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The White Tiger of Indian Fiction

The blogosphere is going to flood soon, if not already, with criticism of all kinds of the Booker 2008 winner. I am sure about it because, in the nature of things, critics are always more vocal than appreciators. I am not here to argue whether or not Aravind Adiga’s book was the best of 2008 but to tell you why, for entirely different reasons, I rejoice his success.

Despite being an Indian, I am mostly skeptic of all English language Indian literature – simply because, most often I fail to connect and even more often I can see through the false portrayal and pointless criticism. Why does everyone have to portray India as the land of poverty and misery alone? I have held this belief that Indian authors play to the galleries abroad by portraying that picture of India which they (foreigners) are most comfortable with. When I picked the White Tiger around a couple of months back, I was loaded with the intent to read and blast it off as an illogical portrayal of India. 30 pages down, I was seething to attack; but by the time I finished the novel, I was wondering about many things Indian that we had taken for granted. Small questions of life that have no answers but every minute spent pondering over them makes life even more worth the trouble. If a book achieves that, I thought, it’s a winner, Booker or no Booker.

What Adiga acheives in the book is a difficult combination of thought provoking literary fiction without being preachy. The style of the narrative as well as the idea behind the novel are as original as could be. The plot is definitely not its strong point, niether are the characters such that you might remember them for life, but the novel will haunt you for long, if you happen to get the central idea.

What, you may ask, is the blasted central idea I have been harping on? Let me warn you, whatever I say are my words alone and it may very well be that even the author might disagree with me. The central idea of the novel is what Adiga describes as the ‘Rooster Coop’ and its essence. The never ending psychological tussle between the have and have-nots. Mind you, its no book about revolutions, though the narrator Balram Halwaimay proclaim his story to be one. It is the psychological nuances of the inevitable ‘haves & have- nots’ relationships we all have, most of the times filling different roles in different ones; that is the highlight of Adiga’s book.

Balram Halwai is funny no doubt, but more often than not he leaves a bitter after-taste to your smiles. And if anyone has any doubts about the actuality or potentiality of whatevet Balram Halwai tells you, please – you need to live in India (and not just the Metros) for a few years to realize that the have and have not equation presented in the book is accurate, to say the least. Only difference, if I am asked to point one, would be that there is no after-taste after the smiles here, it’s just a way of life.

What pleases me most about Adiga’s White Tiger winning the Man Booker Prize 2008 is that it is refreshing to see an easily accesible, smooth, and an easy-read to win one of the most prestigious literary awards. My problem with Booker and a lot of the ‘famed literary circles’ has been that anything that is drab or difficult to comprehend is often considered good and anything potentially popular or smooth is dismissed as non-literary. This pseudo intellectualism must end. Let a book stand for itself, not for pre-conceived notions of what is literary. Read it becaue of or despite the award, whichever school you may belong to.

Let me end this piece with the hope that maybe Adiga’s Booker will interest more people to read sensible fiction, literary and not pointless. Maybe such books can convey the message that the good books ‘others’ keep talking about are not always boring. Maybe people understand that books that deserve to be read are not always drab but most often a lot of fun. Maybe… or may be not; inertia wins more often. For now, let me just cheer Adiga for producing the white tiger of Indian fiction!

UPDATE: Read an interesting piece by Adiga on the genesis of the idea behind the book here

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