An Insight into ‘The White Tiger’ by Aravind Adiga
I think I won’t be able to do justice to narrating how much I relished reading and studying The White Tiger in this single article. The White Tiger has traversed the class struggle in India at a time of modernization and globalization. This novel has repudiated a quintessentially exotic view of India usually represented in western literature. This masterpiece by Adiga has dispensed a darkly comic and a blazingly savage examination of the complications that have come out of the closet during this period of transformation and bedlam in the modern day rising India which has in possession on its crown now not just the jewel of being the world’s largest democracy but also the jewel of being an Asian economic power next to China which has recently experienced an IT boom. The entire novel is narrated through letters by Balram Halwai to the Premier of China, who will soon be visiting India.
I was bestowed with the opportunity (to scrutinize and study this fiery critique of a rising India by an Indo-Australian writer who has been quite a nomad as he has lived in different places from Madras to Sydney) at my English Literature classes during A Levels. This novel in multiple ways was an eye opener for me about the rising India as being a Pakistani I grew up listening to and learning nothing good about India. I knew India as an “enemy state” with all the traits of a classic villain and I was as a result alienated from different aspects of Indian society.
As I got acquainted with all the dark secrets of a rising India divulged by Adiga in this novel, I came across several astonishing similarities between what goes in the “enemy state” I knew from my childhood and my own country Pakistan. I came to know about how corruption is a routine thing in India in the same manner it is in Pakistan and it is so deeply entrenched in the system in both countries that even people from the lower strata of social hierarchy think it being justified to increase their fortunes and to climb up the social ladder as Balram and prior to his ascend Vijay (a childhood hero of Balram and a pig farmer’s son who later on became a wealthy politician) ascended to the top of social ladder by espousing corrupt practices in the name of Rajneeti (Politics).
The White Tiger has shown an India that has not only lost its wonted social structure, but has also outgrown a conventional moral framework. Balram’s description of the Light India versus the Dark India in the novel, which has ousted traditional connotations of virtue and immorality with “Light” and “Darkness,” reflects this moral upheaval. Light India is no longer virtuous in this novel. Rather its members do whatever is required for safeguarding their own opulence and power, acting morally only when it is suitable for them. They are “Light” essentially in the sense that they can actually see the “light” of wealth and affluence. Meanwhile, Rooster Coop logic is prevalent in Dark India: men dutifully behave according to familial and religious values, but they do so because they are frightened into compliance with such rules crafted by those sitting on the top of the social hierarchy, not out of any real interest to lead a virtuous life. In both cases, people renounce morality as they brawl for survival within India’s ruthless social landscape. After coming across these two parallel Indias I pondered about the similar parallel structures which exist in my very own Pakistan and how people who reside in these parallel worlds in Pakistan also to a greater extent behave similarly as their Indian counterparts.
In the midst of India’s moral upheaval as shown in The White Tiger, Balram develops his own individual moral framework established on his sense of himself as a “white tiger”: a rare creature with superior intelligence that lives in the jungle but has an exemption from its rules. Balram’s embrace of this notion that he is special and therefore possesses the right to be outside the legal and moral codes enables him to justify assassinating his master Ashok, and deliberately exposing his own family to likely dreadful retribution, so that he can commence his first business—White Tiger Drivers—with Ashok’s money. Throughout the novel he asserts that entrepreneurs in India can only be accomplished in their goals by breaking the law, and that this fact justifies their criminal activity.
As a servant who has killed his master but still rises in society without suffering any repercussions, Balram personifies this contemptuous principle. At the same time, his dauntless retelling of his transgressions and negligible repentance delineates a depressing picture of Indian society. It is a world in which rising to the top of the social ladder revolves around cultivating indifference to human agonies, particularly the suffering of one’s inferiors. Balram who himself has been a victim of the callous behavior of his powerful masters isn’t compassionate at all, but he instead yearns to become a master himself.
The very animal which has given the novel its title The White Tiger also has a highly venerated place in Indian mythology especially in Mahayana Buddhism as the meditation mats which are being made from the skin of white tiger are being utilized for holy practices like different Asanas (Postures) of Yoga. White Tiger has always been of cardinal importance to Mahayana Bodhisattvas. Even the main characters like Balram and his elder brother Kishan have also mythological connections through their respective names but they seem to have distorted and inverted roles as Kishan was the younger brother of Balram in actual Hindu mythology and it was Kishan who was a bit domineering and proactive not Balram but here there is an inversion of those roles with Balram being proactive and outgoing and Kishan being less proactive. The figure of Great Socialist in this novel seems to be somewhat inspired from a famous Indian politician from Bihar Lalu Prasad Yadav (Chief minister of Bihar from 1990-1997 who is known for his inclination toward socialist policies) as the place of Gaya as mentioned in this novel is situated in modern day Bihar state in Northern India.