The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

White Tiger is what Taxi Driver would have been, If Scorcesse had made that in India. Or is it the Nightcrawler?

India is two countries in one: an India in light, and an India in darkness. The Ocean brings light to my country. Every place on the map of India near Ocean is well-off. But the river brings darkness to India – the black river.

I find the overuse of Flowers of Algernon Charlie style narrative, in general, a cheap pretext to escape the nuances of language, and a cheat code to obtain unlimited writers license. The letter format, though justiciable with character’s pesrsona, didn’t work with me either. But it would be huge injustice If I don’t acknowledge how well the two(or many) sides of India was(were) captured, subsiding to the arguement of the country being in multiple timelines at the same time or being the land of contradictions. 

The brilliance of Adiga, in my opinion was protagonist’s Ishmael(the concsious gorilla) outsider look on upper middle class from the lowest strata. Munna, comes from a caste of Halwai(sweetmaker), one of the working class laborers, in a village reminiscent of old movies. The inadequacies of wealth, entitlements, gender equality, educational system are well captured in the narrative and could be used to analyze the conditions of rural India. One illustration would be this scene where, for school records part, Munna’s (boy in hindi) name gets changed to ‘Balram’ by the registering official, and how it immediately becomes his official name at home n village, with virtually zero fuss. Or, the plight of school where the teacher is on a gandhian strike withhelding his lectures against non payment of wages, while occasionally compensating his plight by selling off the subcidiced school supplies. 

There are three main diseases in the country : typhoid, cholera and election fever. The last one is the worst; it makes people talk and talk about things they have no say in.

The most obvious metaphor for reader would be the Genesis old light and darkness, in the ying yang treatment of characters. It also offers a critique to the democracy, with his letters adressing to the Supreme Leader of China, ocassional mentions of the great socialist and spectre of gandhi through out. Balram climbs up the ladder, slowly, using debatable morale and becomes a self sufficient entrepreneur in the city of Bangalore, from his humble beginnings in his village near Dhanbad. The uneducated Balram seems to have understood the idea of globalization, better than his foreign learned Mr. Ashok and Pinky Madam. Another possible metaphor that I noticed was the usage of animal names for characters, like in Animal Farm, quite serving its purpose too, if read carefully.

In the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days there are just two castes : Men with big bellies, and men with small bellies.

And only two destinies : eat or get eaten up.

Adiga’s narrative does a valid take on complexities of class and caste in Indian society, and how narrow an escape from same would be in a village and how easy the escape is in a big city that can offer anonymity.  Only western equilent, though highly innacurate, would be Industrial capitalists and labouring poor of 19th centuries from Dickens novels. The darkness and light analogy prevails again in the suburbs of Delhi, Gurgaon which are designed to look and feel more like first world countries, so that the rich will feel home, despite the slum and dirt nearby. Even though my first sentiment was to tag this book as the work of India bashing elite, written for the kind of elite, whose idea and inclined outlook on India is Slumdog Millionaire; the complex analysis this novel can offer on multiple subject baffles me, with the temptation of extending the same at the expense of more words.

Even with all these analysis, the ones that are still in scope and afterthoughts, my feelings about the book remains the same. I didn’t enjoy it.

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India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

indiaaftergandhiText book history of India often and for most people including me, reaches a clincher by the midnight of 15th August 1947, the day of Independence. What followed then after, for more than a half a century is, usually, the privilege of intellectuals who read editorial articles and of quasi historians who are eager to pick a fight on social media under the slightest provocation. It is like those Marvel movie after credit scenes that we all pretend to understand, and then silently google afterwards.

Though my reasons for reading were, availability of a fresh copy in library and unavailability of the books I wanted to rent, this seemingly boring political book, for me, was an emotional and intellectual roller coaster ride, through the gripping history that shaped worlds largest democracy into what it is today. Guha’s approach, though a bit verbose and fat for scholarly, prep purposes; felt more like a follow up to Nehru’s Discovery of India, and in a way, to be imitating the latter’s elegant prose in process. It was an absolute delight to read with the insightful research filled with verbatims, references and conflicting viewpoints, news excerpts from inside and outside the sub-contintent, foreign correspondent views, and notes from International relations. And for the contents, the course of events start from political assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and after effects of partition, India’s very first and World’s largest general election with universal adult franchise to the events till the year 2008. He keeps the linear narrative in check with its socio-cultural-economic impacts inside and outside the country. From Nehru’s decentralized and austere cabinet, who considered Indian Independence as part of a wider Asian insurgence to Indira and centralized nepotism that followed, From patriotic opposition movements of JP to vote and religion based modern nationalism, From the various secessionist movements and foreign prediction of balkanization to the force of unity in diversity, From the displaced disposed underprivileged to the growing ‘body shopped’ upper middle class; Guha takes readers through the mights, ignominies and challenges that rocked World’s largest multi-ethnic democracy.

Jawaharlal-Nehru-1

With India’s sheer monstrosity in size, population and prevailing political ideologies, Its extremely difficult to consolidate the information in a presentable manner, not to mention the much needed escape from the moral bias towards the winning side. And there is always some information that have to be omitted, either by ruling it out as futile to the general course or to slice down the pages. For every event he has tried to get the multi-facets of the issue, from seemingly protagonist to the seemingly antagonist and finally a third person with neutral sentiment, in and outside the country. Guha uses foreign correspondents, political scientists, national and international press who covered the incidents to give the most non biased account possible.

2013_Little_India_Riots,_SingaporeGuha shifts from history to historically informed journalism towards the recent years of Indian history, which is still unfolding; yet, his search to find the first domino that set the contraption of events into motion, prevails the narrative. My feelings while reading, If recorded would give a sine wave with crest and troughs of intersecting pride and shame. India has the worlds most progressive democracy and constitution, and though mostly on paper, it protects and keep the nation in check more or less(more more I must say) within the founding principles. I cannot imagine how our nation would have been built or on what principles, If it was in remote antiquity than the progressive past it actually been framed. Things and leaders seem to be going more backward and internally disturbed as time advances, giving a temporal anomaly in terms of the direction of growth- a term reduced into infrastructures and currency these days. As much as it made me happy and proud while reading through the birth of nation, war victories, scientific progresses, goodwill will with neighbors and world ; It pained me to read through history of Kashmir, Babri Masjid demolition, Gujarat riots and the likes. I had to occasionally put the book down and take time off, and even have some casual talks with friends for obaining a sense of present, and to process the things I used ignore casually. And that is something this reader least expected from a history book.

bollywood-boom_759Author talks about an unsung capacity of Nehru, the very quality I admired every way through my read of Discovery of India – viewing both sides of question, seeing the imperfection of process even while being committed to it. I can undoubtedly verify the same sentiments in Guha’s research, which not only compliments reader’s knowledge but also questions it. And it badly needs to be challenged considering the sources where we obtain the infos from, from photoshoped fb wall posts to comments in youtube, reddit, quora and various news posts.

In a world of demagogues and blind followers too eager to hagiography their leaders in approbation, it is essential to have some predisposition towards actual history. And in this work of majestic proportion, Ramachandra Guha has found the perfect balance between Said’s in famous ‘Orientalism’ and ‘nationalistic bias’   that readers would suspect from authors identity.