The White Tiger Redux

Meera beautifully weighs in with an open letter to Aravind Adiga. It proves one my pet-peeve theories that the biggest intellectual celebrity is also the one with zero commonsense.

I have read much about how you came to write this book. You have been quoted as saying,” So, where’s this Shining India everyone’s talking about? It was time someone broke the myth,” and that “The world needed to see the other side of India.”


But then Mr. Adiga, India Shining was a merely a marketing slogan and marketing slogans are not the gospel truth (it is probably the very opposite). I do think that the real perception of India outside the country is still very third world. [...] You also talk about this incident which seems to have been a key inspiration. “I was buying furniture in New Delhi five years ago and the storeowner said, `Don’t give me cash, give me a deposit of Rs 1,000 [$25], and give the rest to the man when he delivers it.’ So when the man came to my house — and he was a very poor man — he put down the furniture and then I paid him the money. Then he asked for a Rs 10 tip which I gave it him. I was amazed that this man who made a maximum of Rs 1,000 a month or perhaps even less, was taking a bundle of money to give to his master. I wondered what made this man and people like him honest? This is something people in India take for granted. In essence, the novel began as a way of understanding this phenomenon. The social structure of the master and the servants, I realised, was not anything like in the [rest of the] world”.

I, would like to suggest that what made him honest had nothing to do with servant-master but rather police-jail. Let us assume he was not servile at all, he had no family to think about, but, if he stole the money he could end up in jail. Most people like to avoid jail. A whole system of law and order is based on that.

Well I’m glad Meera thinks that way. I wonder what the Booker judges were smoking. Adiga may have shed commonsense in favour of rhetoric but what about them judges?

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20 comments for “The White Tiger Redux

  1. Nanda Kishore
    November 3, 2008 at 3:33 PM

    I wonder why none of our writers in English actually write stories anymore. They seem so hung up on social commentary all the time. But then story telling is a greater art, something you don’t learn by rote or ‘internalisation’. Explains why, for example, none of them seems interested in science fiction for example (rare exceptions notwithstanding). Great new ideas are hard to come by.

  2. Anurag
    November 2, 2008 at 6:02 PM

    I am so happy that I am not the only indian enraged by the illogical conclusions made by Adiga !
    Friends, I believe we are all astonished by the stupidity behind arguments such the furniture man one. I dont despute the fame of the Booker prize, but would The White Tiger have received the same fame it did, had it won an indian award ? The answer is no.
    Don’t you think that so-called intellectuals are slaves of their own preposterous ideas ?

    Secondly, the courier argument is right on spot. Whether it is the angadias, or any other delivery guy, their honesty (whether innate or driven by fear of law) cannot be taken as a proof of slavery. Of course, people like Adiga love to twist ideas and present them as the reality.

  3. October 31, 2008 at 7:55 AM

    Long before ‘The white Tiger’ even surfaced, I was contemplating about this ‘Situation’ where the slave has cash in his hand but dutifully comes back to the master.
    What if he runs! He can never come back, it’s not even the fear of police or jail. It’s the fear of loss of this normal monotonous but secure ‘Life’.

  4. b
    October 25, 2008 at 7:16 PM

    @atlantean,
    You are absolutely right abt these intellectuals, just like ufo abductees these guys sure have had anal probing !!!!

  5. Hemant
    October 25, 2008 at 10:37 AM

    I am quite amazed by Adiga’s mentality. In such circumstances (furniture) would happen to any person, the first thing would come to a ‘sane’ person’s mind is “This delivery guy is simply being professional and he doesn’t take something which does not belong to him” or some one may even think “This guy is honest and trusted employee, so the boss has asked me to hand over the money to him”.

    The last thing would (or probably will never come to any ‘good’ person’s mind) someone think is “This guy is so immersed in slavery that he can’t do any harm to his master”

    Mr. Adiga seems to belong to last category!

  6. Ashish
    October 24, 2008 at 11:15 PM

    I am interested in keeping tabs on all these “intellectual” guys and gals. Reason is I want to see how many of them turn with the tide as Indians slowly realize what hogwash the media has been feeding them, and shed their pseudosecularism. What the public loses psecism, how many “intellectuals” will remain psec, that is the question..

  7. Atlantean
    October 24, 2008 at 8:46 PM

    ..the biggest intellectual celebrity is also the one with zero commonsense.

    And atleast one psychological disorder. Arundhati Roy, for example, shows symptoms of Schizophrenia. It was confirmed when she talked of “an increasingly Hindu fundamentalist Indian state” on the Amarnath issue.

    Most of our intellectuals somehow manage to see ghosts where there are none. Somewhat like all those UFO abductees who swear they were kidnapped by aliens and had all sorts of operations performed on them.

  8. Sud
    October 23, 2008 at 1:10 AM

    Adiga is easily the greatest writer to have graced our planet. I mean, like, the greatest ever.

    The Bhooker price is just the first step, I will be the least oversurprised if he next takes the Nobel price for literature this year and every year after that in a row, and that too like, forever….

    Further, look at the sheer range and depth and clarity and innovativeness and creativity and soul in shri shri adiga;s writing…aaaahhhhaaaaa….. moi also wants whatever it is he’s smoking….

    I mean, exposing the ‘dark side of yindia’? Wow. what an original idea? Who ever, esp in the engliss litt ever conceived of a dark side to yindia, eh? sheer class and originality.

    More later, for now, seems 1000s of copies of adiga’s books have been ordered (by the US UK embassies for featuring prominently in all univ libraries)…

  9. Kumar
    October 23, 2008 at 12:51 AM

    Heard the term ‘Angadias‘? They are the courier or delivery guys who commute daily between Surat and Mumbai transporting diamonds worth crores. Been in operation for over 300 years, way before DHL or UPS etc.
    What keeps them honest?

  10. Shyodha
    October 22, 2008 at 11:53 PM

    Adiga clearly has ‘borrowed’ the premise of ‘master-slave’ relationship from Adoor’s Malayalam film ‘Vidheyan’ (1993). It was penned by Paul Zacharia, another writer heavily influenced by socialism.
    Paul probably ‘borrowed’ his premise from some Russian novel knowing the Kerala’s infatuation with communism. (There are more Stalins in Kerala than anywhere in the world.)

    Someone should point Booker Hooker Jokers to the film ‘Vidheyan’.

  11. Aryan
    October 21, 2008 at 10:00 PM

    Its funny adiga talks about master-slave relationship. I wonder if he was thinking about his former colonial masters and their approval when he wrote this book, friggin brown babu adiga is a mental slave, a relic of the raj and its leftover macaulay educational system.

  12. rc
    October 21, 2008 at 5:56 PM

    I am almost done reading this book. Several things in the plot give away the authors’ lack of understanding of the ‘street’.

    Honda City is really not the car old school mining mafia guys drive. I could not get over this, because everything is about the chauffer. It is just above an entry level car, not enough to absord the black money a coal mining mafia guy would invest. Gurgaon is where the new rich live, not the landlords from the darkness. The major characters like the America returned Ashok are poorly developed. I could go on and on (no one feeds the water buffalo before themselves, the poor dont write poetic letters home). You really have to make an effort to overlook these defects.

    The book does have its good parts, such as the narration style.

    I think the two things that won him the Booker are.

    1. The spitoon (Midnights Children anyone ?)

    2. The line of construction workers defecating and thereby setting up a perimeter. (again does not compare with the incomparable Turd-Man vs Salim Sinai exchange in Midnights Children)

    The jury must love these two.

  13. Ot
    October 21, 2008 at 3:57 PM

    This latest desi booker winner seems to be a bigger humbug than I thought he was. The master-servant theory may have validity in the badlands of Bihar (even which, incidentally, is improving thanks to edging Lalu out) but in a big city like Delhi? Where “servants” actually got on news murdering their “masters”?

  14. October 21, 2008 at 2:48 PM

    It is never as simple as that. What keeps a society functioning is the inherent morality of the masses. There is a thing called ‘zameer’; conscience if you will, that stands in the way of normal poor people committing financial crimes. As much as honesty and the concept of ‘haram’ is drummed into the common man’s minds from an early age, I wish more such concepts like cleanliness, following civic duties and a pursuit for excellence were given equal importance.

  15. Niketan
    October 21, 2008 at 12:43 PM

    Many of these businesses, especially those managed by Bombay Gujaratis have an unwritten code of ethics – even some of the underworld businesses such as hawala. Goldsmiths and jewellers for example routinely deal in these transactions with cash and there is no cheating. The most popular sweet vendorin the Bombay suburb where I used to stay also never weighed any of the sweets he was selling to his customers – but there was no cheating at all. In fact the sweet packet would weigh a little more than what we paid for.Even his customers never asked him to weigh the sweets.

    What is fascinating in this is the entire business ecosystem. But the author is viewing it from one angle only. Not surprising when you write for the western audience and that too as rightly mentioned as a template filler.

    Any update on the Aavarna English translation

  16. October 21, 2008 at 9:45 AM

    :)
    Delivery man is just as ‘honest’ as the Bank cashier is. He too deals in hard currency many times over in a day. Wonder Adiga ever met one! Or if he only deals through ATM’s, he would surely have seen the poorly paid guard at the ATM gate, “equally Honest” not less than any other.

    I agree with “..that the biggest intellectual celebrity is also the one with zero commonsense.”

    :)

    PI.

  17. Rk
    October 21, 2008 at 6:31 AM

    Why does everything have to be “this” or “that” ? I hate generalizations..

  18. October 21, 2008 at 12:29 AM

    That was the first thing I considered and I myself believe it. But, that is hard to prove, it may be just my personal belief. But, it is a fact that there is something called law and order in this country and a man cannot simply “take the money and run”! It was that taking and running that made me think about police, jail etc. This is also more about a person contemplating a crime, what would stop him? And any number of explanations seem better than the servant-master one.

  19. Ghostwriter
    October 21, 2008 at 12:04 AM

    Much as I agree with the rest of what Meera has said – I think the reason for the delivery man not taking the money has something to do with jail, but it also has something to do with following Dharma. Most Indians – and yes that includes poor ones are imbued with a moral sense (contrary to what the English media will tell you). That moral sense extends to treating servants well, which also arises out of Dharma. I know of a small business man who paid for the surgery of his delivery guy (who incidentally delivered on a Rickshaw), because that was the right thing to do. Indians dont stand around and talk about providing universal health insurance – they act by addressing the issue and providing care when they can to those that cannot afford it. And yes – that has a Dharmic basis

  20. kaafir
    October 20, 2008 at 9:41 PM

    I wonder why the UPS guy just doesn’t take his truck and all the delivery items in it and run away? What makes him honest? Oh I get it. Master-and-slave structure.

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