“What a fucking joke!”, that quote is what I was repeating like a mantra when reading Aravind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger. The narrator introduces that phrase at the beginning of the story and when I go through his encounters I can’t help but to say it too. This novel takes place in India and the story of India’s dark side is told through a very peculiar yet attention grabbing format. The author represents this novel to his readers by creating the illusion that his narrator is writing a one-sided conversational letter to the Premier of China telling him the truth about India’s financial, political and social situation. Post-Colonialism is the era in which this novel is set and man are the repercussions bad for throughout the novel corruption, pain and misery, and darkness are overwhelming like the heady stench of decomposing flesh.
Corruption is like a gushing wound, the more you try to cover it up the more it bleeds. It seems that no place is free from corruption, it is everywhere even in India, a place that foreigners see as a vacation getaway but to which the poor see as hell on Earth. Balram sums up corruption as the poor having to kiss asses just to stay alive and keep their families alive as well. Based on what Balram says in the novel the politician are as corrupted, maybe a bit more, as the British in the colonial era who ruled the land. Even the police are slimy for Balmram states that in order to get what you want “you’ll have to keep paying and paying the fuckers” (187). Bribery is what keeps the rich alive in the corrupt arena of life in India. Ashok and his brother had to pay “half a million rupees in a bribe” (80) to the Great Socialist and his people in order to remain at the top of the social hierarchy. Even Balram experiences corruption in his soul as he states that “[he]was corrupted from a sweet, innocent village fool into a citified fellow full of debauchery, depravity, and wickedness” because “they happened first in Mr. Ashok.
He returned from America an innocent man, but life in Delhi corrupted him—and once the master of the Honda City becomes corrupted, how can the driver stay innocent?” (80). The corrupt government kill those wo stand in their way and have no remorse, this creates fear Balram relates one’s physical appearance to the level of corruption they bask in. If someone has a round belly it means that they are corrupt, the poor people who are too poor to be corrupt are skinny and have flat bellies with protruding rib cages. However; even the poor can become corrupt, and Balram is convicted of this by his family, especially his granny Kusum who tells him via a letter “The city has corrupted your soul and made you selfish, vainglorious, and evil. I knew from the start that this would happen, because you were a spiteful, insolent boy.
Every chance you got you just stared at yourself in a mirror with open lips, and I had to wring your ears to make you do any work” (157). The irony is that she too is corrupt for she is using blackmail as a way to get all of Balram’s paycheck when she says “You must send us money again. If you don’t, we’ll tell your master. Also we have decided to arrange for your wedding on our own, and if you do not come here, we will send the girl to you by bus. I say these things not to threaten you but out of love” (157). In the end when Balram become rich he accepts his corruption as a way of moving up in life. He bribes anyone he can including the police.
Pain is an indirect catalyst for ultimate glory and freedom, the more you get it the more numb you become and that numbness leads to freedom. Balram Halwai presents pain as not only his suffering but on a united front: the suffering of the poor people in India. When Balram was a driver he experienced many physical pain, mostly by hits to the head from his masters. He stretched his hand and smacked my skull with it. “”Take a left from the fountain, you idiot! Don’t you know how to get to the house from here?”” (70), this quote is one of the many examples of abuse Balram faced as a driver and what does he do? Nothing, that’s right nothing, he holds it in and pastes on a faux smiles but deep within his soul he plots his freedom, no matter the consequences. Pain in the form of death is a common thread that links all the people of India, especially the poor. “One brother was set upon while working in the fields; beaten to death there.
That brother’s wife was finished off by three men working together. A sister, still unmarried, was also finished off. Then the house where the family had lived was surrounded by the four henchmen and set on fire”(40), the execution of an entire family is the result of corruption and ends in pain for the innocent who look on and fear for their lives. This side of India, the dark side is submerged in pain and misery. Balram sees how Pinky Madam runs over and kills a little girl and the death is discarded because the victim was poor and seen as a replaceable object to them, the rich but when he is rich and one of his driver kills a poor little boy, Balram sees the pain in the family and helps them out by giving them money and offering a job to the older brother of the departed.
Darkness is the absence of light and in India the poor know darkness well. The idea of ‘the darkness’ is mentioned throughout the story. It is not only a harsh condition of living to them, but also a state of mind. It is a state of mind to the poor because they believe that “the one infallible law of life in the Darkness is that good news becomes bad news—and soon” (22). Their perspective on life may be that of a pessimist but those who have experienced nothing but pain learn to expect nothing but pain and darkness. “Kishan had a lot of news for me—and since this was the Darkness, all of it was bad news” (51) this quote represents the typical mentality of those in the darkness, no news is good news. Balram repeats that “[he] was born and raised in Darkness” (10) and that makes him strive for excellency, for a chance to be in the light. He also mentions that “India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness” (10). Life in the rooster coop: the stage of no hope is different that anywhere else because for the poor people “things are different in the Darkness.
There, every morning, tens of thousands of young men sit in the tea shops, reading the newspaper, or lie on a charpoy humming a tune, or sit in their rooms talking to a photo of a film actress. They have no job to do today. They know they won’t get any job today. They’ve given up the fight” (32) this resignation is what many Indians who live in the darkness experience their only way to escape the rooster coop is death. Those in the darkness praise those from the light and they crave to become employed, especially to be employed and wear a uniform “[those] who grow up in the Darkness value most of all. A uniform. A khaki uniform!” (40) because that represents their escape from the darkness into the light. People of the darkness can be seen from a mile away as if they have it tattooed on their forehead, and everyone knows it, even themselves.
They are stereotyped by all escpecially the rich. “They have come from the Darkness too—you can tell by their thin bodies, filthy faces, by the animal-like way they live under the huge bridges and overpasses, making fires and washing and taking lice out of their hair while the cars roar past them” (69), “You know how those people in the Darkness are: they have eight, nine, ten children—sometimes they don’t know the names of their own children” (98), and “Sometimes these people from the Darkness are so stupid” (161) are some of the stereotypes that have been plastered on to those in the darkness. Is it fair? no. But then again the country is submerged in corruption.
It saddens me to know the true state of India and I applaud Aravind Adiga for writing this remarkable story that represents what the true meaning of ‘enlightenment’ is and not the cover up that the government tries to pull off in order to attract tourists. I also commend him on providing comedic relief which made this story in perfect equilibrium. This story was an enjoyable read even though it made me say the afore mentioned curse-phrase a lot during the read. The corruption and death are real in the story and it opens up my thinking about corruption reaching a whole new level. This novel represents post colonialism perfectly for it shows us that the footprints of colonialism is still traveled upon by corrupt leaders and wealthy elites. No matter where we go we are faced with hardships but be thankful for what you have because life may seem bad but it could be a lot worse, we could be those in the darkness who are abused and victimized but still wake up with the hope of a better day.
Courtney from Study Moose
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