Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger, was one of the eagerly-awaited releases in April this year, along with Salman Rushdie’s Enchantress of Florence and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. And with the kind of critical reception it got, it is not surprising that the novel, which brings to the literary realm the two countries within one India – “the India of darkness and the India of light” – has made it to the longlist for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
While we will have to wait till September to know if Aravind stays in the fray for the prestigious prize, the author himself is “very grateful to the committee for having picked me – a first-time novelist”. Says Aravind, “I’m delighted that the faith that my publishers have shown in me has been vindicated.”
Significantly, the Booker longlist has five first-time novelists on the list, including Pakistan-born and UK-based Mohammed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes).
Did Aravind foresee literary acclaim coming his way from his very first novel? “Getting published is itself a very unlikely dream these days – the process is difficult and taxing. Anything beyond the fact of publication is a huge bonus,” says the author, whose delight is doubled to see Salman Rushdie and Amitav
Ghosh, who have been his “literary heroes since childhood”, in the longlist. “It’s an absolute honour and dream,” he adds.
Talking about the novel, Aravind, Time magazine’s Asia correspondent, says, “It came out of my experience while travelling through India as a reporter and talking to people of different communities and backgrounds. It is also a novel about
the amazing and paradoxical city of New Delhi, which has displaced Mumbai as the great Indian city.”
The White Tiger is in the form of letters written over a period of seven nights to Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier, from Balram Halwai, the Bengaluru-based businessman (the white tiger of the novel) and an erstwhile chauffeur who murders his employer,
Ashok, in a desperate attempt for upward social mobility.
The novel shows the flip side of shining India and has been hailed for exposing its stark underbelly and the darkness that swaddles its cities. Aravind, however, doesn’t agree on this count. “I don’t think this characterisation of the novel as an
exposé of the ‘underbelly’ of the economic boom is correct. I hope the readers will see that it is a novel, and not a polemic; it is not a social or political document, but a work of literature, meant to entertain and provoke.”
Aravind argues that the views expressed in the novel by its protagonist shouldn’t be “confused” with those of the author’s. “The basic point I’m trying to make is that the novel is narrated by a self-confessed scoundrel and murderer, so the reader knows from the first to take his views with a grain of salt, or more,” he says.
The author doesn’t agree with some reviewers who have seen it as an “attack on the economic boom in India”. He says, “This is unfortunate; it is not my vision of the novel. I am a novelist, and I am trying to dramatise and highlight a situation.”
The author is happy that many readers have spotted what some reviewers have “missed”: that this is a novel with a sense of humour and irony and paradox. He is hopeful that each person will “just concentrate on the book and its story and ignore whatever else he or she has heard about the book”.
The novel also incorporates the deeply-rooted culture of corruption in India and its elite feeding off their resources to vices such as bribery. While India is inching its way towards emerging as a “superpower”, there are vast swathes of its population that remain far from reaping the benefits of globalisation. While the culture of capitalism has made the rich richer, India continues to die in its villages. It is this aspect of India’s economic growth that has engaged Aravind. And the novel only captures the lopsided growth of India’s economy. “The current economic boom is
great, but its benefits should reach all parts of society. I think my views are fairly common-sensical on this topic,” concludes Aravind.