On a superficial level, reading the work The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga will introduce readers to a side of India that’s much different than the usual glamour of contrived gurus and opulent Bollywood. The White Tiger is portrayal of the lingering, residual effects of India’s caste system on its slow yet inevitable push toward technological modernity.
Adiga’s novel focuses on one man’s breakthrough from “the Darkness” of backward rural poverty to “the Light” of urban entrepreneurship and what americans would probably describe as middle class luxury. The story centers on Balram Halwai’s struggle to accept more of life than his caste will allow. Born without a true name, Balram progresses from lowly sweet-shop worker to personal driver and servant to becoming a “respectable” businessman of Bangalore. As with all good stories, the plot advances with the rationalization of one’s choices and sacrifices. Sacrifices and choices involving losing one’s family, one’s humility, and murder.
Adiga adds several layers of philosophical complexity throughout the novel. One the one hand, this a work outlining the persistence of slavery, not only in Indian culture, but modern culture as well. Balram is an aberration, an Indian who defies his culture not only in the pursuit of “entrepreneurship” but also the pursuit of being a free and true man. Adiga compares most Indians living in the lower castes to being chickens suffocating in a great coop, unable and even unwilling and perhaps proud of it, to better their lot in life. It is only when Balram finally realizes in his anger that the rich always get the best in life and the poor always get the leftovers that he makes the choices that cannot be reversed.
The greater psychological slavery realized by Balram is perhaps akin to something Nietzsche may have said regarding god being dead. Adiga certainly puts it to the reader to decide whether Balram’s choices are truly necessary to become a free man in a highly corrupt India. Whether they are or not, such is the plight in the darkest corners of India, for those truly grasping for a better life. It is certainly compelling, a story with choices that multitudes are facing every day. Excellent read.