First the coincidence-the story almost entirely shuttles between two Indian metros-Delhi and Bangalore. And I happened to read the book on my way back to Delhi from Bangalore. The eerie resemblance of the journey of Balram Halwai from the ‘darkness’ of Laxmangarh to the lights of the entrepreneurial chandelier in Bangalore to my strange journey was enough of a catalyst to produce this post in the blog after a long while. Also being called ‘the white tiger’ by your girlfriend, for an entirely different set of reasons mind you, does help to incite the creative flow even after a long self-imposed hiatus.
But the coincidence is just part of the story-may be just a prologue. The crux is the outstanding raconteur in Aravind Adiga and his observational powers of the India around himself. In a recent interview he has mentioned specifically his trait of listening to and learning from people and experiences around himself to give him material for the book, much like Balram in the story.
The single reason why this book should be read by all of us, is the angry, dark look that it casts on the truth that is India, the India that we so conveniently choose to ignore every day, the India which won’t make for a true advertisement for the Incredible India campaign for sure-but which sadly, rather incredibly (?) is still the real India.
Sounds familiar? Well, let me give you a spoiler, so will the book, it will sound familiar to you when you read it, but with each small funny anecdote in the pages, you actually mock at yourself –as we so wilfully get encaged in the ‘Rooster Coop’. What’s that, did you say? We all know what it is in India-but read the book to shame yourself a bit more with a bit more of self-realisation. A few more gems from Adiga that really stand out:
The story is actually ‘The Autobiography of a Half-Baked Indian’. Chances are that most readers of this post will be fully baked-but we all are responsible for this ‘half baking’ in some way or the other. How? Go read the book! Boy! If Adiga and Harper Collins do not pay me some royalty for this kind of vicious word-of-mouth, then I’m going to half-bake them for sure.
Ok, bitter truth now: Entrepreneurs are made of half baked clay. So all fully baked readers of this post: I’m sorry about the sad bit of news. But your pastures lie in some other greener place may be.
“But the river brings darkness to India-the black river-river of Death, whose banks are full of rich, dark, sticky mud whose grip traps everything that is planted in it, suffocating and choking and stunting it”. Possibly the only other picture of death being culminated on the sides of the Ganges was given by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay in ‘Abhagir Swargo’-a short story that most Bengalis are well acquainted with. And how Adiga repeatedly makes the reference of this black river to portray the rotten corruption of the nation is to be read to be believed.
The characters in the story are equally familiar yet vaguely unfamiliar to us-the sleepy, corrupt schoolmaster, the women of the family-quarrelling–money-loving, the drivers of the rich, the rich, the rags to riches story-by ‘massaging the feet’ of others or by allowing others to ‘dip their beak’ into you, and the corrupt politicians-you will find the entire zoo for sure.
And if you want the true blue description of the electoral practice on the ‘vote daan festival’ in the biggest democracy in the world-again this is the book for you.
My warning again-don’t expect a huge enlightenment from this book. This book just tells us the way India is-and has been-now whether it changes in the long run-with the help of, well, us actually, remains to be seen.
As for me, the book has done its bit-Balram Halwai is now one of my heroes-for quite some time to come.
Kudos to the Man Booker committee, if ever an Indian author deserved a Booker, it was for books like this!