Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger: A Story painted on the oxymoronic canvas of India
The present modern India, with its diverse features and dimensions is growing with massive speed. In each and every sector whether it is social, political or economic India is creating new milestones with its progressive approach. With its continuous growing infrastructure, and new and innovative inventions taking place day by day it has secured its positions in the front row with other countries of the world.
Globalization has played a significant role in the extensive growth rate of India. The cities of India like Delhi and Bangalore are the glorifying example of the modernized India and it also represents the bright and glamorized side of the India. Although at one hand it is progressing but on the other hand due to this massive growth it has created the division also specially the economic division in the Indian society.
I don’t think a novelist should just write about his own experiences. Yes, I am the son of a doctor, yes, I had a rigorous formal education, but for me the challenge of a novelist is to write about people who aren’t anything like me (Adiga, 2008).
In India due to the unequal distribution of the wealth, prevalent corruption and lack of equal opportunities for everyone regardless of their caste, class and gender, the unbridgeable gap between rich and poor is increasing. The rich are becoming richer and poor are becoming even poorer. The deprived and underprivileged people are compelled to live on the mercy of the rich and upper class people, which is causing a kind of silent unrest between the poor people against the rich class. These two completely diverse pictures of the same India describe the oxymoronic nature of the modern India.
The novel The White Tiger is a well-structured and executed work which presents the oxymoronic nature of the India with the help of its characters belonging to the both the dark and bright side of the country. It perfectly captures the subaltern issues of caste and class of India through the letters of the protagonist of the novel Balram.
The White Tiger is written by the famous Indian novelist Arvind Adiga which led him won the 40th Man Booker prize in October 2008 and made him the second youngest and fourth Indian rooted author who has received this prestigious award after Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai.
Adiga’s career began as financial journalist at the Financial Times, where he covered the stock market and investment department. Then, he was hired by TIME; he worked there for three years as South Asian correspondent before becoming freelance. This makeshift period was the time when he wrote this critically acclaimed book The White Tiger. His other notable works are Between the Assassinations, comprised of twelve interrelated short stories, and his second novel Last Man in Tower, published in 2011. His recent published novel is Selection Day, came in august 2016.
The white tiger is written in an epistolary form addressing to Mr. Wen Jiabao, Premier of China who will soon be visiting India by the main protagonist of the novel Balram Halwai through seven letters written in seven consecutive nights. Through these letters he narrates his own transformation from a downtrodden, poor, underclass exploited village boy to a successful and well established entrepreneur. This novel is a brilliant depiction of a man’s journey of how he changes all the equations of his own life and society’s as well up to some extent to climb the slippery ladder of success in his life. In an interview with Nick Di Martin (2014), Adiga expresses his motivation behind writing this novel, The White Tiger:
I wanted to depict someone from India’s underclass –which is perhaps 400 million strong and which has largely missed out on the economic boom, and which remained invisible in most films and books coming out of India (Adiga 2014).
The White Tiger due to Adiga’s brilliant style of writing and pictorial style of presenting the characters comes out as a harsh but true picture of class – struggle present in modern India of the globalized world moving with great speed breaking the boundaries of caste, class and modern ambiguous social system which is well designed to suppress the sufferers of poverty and victims of rich upper class norms and system. Through the different characters present in the novel Adiga explores the burning issues of corrupt modern Indian society such as caste, class, religion, loyalty and issues of corruption and poverty as well. It was a different struggle as he had been confined behind bars of caste, class, economic disparity, illiteracy, zamindari system and poverty.
In the program, “You Ask the Question”, replying to a query on poverty, internal unrest and terrorism in India Adiga says, “These problems have been brewing for a long time. The causes are complex, but one main common theme is the heightened tension within the country that’s caused by the growing gap between the rich and the poor” ( (Adiga, “You Ask The Question”).
Arvind Adiga being a perfectionist writer through this novel The White Tiger covers every aspect and theme whether it is social, political or economic and presents a clear-cut picture of the adverse effect of the modernized India with its negative side effects. The social economic inequality and various complicated layers of Untouchability, discrimination and injustice of the modern Indian society can be viewed as the major theme of The White Tiger.
Adiga has presented and carved the character of Balram as a true representative of poor and underprivileged who even being poor dares to nourish the dream of achieving the zenith of success. His story is a symbolic portrayal of the new India with different twists and turns. Adiga represents a dark humor of modern life of India through the narration of the story of Balram Halwai. In other words, The White Tiger is a compelling, angry and darkly humorous novel that provides the ups and downs in the life of Balram Halwai.
This novel presents the true contrasting picture of the modern India, one the India of darkness and other the India of light. This novel prominently focuses on the India of darkness. It also talks about the Indian family, caste system, globalization and individualism.
The novel opens with the first letter of the protagonist Balram who calls himself the white tiger, a thinking man and an entrepreneur. In the beginning of the novel itself he admits that he does not speak English and he is not very much educated as well. He said that as he came to know that Mr. Wen Jiabao is about to visit Bangalore to explore it and also to meet some entrepreneurs of the Bangalore.
He further narrates that although India has not proper supply of drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transport, and but India has numerous amount of entrepreneurs especially in the field of technology. He commits to make him see the true honest picture of Bangalore and India as whole. He tells the reason of his liking the Chinese, because china never let anyone to make them rule. There are only three nations in the world who never let themselves ruled, china, Afghanistan and Abyssinia and he admires only these three nations for their love for freedom and liberty.
Balram considers him a self- taught entrepreneur. He explains that India due to its diversity in religion worships around 36000, 00,004 gods. He calls his story the autobiography of a half-baked man. In his further six consecutive letter he explained to Mr. Premier the full miserable and humiliating story of his life and also the factors which compelled him to commit the hideous crime of killing his own master.
The White Tiger throws light on a man’s journey from dark India to light India and his quest of obtaining the identity of the self in this biased social system.
The picture of the oxymoronic India can be seen from the very beginning of the novel, “please understand your Excellency, that India is two countries in one: an India of light and an India of darkness” (14). Mr. Ashok and his wife pinky madam represents the privileged class which is the class of rich, allied society people having lots of money and power to live according to their own wish in their society full of light and progress in ever terms. On the other hand Balram represents the person of darkness who never gets the proper chance to get education and achieve something remarkable in their life and they are always oppressed and exploited by the rich class people and considered as immature and half-baked people. Mr. Ashok and his wife Pinky madam remarked about his lack of basic schooling.
The thing is he probably has… what two, three years of schooling in him? He can read and write, but he doesn’t get what he’s read. He is half-baked. The country is full of people like him, I’ll tell you that. And we entrust our glorious parliament democracy…. That’s the whole tragedy of this country (10).
The picture of the true India can be truly depicted by associating it with the oxymoron, the figure of speech which presents the two completely different elements of the same thing at same time. In the same way India has completely different faces with one another but yet they are interrelated with each other. One image is of the ideal pretended progressive India which is developing at the speed of light in every sector whether it is social, political or economic but at the same time another real image of India is that it is not exactly what it is portrayed, the real India is completely different from that which is depicted in the booklet and magazines given to the foreign visitors and delegates.
One fact about India is that you can take almost anything you hear about the country from the prime minister and turn it upside down and then you will have the truth about that thing…. No!- Mr. Jiabao, I urge you not to dip in the ganga, unless you want your mouth full of faeces, straw, soggy parts of human bodies, buffalo carrion and seven different kinds of industrial acid (15).
The description of the India given in the novel is largely considered as the mirror image of the real India .The difference present between the marginalized and the privileged, the mighty and the weak is harshly but correctly depicted in the novel though the depiction of contradictory characters.
At one place the rich class people like the landlord and his son Mr. Ashok have every needed amenities but on other place Vikram Halwai, father of Balram who worked as a rickshaw-puller died painfully spitting blood from his mouth on the floor of government hospital due to lack of proper treatment.“These days there are just two castes: men with the big bellies and men with small bellies” (64).The dualistic nature of India in the novel is illustrated by the co-existence of the ‘darkness’ and ‘light’ at the same place.
The whole pictorial explanation of Delhi in the novel, at one end the massive ongoing and cloud reaching infrastructural development and the glamorous side of the city “a small bit of America in India”(203) and on the other end the dirty unhygienic small congested slums where poor people lives almost like animals due to lack of even basic amenities, at one side the excess of money and economic independence to same people on the other, people begging for two time bread and struggling hard just to survive. The protagonist of the novel Balram identifies himself with second kind, the underprivileged and exploited slum people. These two completely diverse conditions show the diverse nature of India as depicted in the novel.
The character Balram in the novel is the victim of the upper class privileged people who humiliated and exploited him because he was poor and powerless also. People like Balram were treated as tools by their masters just to be used and exploited for their personal needs.
At one night in drunken state Mr. Ashok’s wife pinky killed a child with her car in a road accident and to cover up her crime Balram was forced by his master to take the responsibility of the accident and surrender to the police although he was completely innocent. “The jails of Delhi are full of drivers who are there behind bars because they are taking the blame for their good, solid middle-class masters. We have left the villages, but the masters still own us, body, soul, and arse” (169). He was not given the proper opportunity to grow and to do something marvelous in his life although he has the spark and ability by which one can achieve massive success, he was intelligent from his childhood and the proof of his intelligence and sharp mind is the title ‘white tiger’ given to him by the school inspector of the village.
You young man, are an intelligent, honest, vivacious fellow in this crowd of thugs and idiots- the creature that comes along only once in generation… The White Tiger, that’s what you are, in this jungle (35).
The family compulsions like the marriage of his cousin sister Reena left his family economically weak because of the practice of social stigma of dowry prevalent in the Laxmangarh and as a consequence Balram was forced to drop the school and become the servant.
Although at the end Balram came out as a winner with his own talent and intellectual powers and established a successful business also and transformed himself from a servant to his own independent master. “I don’t exactly know how you organize your servants in china. But in India- or at least, in the darkness-the rich don’t have drivers, cooks, Barbers and tailors. They simply have servants”(68).
In the novel with the description of the election period and the failure of the election system of the India due to corrupt and illegal ways of winning the election, Adiga tried to show the darker picture of the country how The rich people exploit the country for their own selfish motives.
Adiga criticizes the whole election system of India which is usually considered as nondiscriminatory and transparent system. The votes of the poor people are bought and sold by the crooked politicians. Father of Balram himself had seen many elections in his life time but never got the privilege to give his vote according to his own wish instead of that his vote was always used by someone else wearing his fake identity.
The result of these elections instead of establishing the democracy on the contrary it actually eradicates the democratic powers of the common and especially poor people. In the novel the distribution of the biryani in front of the holy temple and the distribution of the free wine show the corruption and lack of honest administrative authority in the oxymoronic India. “I am India’s most faithful voter and I still have not seen the inside of a voting booth” (102).
The rich class people like the Stork and his son Mr. Ashok easily finds the solutions of their illegal deeds by twisting and manipulating the government rules by their economic power according to their own convenience and comfort. They used to bribe the politicians in Delhi to run their illegal mining business safely. On the other hand, poor people like Balram and his father were always deprived of their basic fundamental rights and the political freedom and they were always compelled to sell their votes whether willingly or unwillingly to the corrupt rich class politicians.
It shows how the Indian political system, administrative system and even the police adopts different standards for treating the upper class, well equipped people and different standards for those who are downtrodden, suppressed and economically deprived.“These are the three main diseases of the country, sir: typhoid, cholera and election fever. This last one is the worst; it makes people talk and talk about things that they have no say in” (98). The lack of basic necessities and rights for the poor men in India is significantly highlighted in the whole course of the novel.
The White Tiger largely and boldly explicated that due to the ill-equipped Indian education system, the clashes between the caste system and also due to the prevalent corruption in most of the government sectors and agencies, the gap between the rich and poor instead of minimizing is growing day by day. Adiga very brilliantly depicted how the social institution of caste, class, religion plays a very significant role in defining the life of an individual especially when the individual belongs to the ‘darkness’.
In the novel also caste system played a decisive role in the development of the story of the characters present in the novel. Balram was asked about his caste before being employed as a driver at the house of Mr. Ashok. He himself also knew that the master will consider his caste as an important criterion in the decision that whether he is appropriate for the job or not. Balram through his own tactics and intelligence used the caste of the other driver as an apparatus to gain the opportunity of going Delhi as the main driver of the Honda city by discovering the truth about the other driver who actually was a Muslim but always pretended before his masters that he is a Hindu.
The symbolic description of the rooster coop in the novel presents the pathetic picture of the servant class in India trapped in the cage of their master’s rules and obligations like the roosters trapped in cages by the slaughter. The complete story of the novel emphasizes that how Balram by breaking the rooster coop of age long obligation and suppression came out in a successful reversal role and from servant became master of his own by breaking the shackles of the caste and class assigned by the biased and unjust society of the upper and rich class people.
I think the rooster coop needs people like me to break it. It needs masters like Mr. Ashok – who, for all his numerous virtues, was not much of a master- to be weeded out, and exceptional servants like me to replace them…. I’ve made it! I’ve broken out of the coop (320).
The plot of the white tiger is set in the modern day world. It replaces the ideal imaginative picture of the progressive India which is full of the illusions with the true and honest picture of the real India which is divided into two completely different segments one is of light and other is of darkness.
Balram represents the proportion of those poor people who are the sufferers of the injustice and inequality prevalent in the country but they are optimistic also yarning for their better tomorrow and to walk ahead in the race of the life. Although Balram is just a servant but he always nourishes the dream of becoming rich men like his master Mr. Ashok and for that he tries to copy the habits and style of his master. He had seen his master enjoying life with girls and spending excess money in glorious malls and hotels. He searches and keeps the strand of golden hair of woman who frequently travelled with his master in the car and had bodily relationships with him. Balram in order to copy his rich master also tries to sleep with another golden hair girl by spending his hard earned money.
To achieve the wealth and equality in this biased society Balram always feels inspired by his father’s words “my whole life, I have been treated like a donkey. All I want is that one son of mine – at least one- should live like a man” (30).this novel explore the struggle of the underprivileged class to emancipate the age old slavery and exploitation in this oxymoronic India where rules of the same deed are different for people according to their caste, class and status.
The White Tiger depicts how the huge development projects, immense privatization and various labor reforms were playing a major role in making the poor more poorer because due to all these factors the money is getting centralized in the hands of the rich class people and the poor people are becoming deprived of the economic liberty and they are always exploited by the privileged class people due to their weak financial status.
The sufferings and the exploitation of Balram and his family due to their economic weakness is an appropriate example of the problems marginalized people face in their life.
The protagonist of the novel Balram being a member of the underprivileged class is portrayed as the representative of his class who are no longer ready to follow the age old stereotype class hierarchy. Now, the sidelined people are also changing their mental make-up and trying their best to excel and move ahead in their life by adopting the optimistic approach. The wish of Balram to break the metaphorical rooster coop inspired and compelled him to plan the murder of his own master.
Balram in hope of improved life ahead, killed his master with a broken wine bottle and ran away with the bag full of money which his master has given him to bribe the minister. The injustice, inequality and the social discontent has always remained like a stigma with the socially and economically unsteady people like Balram in India. The novel left it to the readers to decide who is the really criminal in the story, the man or the unjust biased system which forced the innocent man to commit the crime.
I’ll never say I made a mistake that night in Delhi when I slit my master’s throat. I’ll say it was all worthwhile to know, just for a day, just for an hour, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant (321).
The White Tiger is a protest against the magnificent image of the modernized India. It can be taken as an authentic and unbiased commentary on the Indian class and caste system. It replicates the true and honest image of oxymoronic India showing both the light and the dark side of the modern India. The story of Balram is meticulously relevant to the Indian socio-political hierarchical society which is biased and unjust towards the common and financially unhealthy people.
The rebellious attitude of Balram, his planning and plotting against his own master and his optimistic quest to establish his own independent identity shows the intense rising urge of the marginalized people who remained completely neglected from various centuries.
This paper explored that how the low standards of the Indian education system, the epidemic of corruption and the centralization of the economic powers mostly in the hands of the influential and commanding people combined with the corrupt Indian political system played a decisive role in shaping the future of the low class people. The whole journey of the protagonist of the novel Balram gives the honest impression of the both the conflicting sides of same oxymoronic India. This paper through the analysis of the Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger also tried to discern the real picture of the modern materialistic India which is hidden behind the painted mask of the modernization.