The New York Times has come out with a mixed review of Booker-winning novel The White Tiger which we are reading now. Regular readers of this blog would know our skepticism towards outsourcing and the ambiguous nature of the “India Shining” and such like slogan which the media/film industry tries to thrust down our unwilling throats. We know that the truth lies elsewhere, but we go on as if believing it is what the future is all about.
“This grim world is far removed from the glossy images of Bollywood stars and technology entrepreneurs that have been displacing earlier (and equally clichéd) Indian stereotypes featuring yoga and spirituality. It is not a world that rich urban Indians like to see. Indeed, when Adiga’s book recently won the Man Booker Prize, some in India lambasted it as a Western conspiracy to deny the country’s economic progress. Yet Adiga isn’t impressed by such nationalistic fervor. In bare, unsentimental prose, he strips away the sheen of a self-congratulatory nation and reveals instead a country where the social compact is being stretched to the breaking point. There is much talk in this novel of revolution and insurrection: Balram even justifies his employer’s murder as an act of class warfare. Read the whole article.”
The review ends with, “There is an absence of human complexity in “The White Tiger,” not just in its characters but, more problematically, in its depiction of a nation that is in reality caught somewhere between Adiga’s vision and the shinier version he so clearly — and fittingly — derides. Lacking this more balanced perspective, the novel feels simplistic: an effective polemic, perhaps, but an incomplete portrait of a nation and a people grappling with the ambiguities of modernity.”
What “complexity” is the reviewer asking for? Perhaps the reviewer wanted a socio-economic and political treatise instead of a novel. A novelist can deal with two conflicting views as with Balram’s and his boss Ashok’s lives. If he were to try more than this we are sure it would make the book ineffective and confusing. Reading as we are Adiga’s novel, we can say he is unconventional in that he espouses a truth that is today only the preserve of a few activists and fearless writers with a slant towards the poor. If anyone reading this travels by un-airconditioned bus or train in India one can see the poverty of the people like Balram, the crushing hopelessness of the “Darkness” that Adiga talks about. But the ones who are members of the new economy who always live in air-conditioned “eggs” and revel in their lopsided and convenient assumption that India is progressing and shining will not even admit there is a dark side to their shining selves. While our television and films are perpetrating this glittering myth to the world; in the interiors of India which Adiga calls “Darkness,” people are being inducted into extremism of the worst kind – Naxalism, right extremism, and terrorism from across the borders.
Congrats Adiga for your achievement, your consistency of vision and the Booker, too, no mean achievement this!