Monday, November 24, 2008

The White Tiger - Book Review

The "White Tiger" debut novel by Aravind Adiga won the Booker Prize for 2008 and caught my attention. Aravind Adiga is a citizen of the world, born in Madras, educated in Mangalore, Syndney, Columbia University, Oxford etc .

The book is very simple narrating the letters written by a presumptuous self-styled "white tiger", entrepreneur from Bangalore, to Chairman Wen Jibao of China. Its a satirical narrative by a man born in a North Indian village who becomes the car driver of a wealthy landlord, moves to Delhi with the landlord's son, witnesses and narrates the parallel worlds of India. Untold wealth, corruption, hypocrasies, caste system etc all residing comfortably cheek by jowl with dire poverty, slavishness, rank oppurtunism etc. For any normal Indian there is nothing much knew to learn. There is no eye popping wisdom here, no Naipaul like penetrativeness.

When I somebody raved to me about Sashi Tharoor's "From Midnight to Millennium" my response was "its a book for the average westerner to read on his flight to India and touching down at the airport wants to say 'I know India'". The purpose it to write a light book with all seriousness but just serious enough to skate through without taxing one's mind too much. I do not mean to insult those books, such genre has its place too. So is it with "White Tiger". Its a skating narrative that takes the reader from rigid village caste politics, to habits of the worker class, to corridors of political brokers, the hypocrisies of each class (who said only the rich are hypocritical) all within some 270 pages.

One thing which really struck me was the Capra-esque depiction of political corruption. Adiga does not use labels, just oleagenous titles like "Great Socialist", any politician in India would fit that. Frank Capra's "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" is similar, Capra does not label "democrat" or "republican", a fact that might be noticeable only to a discerning reflective viewer. (Am I complimenting myself there, maybe).

Its a book to be read and passed along to friends.

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