White Tiger- Review


White Tiger – the surprise Booker winner appears to be a cynical attempt at garnering awards and sales by blatantly pandering to the western media’s preoccupation with India’s ills.
The protagonist of the novel is a rebellious and exceptionally intelligent boy of the Halwai caste in a small village in Gaya who works in a tea shop and is latter picked up as a driver by the local Jamindar. This boy – “the white tiger” – a rare creature among the obsequious Indians – kills his employer in Delhi and absconds with money meant for bribing a politician. He then proceeds to set up a taxi company catering to the IT industry in Bangalore as a way of salvation. The interesting point to note here is that the employer murdered by the protagonist is shown to be the most sympathetic among the members of his class. He is the ‘good’ master as opposed to the ‘bad’ masters, and the White Tiger adores him. He resorts to murder upon getting disillusioned with the perfection of the master’s character. Adiga doesn’t fail to mention here that the good master was ‘good’ simply because of his American education, and that it were his Indian educated counterparts who lacked moral fibre. A unique and novel hypothesis no doubt.
Adiga’s skill as a narrator is evident and the plot is crafted well enough to keep the reader engrossed throughout, making it a potential bestseller. The writer’s adroitness with the techniques of narration is also apparent from the fact that the entire story is written from the perspective of and in the words of a semi-literate self taught working class man, who has picked up his vocabulary largely from eavesdropping. Despite being a difficult style to sustain throughout a novel, Adiga has accomplished this.
However, the novel is written without sympathy or affection. Moreover the depiction of India is replete with numerous factual errors. The funeral procession is supposed to have marched from Gaya to Banaras – a physically impossible feat, and a women is shown to be leading the procession – an equal cultural impossibility. Adiga has a poor idea of India’s socio political structure, for he has portrayed halwais as of the lower castes, which is not the case, and seems to think that drivers in cities necessarily double as personal slaves. Adiga claims that drinking while driving occurs only in India, the reason being “this is not America”. This would be news to most readers. Such careless homework takes away from the impact of the story whose premises are that the solution to the India’s poverty is individual violence by the oppressed against any representative of the oppressors.
The obvious target audience of this book, the white imperialist Western world, is apparent from phrases like “Rama, a Hindu God”. No Indian audience needs clarification as to who Rama is and any reader of a Booker winning novel is meant to be literate enough for cultural references.
Adiga was a correspondent with Time magazine and travelled in the Hindi heartland on business. We presume the novel is based upon his limited observations during the short trips. The novel has received both critical acclaim and heavy sales post the award. A great business strategy this may be, but as literature this definitely does not qualify.