February 9, 2010

The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga writes about the life of Balram Halwai: a driver turned entrepreneur. It a dark story about rags-to-riches. The book is in the form of an autobiography where Balram writes about his success in letter. Balram writes the written over seven nights.

The story starts with Balram's childhood in a poor family. His village is under the control of ruthless and greedy landlords. The poor in the village are in a vicious cycle of debt. Balram is the brightest kid in school and is impresses the official who took surprise inspection at his school. This official calls him 'The White Tiger':  one that comes once in a generation. Balram's father is a rickshaw puller. After his father's death he is forced to drop out of school. From there his life takes a turn and he starts off by breaking coals at a tea shop. Balram has keen interest in the latest news and learns by evesdropping on the customers. This inquisitiveness is instrumental in shaping his future.

He has realistic role models in local people such as the bus conductor who rose from a family of 'pigheards'. This is a low caste in Hindu caste system in India. The author emphasizes how the caste system influences peoples perception. He overhers someone say that that there is good money to be made in being a car driver for the rich. He convinces his brother and granny to come up with the training fee and learns the skill.

Once he learns driving he goes door-to-door looking for work. He realizes that people hire drivers only based on recommendations. Destiny however had something in store for him. He ends up getting hired by a coal mining family. He drives Ashok and his wife Pinky, who had returned from the US to India. The author touches on topics where the wife wants to return to the US while the husband wants to stay back. The story goes into political dealings of the family to avoid taxes. Balram watches large sums of money change hands.

The story is a page turner because it weaves into his experiences. Balram's story is almost like an anti-climax where he starts off with what he has done. It keeps your attention till the very end and you are eager to know how and why he did it. The author writes in a simple language with easy words. This novel has all the dark elements: betrayal, poverty, corruption. Its a Machiavellian story where Balram decides that the end justifies the means.