Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

There was a time when I stopped reading Indian novels. I just couldn’t read another sari&curry story about women and all their problems. All these books started to blend in my head into one behemoth of a novel.  

So when I read on the back of ‘White Tiger’ that "unlike almost another Indian novel you might have read in recent years, this page-turner offers a completely bald, angry, unadorned portrait of the country as seen from the bottom of the heap; there’s not a sniff a saffron or a swirl of sari anywhere...", it piqued my interest. 

And it pretty much does what it says on the cover. It’s a very unapologetic, rough kind of rags-to-riches story. It explores the very complicated relationship between the servant and his master. It’s one of those books in which the narrator starts off with saying “I killed a man. Now, here let me tell you why,” and the novel doesn’t suffer from this apparent spoiler. 

It’s a very sad story filled with corruption, crime and a general sense of pointlessness, where morality seem a luxury almost no one can afford, told by the addictive voice of the narrator. For an interesting twist on your traditional Indian tale Adiga offers the narrator’s view on male oppression in the country. Balram, the main character, is constantly harassed by his grandmother and aunts.

“I couldn’t stop thinking of Kishan’s body. They were eating him alive in there! They would do the same thing to him that they did to Father – scoop him out from the inside and leave him weak and helpless, until he got tuberculosis and died on the floor of a government hospital, waiting for some doctor to see him, spitting blood on this wall and that!”

Let’s take that with a grain of salt, shall we. 

Generally the book has been liked all around. In Paul Bryant’s review I found a quote from a review from London Review of Books, seemingly, the only negative one:

"What of Balram Halwai? What does he sound like? Despite the odd namaste, daal, paan and ghat, his vocabulary is not sprinkled with North Indian vernacular terms. His sentences are mostly short and crudely constructed, apparently a reflection of the fact that we’re dealing with a member of the ‘subaltern’ classes. He doesn’t engage in Rushdian word-play. But he does use a series of expressions that simply don’t add up. He describes his office as a ‘hole in the wall’. He refers to ‘kissing some god’s arse’, an idiomatic expression that doesn’t exist in any North Indian language. ‘Half-formed ideas bugger one another, and make more half-formed ideas’ and the Chinese prime minister is advised never to ‘let that blasphemous idea into your yellow skull’. On another matter, he sneers: ‘They’re so yesterday.’ A clever little phrase appears: ‘A statutory warning – as they say on cigarette packs – before we begin.’ Dogs are referred to as ‘mutts’. 
Yet whose vocabulary and whose expressions are these?”

Well, that’s just bananas. Maybe the whole book should just be written in Hindi for the sake of accuracy?

I’m writing a novel in English which talks about Poland and Polish people. There is a scene in which one of my characters decides not to name her daughter ‘Mary’ after all saying that ‘Mary sounded too docile, little Mary that had a little lamb.’ And I just can’t wait for someone to point it out to me that a Polish woman in 1981 was not likely to know an English nursery rhyme about Mary and her lamb. Well, if/when I’m working on a Polish version of it will be changed to “Little orphan Mary and the dwarves”, which is, I suppose, culturally accurate but would be completely unintelligible to an English reader.