Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The White Tiger in two 'India's

I remember seeing a white tiger once in the zoo in Vizag. I never thought it was nice though. The shimmering golden skinned Royal Bengal tiger was more mesmerising, not white one. Against popular advice, I read the book by Aravind Adiga.

I understand why people suggested I do not read it. It digs in hard to pull out the dirt of India. Or rather it tries to. The story in the 'darkness' of the Bihari village is a little made up. It is not really out right horrible or improbable but it tries hard to be horrible. I say it 'tries' because at some level it feels fake. Again, I'm not saying it's improbable; such stories do exist and even worse ones do. What I mean to say is that the author is not convincing enough. Like he is not sure how else to portray poverty. Like he doesn't really know it, feel it or even see it. Like he made up a story without living it and yet wrote the story from a first person point of view. So its like a man who is trying to paint a picture without seeing it.
If you put down a list of all the things about Indian society that can be showcased to the western audience and you weave a story around it, you get The White Tiger. When you write serious book reviews, or film reviews even, you talk of "themes" and "reading between the lines" and what the book is trying to say through the story, but not the story itself. Usually, writers would think of those themes I am sure, but would not have a theme to theme flow chart to let the story flow. This book feels like it has a flow chart. Like someone put together a story just to put together the themes. It doesn't feel like it's written by someone who loves to write. It feels more like it is written by someone who wants to get famous and spent a while researching the formula.

He got the formula right! I can see why this book won the Man Booker. It's a well brought together story that illustrates the way of life in India in the 'darkness'. It shows how common corruption is and at what levels. It shows how a society can absorb you into it and turn you corrupt even when you try not to be. It shows you the two types of India that diverge with every growth story you hear. And in spite of all the shit that it flings at you, it still shows you the hope that India carries with it and moves forward. The hope that anyone can get out of the darkness if they try hard enough. Do they have to kill for it? Well, the book also makes you question morality.
With so many deep thoughts, how can one ignore this book, even if it is badly written ?
What if the author may not have seen a village as poor as Laxamangarh other than in passing, what if the author may never have stepped into a government hospital? He wrote about it convincingly enough for most people who may never have been to India except while flying over it. It is true though, the stories of that India and this India do exist and do intertwine time and again. It is true. And so I can understand why this book won the Man Booker.

It's like Slumdog Millionaire, except more wrong and real. And the last Indian book to win was The Inheritence of Loss! The western world needs to get over the Indian poverty already. It's not romantic.

And apparently he beat Amitav Ghosh to the prize! Oh well, Sea of Poppies wasn't Amitav Ghosh's best writing.

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