Balram comes from the social underclass of India. As a boy he is made to leave school and aid his brother Kishan in work at the local tea shop. However Balram is sharp and smart and in a few years’ time realizes that he doesn’t really make a good servant. He decides to become a driver and finds work at the local landlord’s house. His work with the family takes him to Delhi where a series of events and an inherent feeling of cynicism and disenchantment make him realize that he might be stuck in the life of servant forever. In a desperate attempt to escape his self-destructive fate Balram makes a giant leap of faith and ends up inventing a new kind of morality for himself- a morality that allows him to grow beyond what the Indian social structure permits to a man of his background, a morality that allows – Murder!
The book is about the “colossal underclass” in India that struggles each day for its survival even as people in the upper echelons enjoy unnecessary luxuries and unjust privileges. The author focuses on issues of political as well as moral corruption and weaves the lives of all his characters into the framework of a globalizing India gradually developing into an IT, outsourcing hub.
Structurally, the novel is a compilation of letters Balram writes over a period of seven days to Wen Jaibo, the Chinese Premier. The writing derives strength from the use of dark humor and cynicism about the grotesque disparity between affluent and non-affluent social classes. In a very bare and insensitive style Adiga denudes courtesies common to a master servant relationship and scathingly reveals the underlying machinations of everyday social life in the underclass or the Darkness. He writes about the plight of the financially underprivileged without introducing the pitiful, dramatic tone that permeates most texts on the topic today and instead takes to dark humor to paint a realistic picture of the psychological and emotional aspects of the protagonist and the entire genre he represents.
Unfortunately Adiga’s views about the present day social scene in India are partial at best and misrepresentations at the worst. Accounts by Balram of the time he returns to his village, or of the numerous times he eavesdrops on his employers’ conversations are not his own but a cynical Adiga’s and Adiga seems to be barely trying to hide this. In effect, Balram just stands to be a naïve on-looker’s mouthpiece, rather unrealistically disenchanted. Read the White Tiger for the thrill of a murder and Adiga’s misanthropic and blunt observations, the latter a welcome treat. However, caveat emptor, the characters are pretty one-dimensional and the plot is, let’s just say- vague. Enjoy it but with a pinch of salt.
Book Reviewed by Nagendra Singh
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