Double Vision in Aravind Adiga's the White Tiger

By Suneetha, P. | ARIEL, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Double Vision in Aravind Adiga's the White Tiger


Suneetha, P., ARIEL


Indian novels have increasingly turned to representing rural life. In addition to work produced by regional artists, the work of writers such as Munshi Premchand, in Hindi, and Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, in Bengali, reflects the everyday problems of rural communities. Premchand's Godaan expresses profound indignation and protest against the obscu rantist beliefs, archaic and harmful customs, and social distinctions that fetter rural Indian society. In K.S. Venkataramani's novel Murugan, the Tiller, "The scene shifts from village to town and back from town (or city) to village, till [sic] at last one has the feeling that all roads lead to Murugan and his rural experiment (Iyengar 279).

The novels of Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao present an authentic picture of Indian life examined from multiple angles. Rao's Kanthapura is the story of a village and its people whose lives derive meaning from their identification with temple, river, hill, mound, and market, a peasant sensibility expressed in a style unique to Indian fiction. As Paul Verghese observes, as a rural novel, it records:

  The changeless, yet ever-shifting spectrum that is Indian village
  life. The description of the village--its physical features and
  separate quarters for those belonging to different castes, and
  professions--and the day-to-day life of the villagers with the
  monotonous events of planting, harvesting, and marrying, and the
  occasional celebrations of festivals allaying the even tenor of
  their life is quite realistic. (145)

Kanthapum is India in microcosm: what happens in this story is what happened everywhere in rural India during the early stages of India's struggle for freedom. K.A. Abbas' novel Tomorrow is Ours exposes "the exploitation of the poor Indians by the rich Indians" (Harrex 218). Bhabani Bhattacharyas So Many Hungers is concerned with the peasants in Bengal during the terrible famine that devastated millions. Bhattacharya envisions a new model of an ideal village that incorporates the best of both the past and present and strives to liberate villagers from the clutches of old beliefs and superstitions.

Charles Dickens describes the exploitation of children by factory owners; he also carefully portrays the brutal living conditions of the masses, amidst the dirt and squalor of cities permeated with dense black clouds of smoke. Dickens viewed the city "[a]s a destructive animal, a monster, utterly beyond the individual human scale (Williams 38). Similarly, Anand emerges as a powerful novelist who, in his novel Coolie, exposes the evils of poverty, child labour, social injustice, inequality, communal hatred, capitalist exploitation, unemployment, human vanity, and inhuman cruelty to women and children, which, to many, were the characteristics of Indian urban life in the 1930s. Kamala Markandayas A Handful of Rice realistically presents the baffling overcrowdedness of urban city life, the lives and experiences of underworld criminals, and the exploitation of impoverished rural migrants by wealthier city dwellers.

Aravind Adiga, winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, is the first novelist who "has taken an exhilarating ride through the darkest alleys of modern India" (Prasannarajan, "Alone" 7). His riveting, razor-sharp debut novel, The White Tiger, is about Balram Halwai who, over the course of seven nights, narrates the story of his voyage from "Darkness to Light,"(1) from rags to riches, transforming from a village tea shop boy into a Bangalore entrepreneur. Balram tells his story to an empty room as he stares at an ostentatious chandelier. As a great entrepreneur, he wants to keep in touch with "His Excellency Wen Jiabao," the Chinese Premier who is poised to visit Bangalore with a view to understanding entrepreneurship in India. The volatile and captivating narrator provides the Chinese premier with a compelling portrait of modern India, stating "that India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness. …

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