Saturday, June 06, 2009

The White Tiger

Ever so often comes a book that captures the soul of a civiliazation or that of a city. The romantic portrayal of Shantaram or the diversity captured by Suketu Mehta in Maximum City make you fall in love with Bombay. Nothing of that sorts is going to happen on reading The White Tiger. Romanitc is an adjective that would perhaps never be associated with it and by no stretch of imagination has Aravind Adiga captured the diversity of India. He has generalized more often than not and divided India into two: the 'Light' and the 'Darkness', a dichotomy that has often been associated with India.

I can relate to many who have raised their eyebrows on The White Tiger winning the Booker. I can see where they are coming from. For the grim portrayal of the hinterland that Adiga paints is not in the least bit remarkable for them. It's all too routine. It's the kind of news that dominates the local newspapers of a region, news about the hinterland that when presented to us in a book fails to excite us. And this is what perhaps won the Booker for Adiga: an almost brutal view of India's interior and, I daresay, reality.

While I do not completely agree with his dichotomy, it is something that has more than an element of truth about it. The condition in the states of Bihar, U.P., Jahrkhand etc, the 'Darkness' as Adiga puts it is not much different from what he has described. Roll back the last few years of reforms and you may find the description to be eerily true. The rampant corruption, the absence of development, the oppression it's all in there. Adiga has succeeded in bringing out the worst in his characters.

The lack of diversity in the book is one thing that stands out and that is perhaps due to the choice of the protagonist. I am not quite sure if the protagonist would have been able to comprehend India's diversity and since the book is written from hsi point of view the lack of diversity might be excused. And yes Adiga has generalized. But if the generalizations happen to be overwhelmingly true, is it such a big issue?

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