The White Tiger

Here’s to the first book I ever read that made me think enough to write about it. And I need help with this one. If you have read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, do let me know your opinion on this one:

If you are as blindly in love with our country as I am, you will hate Adiga’s guts at least halfway through his book. As did I. It challenges the defiant patriot in you to think again. The demographic dividend. India Shining. The next superpower. India and China, the biggest threats to the Western supremacy. And all the other heavily rose-tinted truth we are fed on in our classrooms, the generous helpings of blind optimism we have over stuffed ourselves with. This is a book that delivers to the reader a much needed healthy dose of reality.
It is the story of a boy born in ‘the Darkness’. The Ganges, which we all have been brought up to revere and worship as the holiest of holy rivers, is said to be the source of the Darkness – for all living on its banks. The fate of an honest man – an untimely death coughing blood on the dirty floor of a God forsaken government hospital, as contrasted with the fortunes of corrupt inhuman pot-bellied sections of the society that collectively oppress him.
The book speaks of two Indias – The Light and the Darkness. Contrary to the communist images that that might stir in one’s mind, the book is not what we ‘haves’ would term a socialist propaganda either. The reader discovers as (s)he goes along that it has more to do with what Adiga calls the ‘Rooster Coop’ – a metaphorical parallel between roosters cooped up in the butcher’s van, one over another, never daring to make even the slightest attempt to escape having accepted their fate for the cards dealt to them and the destitute, the people born in the India of Darkness. The highest point (and the lowest ebb) of the book comes when the protagonist, for creating his world the way it is ‘instead of all the other ways it could have been’, looks up at the heavens and spits at God.
However, despite the entirely well deserved applause (not to mention the Man Bookers) for being such a jolt of pragmatism I have one lingering issue with Adiga’s story. The Darkness and a following taste of the Light turns an honest man into an unabashed killer, with one justification – when you are born in the Light, the most important thing you have that others unlike you don’t is the option to be a good person. The difference between a man born in the Light and one who lives his life in the Darkness is that of choice; the latter does not even have the choice to be a good person. From booth capturing to corrupt policemen, this sad status quo, according to the protagonist, is much beyond repair, which leaves him with his only way of escaping from the shackles of a lifetime of grateful boot licking traded for his dignity which would otherwise be his fate – theft and murder.
With the fortune of having lived my life as one of the luckier ones here, I may not have a right to say much in this regard. But there is one belief this optimist wants to cling on to till the very end and here is the part where I would like to know the views of others, whether fed on sugar coated reality like me or otherwise – isn’t there always a choice?

“It is our choices Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
– Albus Dumbledore

13 thoughts on “The White Tiger

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  1. There is always a choice….but seldom can a mind clouded by hunger n poverty choose d ‘right’ path 🙂 I think d point Adiga is trying to mk bcums clearer twds d end when he contrasts Blore n Bihar “Here, u can choose to live d way u want to, but no so in d land of darkness”. U know smthn….I used to think exactly like u till a few yrs bk….but den u realise dat ‘airy intellect’ is utterly useless unless its supported by action on d ground….which is wot our country needs 🙂


  2. There is so much hatred, corruption, poverty in this world; but the only thing that keeps us going is “hope” – a belief, that at the end of the day good things happen to good people. The book attacks the core of this theory. I totally agree that the book is an excellent depiction of India as it is today – of the problems, the troubles, the rooster coops. However, the way out suggested can free only one rooster, that too at the expense of others in the coop. I just don’t agree with that. I believe there is a better way out, I just don’t know what it is.


  3. u quote albus dumbledore at d fag end, he being d shiny symbol of benevolence n hope, of d perfect martyr who wishd to sacrifice himslf..howevr u put it truth remains dat india shining is a woefully contradictory term to d real remains dat its citizens r subjectd to.. “the white tiger” is a book dat could work ne indian up…i gt really really pissd at d depiction of india in d book…n yet at d sane level every1 will hv to accept dat d conditions d protagonist goes thru is incredibly truthful… adiga in dis book hs brought forth both light n darkness, d lurking anger, d vehemence of injustice n u hv to accept its a commendable job indeed even though indias depiction is offensive to every1 lyk us…a proud indian..


  4. @Sourav: Glad we are on the same page here 🙂 Thats what I feel too. The book is quite the mirror to our Society, but the connotations are just way too dark.. As I said (and you seem to have seconded), one would like to hope there is a better way for the destitute to break free of the Darkness than to slaughter the rich! Lets just see if one of us can figure it out in this lifetime!!@Ark: Yeah, its my all time favorite quote actually..And well, if the proud Indian in us gets worked up by the book, may be that is what Adiga intended to do in the first place. I guess all we can do is to not let this fiery indignation die down before removing the Darkness from at least some lives. I’m positive there is no better way to register our objection! 🙂


  5. Great post! That said, there are as many people who live in the dark side of existence, the so-called have-nots who struggle their way through using the meagre scraps that life has thrown at them their honour intact. I detest the notion that (a) there is no way that a poor man can be honest & (b) that taking to crime & violence is the only way to show strength for the weak and oppressed. Like we have the concerned 'haves' like you (A minority in numbers for sure but definitely an unstoppable force, substantial simply by means of their great intentions), there is a substantial presence of 'have-nots' looking to fight it out the right way. They may not have the luxuries that we have but they are not crude, disillusioned and violent people. Unless you add a few Maoists/politicians to the mix.


  6. @Roy: Well said! Couldn’t have put it better meself. And thanks for the kind words, except lets make the ‘you’ a ‘we’.. :)B the Change was a blog some of us at IIMB started (I just happened to be playing the operational role there). We were a group of students who worked with NGOs helping them solve there management issues like fund raising, events, marketing, strategy planning etc. The blog somehow got lost somewhere amidst the trimesters and the assignments and the resume submissions. But thanks for the reminder, I really should get working on getting the faccha batch to wake up on this. 😛


  7. @Mahima: Then step one would be to stop quoting that cheap knock-off of Gandalf the Grey, also known as Albus Dumbledore :P!


  8. Hey – happened to come across your blog :)I haven’t read the book – to answer your question : Yes, I think there always is a choice. Being in “darkness” might make it harder to see, that’s all.The most important thing to realize is that light and darkness are not absolute terms. There are so many of us in “light” who still justify our wrong actions by looking at brighter versions of it !


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