Location: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

The permanent temptation of life is to confuse dreams with reality. The permanent defeat of life is when dreams are surrendered to reality.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Rooster Coop trap

India Shining was the campaign slogan for a new generation of Indians, for whom the surging stock indices, burgeoning malls, swanky office buildings, IT and mobile phones were tangible affirmation of the coming of age of a country that was mired, till yesterday, in everything retrograde...corruption, a failing health development index, poverty, inadequate health facilities, lack of potable drinking water and an apathy in looking for a solution. The biggest mechanism that brought an end to the sordidness that was old India was the medium of television and the 'national news channels'. IT revolution had made India an economic superpower and mobile phones redefined communication. India started producing millionaires and we had our own silicon city. Every mall that was built added one more brick to the success story. Urban India never had it so good and the news channels and their news stories complemented and celebrated new India. We were ready to take on the world. Health development index as a measure to gauge social and economic well being was given a short shrift, while the concerns of the industry houses and the IT czars were given paramount importance by a government who existed solely for the gratification of itself and be complicit in its pandering of big business. What can you say when the upswings and downswings of the stock market is used as a mirror to reflect the economic well being of a population of over a billion people, half of who do not have access to clean drinking water...forget health care, education and equal opportunity.

The White Tiger, Arvind Adiga's debut novel, is a story of the new India, albeit told using a protagonist who comes in from the 'Darkness'. This is the India you don't find mentioned around you. Here the villages don't resemble the virgin, verdant beauty of a Yash Raj blockbuster. This is the India that you see around you everyday, but choose to be blind about. This is the story of India you see at traffic signals in most metros, this is the India you recoil from as you watch from inside your air-conditioned cars.

The eponymous protagonist, Balram Halwai, is a driver with a rich guy in Delhi, one among the millions on whom the light hasn't shone yet. While tremulously he has learnt to accept his servility, Balram also realizes what goes on around him and though resentment is creeping in slowly he fails to act on it, caught as he is in his 'Rooster Coop' mentality. The servitude of the community bound within the 'Rooster Coop' is such that even if the 'key of his emancipation is given to him, he will throw it right back at you'. Gradually he picks up on all the traits by which servants can get back at their masters and that include inflated car maintenance bills, pilfering of petrol, lying and plotting his way up the servant chain. All this while his mind is festering with the germ of an idea to break free from such a non-existent existence. He wonders about being like his master, being able to walk into that swanky mall without being stopped. But to get out of the 'Rooster Coop' be the white tiger, that which comes once in a lifetime, he has to break free and that will mean rising above his servile existence, and if it means having to commit a cold blooded murder, if it means that his whole family will be killed, he has no other choices and no regrets either. It is not easy for someone who was born in the 'Darkness' with no hope, to become a part of the economic prosperity that is the new India. It will involve sacrifices.

The story narrated in the form of letters to the Chinese Premier who is about to make a visit to India, is not novel or new. We have read a lot about all the wheelings and dealings that go about in the pursuit of success. But Adiga brings to this a topicality that has been ignored by the powers that are work. His India is populated by people who come from the villages that we don't see on the NDTVs and the CNN-IBNs, his India is populated by corrupt politicians and bribe giving masters who have come to expect their superiority over others as a matter of fact. His India is not the one we see in those glossy posters given out by the tourism department. This is an India where everybody can be bought and elections are rigged and the Government exists only for the upper middle class.

Adiga's writing is quite easy and direct to the point of being too explanatory. His writing is fairly simple and quite literal in its transcription of the ideas and anger that went into the making of this epistolery piece of work. But unlike the writing, there is a lot of profundity to the the questions that arise out of this story of another successful entrepreneur. Though I found it to be digressing in parts, the core remained an angry look at the dichotomy that is our country today. This is almost a satire, except that I didn't find it to be an exaggeration and neither was it too distanced from reality. Some may complain that by highlighting the plight of the so called 'under privileged' or the 'dis-enfranchised', Adiga has missed the point about the success of the IT generation and the privileges it has accorded to the rising middle class, but at the same time one can argue that, for too long have we been wearing pink glasses and for far too long we have deluded ourselves about India having arrived...we haven't arrived when the divide between the have and the have-nots are increasing, when the gains of one section of the society does not percolate down to those who require assistance, we haven't arrived until the Balram Halwai's of our land do not need to resort to extreme measures to be a part of the India Shining campaign.

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Blogger rampantheart said...

Can't wait to read the book. The review's very useful and from what i gather, the story is unlike the contemporary "satirical" works which never fail to irritate me. Awesome!Well, you put it right when you said we all are living in delusion. But, who do we blame for the goddamn delusion?Blood sucking Politicians and the ever-stupid existentialists? uh, huh!The answer is beyond the scope of this blog post!

June 29, 2008 8:28 AM  
Blogger Lena said...

that was a wonderful review, one of those after which you would want to read the book :)
Every once in a while a writer appears who would prefer to write about reality as it is instead of writing about illusion we created for ourselves. Being blinded by our own success and opportunities we miss to see real life around us with all its drawback and negative issues. Thats in human nature only.

July 03, 2008 3:27 AM  
Blogger redwaterstew said...

Good review ..have the get hold of the book… but how does one get out this guilt of being born privileged. I can write ..i can make movies.. but I cant give up my vices …. am trying to though :-) but where are the answers… and how do we make converts from the india shiners …maybe bomb the stock markets

You cant just see the india story as black and white..there has been some genuine betterment….but we are too huge a nation for it to reach everywhere. ….the nehurivian model also didn’t do us much good in fifty years…. maybe that why the rishis invented karma and rebirth…..there has to be some way to rationalize all this

but if you have to get the real india start reading regional literature..for a start get hold of the katha short stories.. translations of the best short stories from across the regional languages….am trying shun the indian english writers..they are so hyped...almost like rock stars….the same markets operating there too.. Maybe you will have to do IIM to be writer in 10 years ….I am tired of shit being marketed as literature… this writer seems to be different though…

July 03, 2008 5:49 AM  
Blogger ReadnRyte said...

Rampentheart : Who do we blame...why not ourselves? Why not the apathy in which we have landed ourselves in?

Lena : Yes, we have been blinded...but is blaming human nature really the answer? I believe we have stopped caring anymore, and that is a dangerous place to be in...

Redwaterstew : To many issues to grapple with. But am not sure you really should be guilty for having been born privilaged, I believe that privilages accord you greater responsibilities. I was having similar discussion with a friend about the vacuousness of my existence now...I feel kinda empty inside as if I am wasting my life away. Feel that, for someone as lucky as I have been in life, I am not doing anything that gives me a sense of satisfaction. It's not that my creature comforts are not being has been and more, it is not as if I don't have hedonistic pleasures that I don't cater to...I do...yet despite my happy situation...I feel kinda hollow inside...why?

I also agree that to understand India, we need to go back to its local literature....but getting hold of them are a pain. But yes, I will follow your suggestion.
Indian writers in english are like the new age celebs...articulate, well educated (flaunting thier IIMs credentials, as if that automatically makes them an authority) and disconnected from reality. I am not going to hedge any bets for Adiga too, as I really wouldn't know if his debut was a result of actual angst or like you say, an easy way of getting into the limelight. But yes, it was refreshing to read a book that did not pander to the lowest common denominator - which maybe one of the reasons why it didnt get as much press as say...that Bhagat fellow.

Thanks all of you for visiting...


July 03, 2008 6:41 AM  
Blogger drpk said...

sir,your profile statement was truly amazing and touching. people round the world, especially in india have a tendency to choose money and comfort over their dreams. how can people bother about their country when they dont even bother to listen to their heart????? this may be out of the topic but i would like you to think about it , even if it is for a fraction of second.

May 01, 2009 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the thrilling review! I have a request: could you be so kind and send me to my email your real name? I'm currently writing a university paper on 'The White Tiger' and would like to quote you or present your point of view. I'd be eternally grateful,


March 31, 2012 12:06 PM  

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