Saturday, November 1, 2008

The White Tiger - A travesty of reality

When a journalist embarks on a novel, he simply cannot shrug it off as pure Fiction and certainly and quite expectedly, Mr. Aravind Adiga hasn't done so. Instead he is quoted as saying that the attempt was to highlight the brutal injustices of Indian society.

The narrator of the novel, Balram Halwai is certainly "half-baked" as he admits because the author never wants him to be anything more than that. He has a laptop, but looks to All India Radio as the source for the latest news, he is ignorant and cunning, sympathetic and ruthless, his emotions and feelings is like the swing of a pendulum. Sounds like a boring cliche? Mr. Adiga has hundreds of such plain comparisons. The best of the lot is "An old man in a brown uniform, which was like an ancient army outfit"! The narrator hails from a region of "darkness" and gets to drive his master around Delhi in Honda City.

The descriptions totally lack in detail and read very naively artificial if there is such an expression. Here is what the narrator says about village shops: "three more or less identical shops, selling more or less identical items of kerosene, incense and rice". Beyond a certain point, they become frustrating and annoying. There is a not a single good word about our country. All the narrator of the novel thinks about our system boils down to hopelessness.

Not even a figment of positivity or goodwill for anybody remotely working for the Government. Ministers can be bribed, politicians make empty promises, Government school teachers "spit paan" endlessly and pilfer money, policemen can be "lubricated".

Some satire is acceptable but not if it deliberately translates into heedless obscene vulgarity without respite:

"Kishan got two weeks to dip his beak into his wife,.."
"That brother's wife was finished off by three men working together."
"this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a Zoo."

Every person is painted with the same brush. There is no discrimination employed. All servants scheme to cheat their masters, the poor suspect the rich and the rich, the poor and every Indian from a landlord to a bus driver has some inherent caste/religion based stereotypes. This is not simply oversimplification, but an obvious attempt to misrepresent or worse falsely and disapprovingly represent a huge chunk of people.

I had very strong urges to leave the book unfinished but in the end, continued till completion. I won't deny that the book is entirely without any high points. The only genuinely inventive and really good piece of writing that I am able to recall is when Balram imagines two puddles on the road assuming two distinct sides in his mind's eye and starting to argue. The language is not very impressive; it is understandable given the story.

The motive of the driver is not clear and whatever is made obvious is too amateurish and blanketed with references to the White Tiger. ("In any jungle, what is the rarest of animals.."). The narrator here claims "The story of my upbringing is the story of how a half-baked fellow is produced.".

The White Tiger, very sadly is hardly 10-15% baked. It does not deserve any praise. I am appalled that some critics feel it is "seducing" or "an unexpected journey to a new India". All I can say is that, the Booker has given some unworthy readership and credibility to the pages of the most depressing book "supposedly" written on the Indian condition. Mr.Adiga has let his imagination run riot! Chetan Bhagat in his first novel was far better and most importantly he had a clear disclaimer in the beginning.


The Layman said...

I was all ga ga for the booker until this review :-)

Swetha said...

Wow i cant believe our media was glorifying this guy without actually reading the book and what it says!! Even newspapers were carrying endless stories!!

selvazx said...

I agree with you. I think The Booker Prize foundation always like somebody describing India a nation of dirt, deprived and starving. Remember this prize is for fiction..

Vamsi Ramakrishnan said...

I really Dont understand how this got the man booker prize if book writing is all about giving life to baseless opinions and inane abstractions then aravind adiga certainly wins .