A splendid piece of writing!
The book is gripping right from the word go. Laced with relentless scintillating humour and satire, Aravind Adiga pierces through the glossy crust and scum of democratic and shining India with ruthless impartiality and lethal audacity to bring to light the rotten core and bitter facade of an ailing third world society threadbare. The filth and garbage, sewage and waste, poverty and hunger, grime and smoke, corruption and pretence coupled with the irony of conventional belief systems and gods that engulf a typical third world nation have been emphatically unveiled. In a nutshell, a place where a water buffalo being productive ‘member’ of a family is far more valuable then a liability of an unwanted feeding mouth.
The story revolves around and covers the shrewd but cunning journey and transition of a downtrodden rural child to a successful entrepreneur from Munna to Balram Halwai and ultimately to Ashok Sharma.
During the course of this discovery and narrative, the author exposes what the democracy brings to and how is it interpretated by a common living man in India _ The contradictions that suffuse every pore of a class ridden and stratified social structure that lend all the inertia against any prospective change. Not just the gulf that divides the society in various castes and segments but the multiple religious, belief systems and creed silos that are prevalent.
Drawing an indirect comparison and alluding to it, on more than one occasion, the writer blames parliamentary democracy as a principal determinant that forces India to lag behind China. At the same time the mockery of socialist forces and Communist China are evident. He sees the parliamentary democracy system and the nexus that it invariably develops between the elite, feudals, landlords and the politicians and the police as the vice and protective barrier that shields and guards the status quo. As he goes
I am not a politician or a parliamentarian. Not one of those extraordinary men who can kill and move on, as if nothing had happened. It took me four weeks in Bangalore to calm my nerves.”
”I gather you yellow skinned men, despite your triumphs in sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, still don’t have democracy. Some politician on the radio was saying that’s why we Indians are going to beat you: we may not have sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, but we do have democracy.
If I were making a country, I’d get the sewage pipes first then the democracy, then I’d go about giving pamphlets and statues of Gandhi to other people, but what do I know? I’m just a murderer!”
While the line that hits the nail on the head follows
”….parliamentary democracy, Father. We will never catch up with China for this single reason.”
The scribe uses an interesting analogy of the Rooster Coop to describe the element of the servitude and dichotomy of the system that divides the society into the elites and the masses. He compares a common man to a rooster who is being knocked around in a cramped space jostling and pecking for his survival in all that shit and stench. Watching his mates being slaughtered and their blood and innards lying here and there, he knows exactly what is in store for him but still does not rise to rebellion to question his ultimate fate. The following passage highlites the phenomenon thereby:
”A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent – as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way – to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse”
But not our white tiger, Balram Halwai. On the contrary, he accepts the key gratefully from his tender hearted master Ashok Sharma to mask his identity. As does his role model the bus conductor Vijay, who coming from a family of pig herds, illiterate and low caste, instinctively knows how to carve his way right to the top into the power echelons.
America returned Ashok is a misfit in the society. He cannot reconcile and come to terms with prevailing moral values, sprawling exploitation and filthy corruption that is rampant. Ashok finds himself at odds with the system. But relishing the intrinsic luxury of being a born landlord, that he is naturally entitled to, he prefers India as a living place. Oscillating between the rigid demands of his role in his family and social setup and the voice of his conscious, he is recognized as a weak link and a soft target by the observant and probing Balram standing on the far side of the abyss. Thus he is earmarked as a victim to unleash the simmering rage and angst, brewing for years, amidst all the communal tension and class disparity. Recognizing the possibility as perhaps his only opportunity to liberation and escape from the entrapment and rut that he is destined for, he murders his master and adopts his identity and makes away with a large sum of bribe money that was supposed to be paid to settle a case of tax evasion. The quantum leap lands Balram in the world of opportunity and entrepreneurship far from the grip and jaws of the vicious circle that had swallowed him for years. Nevertheless, there is a heavy price to be paid; A reality that is not lost on Balram turned Ashok. He knows what his family must’ve been through and chances of anyone’s survival even in the extended family are far-fetched.
While the story illuminates the stark and bare bone realities, nearly every heave and furrow along the contours of an ailing and diseased social setup, that is fast assuming the form of a dead corpse_ A fact predominantly true for most developing and underdeveloped economies across the global spectrum, there is a typical philosophical perspective to the whole episode. And that is…..
”Mr. Premier, I won’t be saying anything new if anything I say that the history of the world is the history of a ten-thousand-year war of brains between the rich and the poor. Each side is eternally trying to hoodwink the other side: and it has been this way since the start of time. The poor win a few battles (the peeing in the potted plants, the kicking of the pet dogs, etc.) but of course the rich have won the war for ten thousand years. That’s why, one day, some wise men, out of compassion for the poor, left them signs and symbols in poems, which appear to be about roses and pretty girls and things like that, but when understood correctly spill out secrets that allow the poorest man on earth to conclude the ten-thousand-year old brain-war on terms favourable to himself. Now, the four greatest of these wise poets were Rumi, Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, and another fellow whose name I was told but have forgotten.”