To simply say what The White Tiger is, I want you to read the below excerpt from the novel:
‘One day a cunning Brahmin, trying to trick the Buddha, asked him, “Master, do you consider yourself man or a god?”. The Buddha smiled and said, “Neither. I am just one who has woken up while the rest of you are still sleeping.”
‘I’ll give you the same answer to your question, Mr Jiabao. You ask, “Are you a man or a demon?” Neither, I say. I have woken up while the rest of you are still sleeping.’
These are the lines Balram Halwai says towards the end of the story. And by the time it ends, you have no sympathy, no empathy, no anger, and no hatred towards the murderer or the victim. All you have is a big question. What is morality?
Summary of The White Tiger
A teenager from a backward village steps into the world of skyscrapers and glittering shopping malls. Destiny takes Balram from the darkness of Laxmangarh to the crime town Dhanbad, and then to the country’s capital, Delhi. The innocent young boy, who dreamt of breaking the shackles of poverty and the caste system, becomes as corrupted as any other politician in the capital. However, the journey from a driver to a murderer is what it takes to break the Rooster Coop.
Balram doesn’t want to be rich per se. He simply didn’t want his life to end like his father’s. And the drive was what turned him into a car driver from a helper in a tea shop. And boy, what a character he was!
After learning to drive a car (which itself is an interesting story), Balram finds himself a job at the Stork’s house. The Stork was one of the four landlords of Laxmangarh, and the other three were the Wild Boar, the Buffalo, and the Raven. The Stork lives in Dhanbad, where Balram joins him to be the driver to his young son, Ashok.
Ashok and his wife, Pinky, move to Delhi and take Balram along with them. It is in Delhi where Balram has the transformation from being a fiercely loyal servant to becoming a brute criminal.
A Detailed Character Study
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is a study in detail about the character of Balram Halwai. Through him, Aravind takes us through the mind of a person who wants to break the social barriers of our society and rise above the rest. And to be very honest, Balram is not unique. He is a common face in a country with over a billion minds wanting to do exactly the same.
Balram’s transformation is a result of the prejudices embedded in Indian society – prejudices of caste & religious discrimination, inequalities of income distribution, political corruption, and degrading life in villages. By the portrayal of Balram Halwai and his family, the landlord and his sons, and the politicians, Aravind exposes almost every social evil that hides beneath the deceit of democracy. Misogyny, sexism, corruption, communalism, – the author had left nothing untouched.
In the end, after studying the mind of the protagonist, I realized how deceitful our country is. When promoting, we showcase our rich cultural heritage, diverse society, and a robust economy. But do we hide behind all this? Of course, we do!
Anyone Can Read It!
Despite being a literary masterpiece, almost anyone can read ‘The White Tiger’. The language is simple (no vocabulary contests here), and sentences are easy to comprehend. However, the subject matter is so complex, that you might want to read a paragraph twice, or even thrice as I did. But that doesn’t hamper the reading experience.
Yes, to have a perspective on the novel, one needs to have a basic idea about the cultural and societal fabric of India. However, I doubt that anyone living in India has any lack of it! Aravind Adiga is a true genius of a writer, and it reflects throughout.
What I Feel About The White Tiger
Since I began reading stories, I have come across some of the most exquisite pieces of literature, and I consider myself fortunate for this. From Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ and Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather’ to Sir Arthur’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and Orwell’s ‘1984’ – they are all gems.
Aravind Adiga’s debut novel is right up there with the greats! That’s what I feel. It may sound too much, but that’s what I truly feel. See, for me, there are a few elements that make a good story. The White Tiger has it all – connects with readers, is easy to read, the depiction of prevailing issues, a lasting impression. Nothing in the past couple of years has been as interesting to read as The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.
Noman Shaikh is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Bombay Reads. He grew up in Mumbai, a city he loves more than any other, and currently works as a content consultant. His expertise lies in creating high-quality academic and marketing content in the form of blogs, articles, op-eds, etc. Noman has worked with reputed brands, including Economic Times (through Spiral Media), Coinbase (through MattsenKumar), AdEngage, Della Group, GBIM Technologies, VAP Group, etc. For his published portfolio, click here. Contact Noman on noman@bombayreads for engagement.