Of Cabbages and Kings

August 4, 2008

The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , — Chinmayi @ 8:48 pm

I was going through the Booker longlist recently and I noticed one Aravind Adiga on it. A new Indian author, who has made the longlist with his first book. I was intrigued and very eager to explore the fresh ground. So I trotted off and bought myself a copy of the White Tiger.

And I shall soon donate the odious thing to one those half-crazed Chetan Bhagat fans. Only somebody that reads one book in three years and enjoys it because it is like a stupid movie on paper is at all capable of enjoying the thing. You will notice that the sort of people that read this sort of book have a distressing tendency of describing it as “gr8”.

Actually that is much harsher than necessary. It is just that I am shocked that that this book has made the longlist. Adiga is nowhere close to being in the same the league as Amitav Ghosh and Rushdie.

To be fair, The White Tiger is neither boring nor badly written. It is clever and very entertaining (and mocks many ideas that are taken very seriously in India), and contains some very astute observations about class and disempowerment in India. The relationship between master and servant is portrayed accurately and quite quite mercilessly. I’d make it compulsory reading for kids in upmarket high schools simply so they see all the bossing around of household help at their homes for what it is.

The redeeming aspects of the book are exactly what make it such a pity. As I read it, I kept thinking about how nicely it could have turned out if the author had used enough craft while fashioning the narrative… if he had bothered to scratch further during his research and expand and make the unicoloured chatter of his book into a rich and beautiful tapestry. It is particularly unfortunate that this book has come after Kiran Desai who has demonstrated how beautifully perspectives and threads can be used to tell a story.

I think that I am glad I read it after all, and I would suggest that other people read it too – not because it is a particularly staggering piece of literature but because it takes you to parts of the country that very few readers have been to, even if those parts are as close as the the slums in the next block, or the servants quarters in their own houses. It tells the story of the people that make this country tick, and does so without putting you sleep or making you cry. And despite my initial wave of irritation with the book I vow that if the simplicity and the humour of the book draws a larger audience to it, I will never say anything nasty about Adiga again since he will have made the blinkered Indian middle class people walk around in other people’s shoes without them ever suspecting that they have done anything of the kind.

Update:

An astute analysis for anyone who is wondering exactly what was so unconvincing about the book

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