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Razor Sharp Social Commentary
on 6 June 2017
I would describe Aravind Adiga's debut novel as razor sharp satirical social commentary exposing the political corruption, economic inequality and grave injustices of life in modern India. This is a rags to riches parable with an evil twist. The humour is as black as the sewage water that runs through the slums of Bangalore.
The "white tiger" of the title refers to the story's narrator and anti-hero, Balram Halwai, a self described "social entrepreneur," whose amorality makes Gordon Gekko seem like Gandhi in comparison. The story unfolds in the form of a letter that Halwai is writing to the visiting Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao (at the time this book was published in 2008) in which he regales the story of his "entrepreneurial education," in order to best illustrate the truth behind the myth of "the new India."
Suffice to say, his journey of upward social mobility from the "Darkness" (i.e., the rural village with its landlord/peasant structure) into the "Light" (i.e., the glitzy urban city with its master/servant structure) is paved with subjugation, humiliation and, ultimately, revenge. This is a tale of the brutal underbelly of India's emerging economy, with its gleaming glass apartment towers, shopping malls, and call centres.
In a world in which there is an ever growing gap between rich and poor, in which elections can be rigged and those in power can be bought, this insightfully observed novel is an alarming wake up call.