Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The White Tiger

If Saleem Sinai of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is the herald of India's rebirth, Balram Halwai of Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger is the herald of its fated noontide.

A debut novel of former Time correspondent Adiga and winner of the 2008 Booker Prize, The White Tiger is a black comedy about the modern India of juxtaposed poverty and wealth, of the typical dialectical materialism between those with power and those who do not.

Told in a series of letters written late at night by self-made enterpreneur Balram Halwai to China's Premier, Wen Jiabao, the novel takes the reader from Balram's lowly origins as the son of a rickshaw puller to his eventual triumph as a businessman in the city. His recipe for success: If you can't beat them, join them.

I found the book honest and disturbing. Honest, because it is unflinching in its portrayal of the human desire for wealth. Disturbing, because I can confirm the truth of these observations through personal experience. Not that I have anything particularly nasty, but I have been brought up in a family where ambition is passionately encouraged.

I remember my days in college when I would be grouped with rich kids who thought I was one of them. They would talk casually about this and that clothing line, this and that car model, this and that kind of restaurant, and I feel a kind of thrill that I can respond to most of what they were talking about and still refrain from looking like an Eager Beaver. Up until now, the bitches have no idea I just read a lot.

It is this line of thinking, this hidden but nonetheless solid desire to be one of those who have wealth and power, that threatens to crush my socialist tendencies. Balram started out with ambition and a clean desire to better his circumstances, but he is tempted and ultimately corrupted by the promising rewards of following the cutthroat rules of the game. It is so much easier and personally rewarding to succumb than to defy.

What is important to always remember, though, I think, is that desires are mere constructs, and most of the time, we desire what we are told to desire--a gorgeous girlfriend, the latest slinky gadgets, abs and biceps, nice clothes, a good credit score, a slot in heaven. In the words of the Oracle in the Matrix trilogy, the challenge is for us to make up our own damn minds.


Mr. Scheez said...

"It is so much easier and personally rewarding to succumb than to defy." - I admire those who chooses to defy the rules of the game. But they are only a few.

Nosebleed ako sa post na ito. =)

Victor Gregor said...

actually this blog is meant for "nose-bleed" posts. hehe.

Organized Chaos said...

I admire your chioce of tomes. I really do. Right now, I'm stuck with Rice, King and Gaiman (not that I'm complaining, I love them!), and I'm finding it hard to branch out to other more serious writers. Balancing books as a profession leaves much to few times to peruse any of those celebrated writers, I'm afraid.

Thanks for visiting my nook, by the way, and thanks for the link as well!

Victor Gregor said...

@oraganized chaos: wala pong anuman. matagal ko na ring gusto magbasa ng anne rice at neil gaiman. di ko pa lang maumpisahang bumili ng mga libro nila.