The White Tiger: A Novel
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A stunning literary debut critics have likened to Richard Wright’s Native Son, The White Tiger follows a darkly comic Bangalore driver through the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society. “This is the authentic voice of the Third World, like you've never heard it before” (John Burdett, Bangkok 8).
The white tiger of this novel is Balram Halwai, a poor Indian villager whose great ambition leads him to the zenith of Indian business culture, the world of the Bangalore entrepreneur. On the occasion of the president of China’s impending trip to Bangalore, Balram writes a letter to him describing his transformation and his experience as driver and servant to a wealthy Indian family, which he thinks exemplifies the contradictions and complications of Indian society.
Recalling The Death of Vishnu and Bangkok 8 in ambition, scope, The White Tiger is narrative genius with a mischief and personality all its own. Amoral, irreverent, deeply endearing, and utterly contemporary, this novel is an international publishing sensation—and a startling, provocative debut.
He went into the room; I followed, still crouched over. He bent low to make his way through the doorway—the doorway was built for undernourished servants, not for a tall, well-fed master like him. He looked at the ceiling dubiously. "How awful," he said. Until then I had never noticed how the paint on the ceiling was peeling off in large flakes, and how there were spiderwebs in every corner. I had been so happy in this room until now. "Why is there such a smell? Open the windows. " He sat down on Ram Persad's bed and poked it with his fingertips.
How long ago was it that we were there, Balram? Six months ago? " "Longer than that, sir. " I counted the months off on my fingers. "Eight months ago. " He counted the months too. "Why, you're right. " I folded the hundred-rupee note and put it in my chest pocket. "Thank you for this, sir," I said, and turned the ignition key. Early next morning I walked out of Buckingham B onto the main road. Though it was a brand-new building, there was already a leak in the drainage pipe, and a large patch of sewage darkened the earth outside the compound wall; three stray dogs were sleeping on the wet patch.
You see, I am in the Light now, but I was born and raised in Darkness. But this is not a time of day I talk about, Mr. Premier! I am talking of a place in India, at least a third of the country, a fertile place, full of rice fields and wheat fields and ponds in the middle of those fields choked with lotuses and water lilies, and water buffaloes wading through the ponds and chewing on the lotuses and lilies. Those who live in this place call it the Darkness. Please understand, Your Excellency, that India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness.
I had nothing but this driver in front of me for five nights. Now at last I have someone real by my side: you. " I went up to the apartment with them; the Mongoose wanted me to make a meal for them, and I made a daal and chapattis, and a dish of okra. I served them, and then I cleaned the utensils and plates. During dinner, the Mongoose said, "If you're getting depressed, Ashok, why don't you try yoga and meditation? There's a yoga master on TV, and he's very good—this is what he does every morning on his program.
Understand, now, how hard it is for a man to win his freedom in India. So much for the place. Now for the people. Your Excellency, I am proud to inform you that Laxmangarh is your typical Indian village paradise, adequately supplied with electricity, running water, and working telephones; and that the children of my village, raised on a nutritious diet of meat, eggs, vegetables, and lentils, will be found, when examined with tape measure and scales, to match up to the minimum height and weight standards set by the United Nations and other organizations whose treaties our prime minister has signed and whose forums he so regularly and pompously attends.