‘The White Tiger’ was one random pick. Obviously, the ‘Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2008’ worked its charm though I had no clue about its author, Aravind Adiga. The cover also threw some doubts; it felt more like holding a graphic novel than a collection from the serious Booker Prize awarded types.
The black cover of my copy of the book takes the title literally and you read ‘The White Tiger’ in capital white fonts and the author’s name in orange. The cover with a caricatured tiger lurking at you alongside an equal sized rooster against what looks like red grass and the black background gives a feel of fun, dark satire to look forward to and the book delivers exactly that.
Indeed, the rooster and the white tiger are to be treated equal inside a coop – their capabilities indistinguishable and their fates preordained. The rich, the educated in India have an upper hand and perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty. But, instead of saying this straightforwardly, the author tells us the story of a successful white tiger who could break free of the coop in a dark way.
I found two other variants of this book cover, one in mauve and the other in white. The only image on this cover is of the car with orange tiger stripes. There are patterns adorning the edges and the ‘I’s’. As I opened ‘The White Tiger’, there was no looking back. I was speeding ahead, just like Balram Halwai was in his master’s Honda city driving through the busy roads of New Delhi. The car is an apt image to be on the cover, both literally and metaphorically.
The White Tiger is Balram Halwai’s narration of becoming a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore city, the technological and outsourcing hub of India. Balram Halwai was born in a small village in Bihar, he didn’t have the opportunities of education beyond the shabbily run village level Government School. Yet, the inspector who visited the school once recognized Balram Halwai as the white tiger, the rarest of the animal for his ability to read and write.
Just like the funky cover, the structure is jazzy too. The entire narrative is built on the letters written by Balram Halwai to Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier who is about to visit Bangalore in a week as announced on the unreliable information source called the ‘All India Radio’. Balram has come to know that Wen Jiabao is on this visit to understand entrepreneurship in India. Balram feels the Chinese Premier ought to know his story. Now this could simply be a drunkard’s rant or hallucinations of a criminal writing an utterly superlative letter to the Chinese Premier. It becomes a brilliant premise for an extraordinary tale of satire and dark comedy.
Balram’s transformation is brought about by becoming a driver in a wealthy Urban Indian family. His stint as the driver at Ashok and Pinky’s household is the source of his modern wisdom on Indian society and his economic prosperity.
The rooster from the cover representative of the rooster coop is a metaphor used by Balram to describe the oppression of India’s poor to the Chinese Premier. Balram brings the common place scene of roosters in a coop at the market, watching one another getting slaughtered one by one, yet unable or unwilling to rebel and break out of the coop with the fate of Indian poor. There is also the resentment of the people at the lower economic levels who cannot see their peer from rising high in the economic ladder.
“The Rooster Coop was doing its work. Servants have to keep other servants from becoming innovators, experimenters, or entrepreneurs. Yes, that’s the sad truth, Mr. Premier. The coop is guarded from the inside.”
As an Indian, you can relate to everything that Aravind Adiga writes in this book, about both the rich and the poor. Is there something I didn’t know of, the exploitation and the systemic loopholes? No, I knew everything and still enjoyed reading every bit of Balram’s journey. Perhaps the cover is designed keeping in view this humorous satirical writing, instead of giving it a serious tone.
You can also read a book review of ‘The White Tiger’ here.
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