The White Tiger is a debut novel of Aravind Adiga. It was published in 2008 and it won the Man Booker Prize, the 40th edition, the same year. Aravind Adiga is an Indian writer and this novel was well-received and made to New York Times bestseller list. He was the second youngest writer to receive the Man Booker Prize. The story is about Balram Halwai who reaches great heights financially after starting off from a poor background. But no, it is not that inspiring story or the feel good story we hear of people rising to top. It is the dark version of a man climbing the ladder of success. However it depicts the reality in India.
The story is a flash back written in the form of a letter by Balram Halwai to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo. He traces his life from his childhood. He lives in a strong knit family in Laxmangahr where his grandmother is the overpowering factor. The family like most other destitute family is controlled by four big landlords. Balram was going to school and was a very intelligent boy. He was so good that an inspector names him “white tiger” as he was a rare species in that kind of a school. Unfortunately he is pulled out of the school and made to work by his grandmother to make money for dowry for his cousin.
Balram tries to learn the world in the tea shop where is working. Balram wanted to take better control of his life and that spirit might have been imbibed from his father who said, “My whole life, I have been treated like a donkey. All I want is that one son of mine—at least one—should live like a man”. He soon understands that chauffeurs are paid well and gets a license. He joins one of the landlords as a driver. Working with them he begins to see the dark side of life. He is sent to Delhi with one of their sons Ashok. He is a confidante of Ashok and he sees Ashok bribing officials to carry on their illegal businesses.
Halwai also sees the marriage of Ashok and Pinky falling apart and he drives Ashok to brothels and bars. Balram begins to feel his life has become stagnant and wants to move up in life and the plan he thinks up is kill Ashok and run away with the money. This is postponed for a while as his grandmother sends his little cousin Daram to him, to be taken care of. But once he sees a white tiger in a zoo and he realises that he was like the tiger caught in the rut of poverty with no choice to escape. He calls this the ‘rooster coop’. After the visit to the zoo he decides to carry out his plan. He hits Ashok on the head, takes the money in the car, which is a lot of money for bribery, and escapes with his cousin to Bangalore.
In Bangalore he is again all ears to find what he can do for a business. He understands that running taxi service is a good business and he starts the White Tiger Service which becomes a big success. He moves from light to darkness. He concludes his letter by stating that he has no regrets about his crime and even if he is found it was fine for it gave him a life of freedom which his father had dreamt of.
The most striking theme is the self-made man Balram turns out to be. The story about the dark side which is poverty and suppression while on the opposite side is the light which is depicted by money and freedom. Balram moves from one end of the scale to the other and that he does with no help therefore he is a self-made man. Through Balram, the author tells in India only crime and politics can give you the power and freedom and Balram chooses both to make himself rich.
SOCIAL CASTE AND CLASS
Social castes have been created over a period of time and misused by the politicians. This is very well portrayed in White Tiger. It also talks more about class discrimination where the rich completely control the poor. It is this discrimination and lack of freedom as a poor man that make Balram kill his boss and run away with the money.
Education or maybe the lack of it is a theme in the novel. A boy who is considered to be very good is pulled out of school to make money for the family. Very early in life it is conveyed to him that money is primary thing in life and not education and he starts yearning for freedom through money. A hypothetical situation is, if he had studied maybe he would not have become a criminal but would have done well in life in a positive way. But the story was not to be so.
Family ties are also highlighted in this story. The grandmother is a powerful woman who decides what the children and grandchildren should do. Balram leaves his school to make money for his cousin’s dowry. Grandmother allows Balram to learn driving on the condition he sends his wages to the family. She sends Daram to Balram to be looked after. Even in the family of the landlords the relationships are touched upon. Ashok also has a family who is interfering into his personal affairs and he does not like that much.
MORALITY IN INDIAN SOCIETY
Morality in the society is the basis for the whole story. There is no morality right across the sections of the society. The top officials and politicians are corrupt and that permeates to the last man. No one is bothered of the general welfare. Each one wants to climb up the ladder and it is generally at the cost of another. The landlords do illegal business and they cover it by giving huge bribes to the government officials. Corruption and its close aide crime is rampant and this is clearly brought in the story White Tiger.