Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Slumdog reality

The White TigerImage via Wikipedia
I just finished reading Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger" and find myself in a curious place between anger and acceptance. The novel is unsparingly scathing in its appraisal of India's 'progress' post liberalization and  its hard to deny that it is brilliantly written. Its been a while since I raced through a book in a couple of days as I managed to do with this one.

"Slumdog Millionaire" was a horribly made movie especially in contrast to the sheer brilliance of the writing in "The White Tiger" but for the moment I'll put both of them under a single spotlight as portrayers of an image of India that we'd rather turn our faces away from. They are more a recreation of how a Westerner would like to perceive India as. We don't live like that, we console ourselves, yet that is the image that a Westerner wants to retain - as "the poor people, hungry people" scene of Munnabhai MBBS fame illustrates. We have fine world-class buildings, houses, schools and factories, we claim, wondering why don't the Westerners discuss those for a change!

It is so sad that we continue to pull this wool over our eyes. Crores of our people live in those sub-human conditions, on our city's footpaths, in our city's slums, in faraway villages without the most basic of amenities and mostly without even enough food, unable to lead a respectable life, caught in the vicious quicksand of communal violence, extremist regionalism, social evils like the caste system, overwhelming corruption and unimaginable levels of poverty. So obscenely are the odds stacked against our country that it is a wonder that we haven't self destructed as a nation already. 

The novel speaks in the voice of the protagonist of the metaphorical 'white tiger' who will have to, will need to eliminate certain obstacles in his way in the foulest way possible to even achieve a humanly acceptable standard of living. Or he will have to stay trapped forever in the cage which his birth and economic situation have plunged him into. As of today, there is no way forward for the hardworking, honest fellow (Was there ever though?) especially with respect to that strata of our nation, the majority of our population actually, which has difficulty in making two ends meet and is at the mercy of the government's 'welfare' schemes. Intelligence fortunately or unfortunately is not just a privilege of the rich and the comfortable. So if some drastic action is not taken to correct the injustice in the system and to remove the stink of thievery in broad daylight from it, we will indeed become a nation of 'white tigers', a nation of super-intelligent criminals who have discovered that the wrong way was the only right way to survival and success.

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Kunnu said...

The article is well written, as usual. However, I beg to differ on some points :)
First, Slumdog millionaire, I thought was a very well made movie, despite its horrible descriptions of the Indian society. It did hurt seeing some scenes in that movie (Remember, here is a real america son??). That was plain BS. I still liked the movie because of its somewhat uplifting theme.
On the other hand, I actually hated
The white tiger. Once I finished, I developed such hatred for the story and theme, that I wanted to ask the author - So, thats how 'you' have come this far??.
This hatred, partly may have come due to the fact that the protagonist shown hails from my own city. And Living there for my first 20 years of my life, I know, that it is not true. I mean, what was the point. Every poor former cab driver who might have gotten big in society is a killer? Deeply hurt and disappointed.

That may be narrow thinking, but I will stand by it.
And being the eternal optimist that I am, I still think, a honest worker has every chance in our society to make it good.

Kumar Bibek said...

@Kunnu: "a honest worker has every chance in our society to make it good" provided he is not in anyway obstructed by the other lot. But that's not the reality.

People do sometimes, become desperate enough to change their outlook and habits to break free. And I don't see anything wrong in that, well, of course, there's always a limit to everything.

Roy said...

@Kunnu: "Slumdog Millionaire" I thought was a really bad movie plain and simple not only because of the "Here is real America" BS. No part of the story seemed to be emotionally appealing. Everything was hammed, the script, the acting and the execution. Once again, my personal opinion.

"The White Tiger" is a class piece of writing no matter how critical of India the author comes out as. This is fiction and from the point of view of the protagonist, all his thoughts ring true. If you read some articles that Aravind Adiga has written (, you'll be surprised to find that this guy loves India, Gandhi and everything else that you and me idolize. Its just that he wants to project the desperation that a man in a position like Balram Halwai feels and feels the cynicism about the "truthful and fair path" strongly. Its only natural given the current state of affairs in the country, He is not a India hater like say Arundhati Roy or V.S. Naipaul. And frankly speaking, I found him to be the most brilliant writer I've read in the past few years, period!

Roy said...

@Psychs: Being an optimist always helps but I agree with you that the conditions are not at all feasible for completely honest worker. But then no one ever tries taking failure as a foregone conclusion.

@Kunnu: The book portrays a possible situation. Of course in real life, every killer driver is arrested and jailed. In real life, for a man of Balram's social status, even achieving "White Tiger" success is not possible. He has to become an out-and-out gangster! A runaway driver no matter how much money he steals will never have the political and economic clout to buy off the police unlike politicians and businessmen. Honest worker equals success is an option (like the book mentions) for people like you and me who are in such a financial and educational position that they won't at least go to bed hungry everyday no matter what path we choose. For the extremely poor and half educated who live on the footpaths of our nation, it is almost always a choice between becoming a dumb slave or a criminal master. Morals and ideals become a little flexible when survival is at stake.

Kunnu said...

@Roy - I will definitely check out the interview. In office right now.

I have no doubt that he is a India Lover and Gandhi Lover and that he is a brilliant writer.

But why write a fictional story which will be read and analysed by a world audience and create a tampered impression of a country which is still trying to break free. Does not go with me at all. Again personal opinion.

I feel the cynicism about the "truthful and fair path" strongly too, but if I love my country, I will always portray the image of my country as positive as possible. My country has thousand negatives to go with it, but instead of fictionalizing it in a book, I will honestly work to eradicate it. And I will find a way.

Roy said...

@Kunnu: Well, I for one he has not created a "tampered" impression of the country. It is certainly a point of view that many in this country itself have that "thodaa toh chaltaa hai"! "Thodaa" is again a relative term. For well-off people like in the novel, "thodaa" is cheating crores on taxes while they will pray to Laxmi and roll their eyes in pious horror at murder. But for the extremely poor man, "thodaa" might as well be the murder of a man. The situation he portays is a reality in our country and the characters and situations are composites of what he has seen, not real people and situations (See his interview). All he wants is to set his readers thinking, whether they agree with his character or not. I think he has achieved that and that he has written the novel with the best intentions of selling it and with the intention of shaking up a few people like you into doing something great for the country. Hidden away in some little lines of his book, you'll find a hope for something better to come and a bitterness at things in the country going the wrong way. I think he is a genius!

Kunnu said...

@Roy - I for one, do not need to read a fictional novel to know the reality of my country and getting inspired to do something great.

I have my eyes open to shake me up. I am not one of 'few people' who will read the book and will suddenly get aware of the pseudo-india shining syndrome. I have been aware of the situation all along and will follow my own way to tackle it.

We just have different opinions on the book, but we both know, we have better intentions for our country. Peace.