The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

What becomes apparent soon into The White Tiger is its anger. This is the voice of the post liberal India, the generation after Rushdie and Mistry. While the principals of Mistry’s Fine Balance are crushed in subhuman surroundings, the one here rises in protest using the very system which keeps countless others like him in “darkness”. The novel brings to forefront the apparent anomalies in India’s economic growth, driven principally by a burgeoning outsourcing industry. Perhaps no where else in the world are the differences in social strata so stark – glittering edifices of the elite on one hand, and the destitute defecating in the open on the other.


The narrative is unique and extremely engrossing. Balram, a successful entrepreneur in booming Bangalore, tells the story of his life, with a lot of his native wisdom and insights about India included, to the Chinese premier Wen Jibao in a series of letters he writes late at night. Born in the impoverished rural India (a village called Laxmangarh), he has left his past behind to emerge successfully in a new avatar. It is a story of his transformation, his gruesome leap to alter his destiny.


Adiga paints India in two shades. One is Darkness, where Balaram and his ilk are taken advantage of generation after generation by a deeply unfair social system, by the corrupt political class. Then there’s the India of Light, which is still as corrupt, but with a glimmer of hope.

“This city has its share of thugs and politicians. It’s just that here, if a man wants to be good, he can be good. In Laxmangarh, he doesn’t even have this choice. That is the difference between this India and that India: the choice.”


The work is searing in its criticism of the fatalistic belief system that keeps millions in hopelessness, in the “Rooster Coop” of degeneration. It celebrates Balram’s release, albeit the criminal means.

I’ve made it! I’ve broken out of the coop!

But his freedom itself is a question mark on the system of law and order and corruption in modern India.

“I have switched sides: I am now one of those who cannot be caught in India.”


Balram is one of the few who make it over from one world to the other. A rarity, like the “White Tiger”.


Scathing and irreverent, the book questions the very foundations of India’s democracy, much touted in the image presented to the rest of the world. It is reminiscent of Khushwaht Singh, only Adiga is more incisive.


But regardless of its profound implications, the novel succeeds also as a great entertainer. Hugely readable, it is a page turner, with a thriller like pace at times. It should be a strong contender for this year’s Booker, for which it has been shortlisted. Kudos to Adiga, for such a refreshing and delightful read.

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7 thoughts on “The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

  1. It would be unfair on my part to compare it with “Sea of Poppies”, since I haven’t read it yet.
    But I think it befits the shortlisting. Not merely for the unique narrative, but for pulling off something that few have attempted — a view of India from the perspective of the downtrodden.
    Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance was another. But stylistically the books are very different. Mistry’s style is classical, and his characters are of course well formed. I really admire his writing, and Fine Balance was a masterpiece.
    The White Tiger has a lot going for it – the unique monologue format and the scathing observation on India’s dismal democracy included. And it is also very readable. I won’t be surprised if it eventually wins. I guess we will find out in a few more days.


  2. As you said, stylistically, “White Tiger” was much different from “A Fine Balance”, but I don’t think the two are comparable.

    The latter provided a much more holistic perspective on life, and succeeded in submerging the reader in the lives of the poor. It’s characters demonstrated that beauty existed in all corners of life, and yet, it’s critique on Indian society was as scathing as it was blunt.

    “The White Tiger” showed the true extent of Indian entrepreneurialism, and the lengths that one must go to rise up from the depths of socioeconomic rigidity. It provided a very narrow glimpse of Indian life. It was not as believable as “A Fine Balance”, due to the main characters lack of ability to express remorse and regret at any occurrence that lacked an attachment to money.

    With that being said, the “Rooster Coop” analogy was very well-done. Not one of my best reads.

    Have you ever read “Shantaram”?

    I would love to have some discourse on that book.


  3. >>It was not as believable as “A Fine Balance”, due to the main characters lack of ability to express remorse and regret at any occurrence that lacked an attachment to money.

    I think that was intended.

    I haven’t read Shantaram. I guess I was a bit apprehensive of a foreigner’s perspective.


  4. I agree that it was intended, but the extent to which he showed a lack of empathy was pretty unrealistic in my mind.

    I can understand your apprehensiveness at reading Shantaram. Coincidently, your reason for not reading the book is part of what makes it great. In reality, we are all foreigners in one way or another.

    Your blog is great! I’ve already added some books to my “to-do” list. Thanks!


  5. >>I agree that it was intended, but the extent to which he showed a lack of empathy was pretty unrealistic in my mind.

    True. At the same time it unleashes Balram’s ruthlessness/frustration/anger quite forcefully. It lacks the profundity of “A Fine Balance”, but isn’t pretentious either, like many other so called successful novels (The Inheritance of Loss, Death of Vishnu). To my mind, it does what it sets out to do effectively and economically – that is, bring out the shocking incongruity of India’s progress through the perspective of the lower strata, without resorting to the stereotypical melodrama.

    Thank you for the compliment, BTW. Appreciate it.


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