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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.