of the old city -a row of open sheds, and big buffaloes standing in each shed with their butts towards you, and their tails swatting flies away like windshield wipers, and their feet deep in immense pyramids of shit. I stood there, inhaling the smell of their bodies-it had been so long since I had smelled buffalo! The horrible city air was driven out of my lungs.” (255)

Adiga at a place takes both the cities, old and new together and compares them with each other in realistic tone:
… Mr. Premier, that Delhi is the capital of not one but two countries-two India’s. The Light and the Darkness both flow in to Delhi. Gurgaon, where Mr. Ashok lived, is the bright, modern end of the city, and this place. Old Delhi is the other end. Full of things that the modern world forget all about rickshaws, old stone buildings and Muslims. On a Sunday, though, there is something more: if you keep pushing through the crowd that is always there, go past the men clearing the other men’s ears by poking rusty metal rods into them, past the men selling small fish trapped in green bottles full of brine, past the cheap shoe market and the cheap shirt market, you come great secondhand book market Darya Ganj. (252)

The characters are the tools of Adiga by which he controls and relays this thoughts mingling, irony, humour and satire. This tacking of Adiga not only creates a fictional world but also deeps into the realistic life of people. Balram Halwai, the person journeying from rags to riches observes each and every aspects of life, muses over them and even derides the fate and our Nation, and later on learns non lessons each day. Andrew Holgate’s comment is right when he states:
Irony, paradox and anger run like a poison through every page of Balram’s commentary.

The uncertainty of metros is also portrayed well by Adiga he sees people in rags turning into multi-millionaire within a night, or a billionaire into a beggar within seconds. It is a city of possibilities and impossibilities. Both are tacked by Adiga equally:
But Delhi is a city where civilization can appear and disappear within five minutes. On either side of us right now there was just wilderness and rubbish. (281)

At another place, addressing the Chinese Premier he says:
It was the hour of sun set. The birds of the city began to make a row as they flew home. Now Delhi, Mr. Premier, is a big city, but there are wild places in it-big parks, protected forests, stretches of waste land- and things can suddenly come out of these wild places. (201)

Actually man and the metro Delhi are interconnected, each one has affected the other and at times it appears that man has not only lost his originality rather has degraded and debased himself and cannot escape his decline, and this declination corruption continues in chains for top to bottom. The comment of Balram Halwai the driver is worth menlionary here.
All these changes happened in me because they happened first in Mr.Ashok. He returned from America an innocent man, but life in Delhi corrupted him and once the master of Honda city becomes corrupted, how can the driver stay innocent. (197)

Thus, by sketching vividly the metro life of Delhi, much alike an manner of journalist. Adiga wishes probably to propound that the people who are claiming India as ‘shining’, ‘democratic’, ‘prosperous’, ‘corruption-free’ classless or castles have to review their own assertions. It paints a graphic and disturbing picture of Delhi life in the strikingly different cultures that comprise Modern India. Another realist image of the Nation may create unrest among pseudo-politicians or pseudo-idealists but will touch the hearts of a humanist. David Mattin’s comment is worth noticing:
Arch-defenders of India’s claim to be truly democratic, even-handedly prosperous and corruption-free (and these must be few outside of the Indian cabinet) might balk at The White Tiger. Everyone else surely, will be seduced by it.

The novel has successfully drawn the picture of Modern India where promises are yet to be fulfilled and we have miles to go before such fake declarations- Lee Thomas is right when she says:
… Adiga depicts the Modern Indian dilemma as unique, intense family loyalties and culture of servitude clash with the unfulfilled promises of democracy. (Thomas)

Especially the financial of the Nation is the prime concern for the novelist. Richard Marcus’s comment deserves mention here:
Call centres and burgeoning IT class does.nt hide the inequities that still exist in Indian society or that huge numbers of people still live in poverty so about that we would’nt even begin to comprehend its depth.(Marcus)

Despite all false proclamations one cannot brush aside the fact that India has yet to win many fights with poverty, corruption and equality. Nakul Krishna seems aright when we see his comment:
The novel, serve as a manifesto for the sort of writing that the new India needs but isn’t getting enough of. (Krishna)
Again, one cannot stay away from the reality of our India stricken with the ailments of greed, corruption, inhumanity and absolute-of class, caste, wealth, religion’-and the present novel is nothing but the peeling off of the mask of false face of ‘India shining’. Neel Mukarjee rightly observes, “What Adiga lifts the lid on is also inexorably true: not a single detail in this novel rings false or feels confected. The White Tiger is an excoriating piece of work, stripping away the veneer of ‘India Rising’. (Mukharjee)
Therefore, one can draw the conclusion that The White Tiger is a realistic mirror of contemporary India in which one can look at the another world which is still untouched or deliberately not touched by those claimants of India shining or India rising towards New millennia, and metro life of Delhi is a window from one can estimate the state of entire Nation. The novel has successfully proved that despite being a growing economy and super power on one hand India has her inhabitants poor still and Delhi is small part of the Nation from where one presume the state of entire Nation.

· Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger. Harper Collins, 2008. (All the textual references are from this book)
· Holgate, Andrew, “The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga,” 16 June 2008. 12 Nov. 2008.
· Krishna, Nakul. “Getting and Spending” Book review of The White Tiger 2 May 2008. 14 Nov. 2008. <>
· Mattin, David. “The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga”, 11 May 2008. 12 Nov. 2008. -figer-by-Aravind-adiga-823472>
· Marcus, Richard. “Book Review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga”, 2 May 2008. 14 Nov. 2008. <>
· Mukharjee, Neel. “Book Review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga”, 27 March 2008.14Nov.2008. <>
· Thomas, Lee. “The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga”, 27 April 2008. 12 Nov. 2008. <>