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The White Tiger

by

The White Tiger Cover

ISBN13: 9781416562603
ISBN10: 1416562605
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

The First Night

For the Desk of:

His Excellency Wen Jiabao
The Premier's Office
Beijing
Capital of the Freedom-loving Nation of China

From the Desk of:

"The White Tiger"
A Thinking Man
And an Entrepreneur
Living in the world's center of Technology and Outsourcing
Electronics City Phase 1 (just off Hosur Main Road)
Bangalore, India

Mr. Premier,

Sir.

Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English.

My ex-employer the late Mr. Ashok's ex-wife, Pinky Madam, taught me one of these things; and at 11:32 p.m. today, which was about ten minutes ago, when the lady on All India Radio announced, "Premier Jiabao is coming to Bangalore next week," I said that thing at once.

In fact, each time when great men like you visit our country I say it. Not that I have anything against great men. In my way, sir, I consider myself one of your kind. But whenever I see our prime minister and his distinguished sidekicks drive to the airport in black cars and get out and do namastes before you in front of a TV camera and tell you about how moral and saintly India is, I have to say that thing in English.

Now, you are visiting us this week, Your Excellency, aren't you? All India Radio is usually reliable in these matters.

That was a joke, sir.

Ha!

That's why I want to ask you directly if you really are coming to Bangalore. Because if you are, I have something important to tell you. See, the lady on the radio said, "Mr. Jiabao is on a mission: he wants to know the truth about Bangalore."

My blood froze. If anyone knows the truth about Bangalore, it's me.

Next, the lady announcer said, "Mr. Jiabao wants to meet some Indian entrepreneurs and hear the story of their success from their own lips."

She explained a little. Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don't have entrepreneurs. And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs. Thousands and thousands of them. Especially in the field of technology. And these entrepreneurs — we entrepreneurs — have set up all these outsourcing companies that virtually run America now.

You hope to learn how to make a few Chinese entrepreneurs, that's why you're visiting. That made me feel good. But then it hit me that in keeping with international protocol, the prime minister and foreign minister of my country will meet you at the airport with garlands, small take-home sandalwood statues of Gandhi, and a booklet full of information about India's past, present, and future.

That's when I had to say that thing in English, sir. Out loud.

That was at 11:37 p.m. Five minutes ago.

I don't just swear and curse. I'm a man of action and change. I decided right there and then to start dictating a letter to you.To begin with, let me tell you of my great admiration for the ancient nation of China.

I read about your history in a book, Exciting Tales of the Exotic East, that I found on the pavement, back in the days when I was trying to get some enlightenment by going through the Sunday secondhand book market in Old Delhi. This book was mostly about pirates and gold in Hong Kong, but it did have some useful background information too: it said that you Chinese are great lovers of freedom and individual liberty. The British tried to make you their servants, but you never let them do it. I admire that, Mr. Premier.

I was a servant once, you see.

Only three nations have never let themselves be ruled by foreigners: China, Afghanistan, and Abyssinia. These are the only three nations I admire.

Out of respect for the love of liberty shown by the Chinese people, and also in the belief that the future of the world lies with the yellow man and the brown man now that our erstwhile master, the white-skinned man, has wasted himself through buggery, cell phone usage, and drug abuse, I offer to tell you, free of charge, the truth about Bangalore.

By telling you my life's story.

See, when you come to Bangalore, and stop at a traffic light, some boy will run up to your car and knock on your window, while holding up a bootlegged copy of an American business book, wrapped carefully in cellophane and with a title like:

TEN SECRETS OF BUSINESS SUCCESS!

or

BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR IN SEVEN EASY DAYS!

Don't waste your money on those American books. They're so yesterday.

I am tomorrow.

In terms of formal education, I may be somewhat lacking. I never finished school, to put it bluntly. Who cares! I haven't read many books, but I've read all the ones that count. I know by heart the works of the four greatest poets of all time — Rumi, Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, and a fourth fellow whose name I forget. I am a self-taught entrepreneur.

That's the best kind there is, trust me.

When you have heard the story of how I got to Bangalore and became one of its most successful (though probably least known) businessmen, you will know everything there is to know about how entrepreneurship is born, nurtured, and developed in this, the glorious twenty-first century of man.

The century, more specifically, of the yellow and the brown man.

You and me.

It is a little before midnight now, Mr. Jiabao. A good time for me to talk.

I stay up the whole night, Your Excellency. And there's no one else in this 150-square-foot office of mine. Just me and a chandelier above me, although the chandelier has a personality of its own. It's a huge thing, full of small diamond-shaped glass pieces, just like the ones they used to show in the films of the 1970s. Though it's cool enough at night in Bangalore, I've put a midget fan — five cobwebby blades — right above the chandelier. See, when it turns, the small blades chop up the chandelier's light and fling it across the room. Just like the strobe light at the best discos in Bangalore.

This is the only 150-square-foot space in Bangalore with its own chandelier! But it's still a hole in the wall, and I sit here the whole night.

The entrepreneur's curse. He has to watch his business all the time.

Now I'm going to turn the midget fan on, so that the chandelier's light spins around the room.

I am relaxed, sir. As I hope you are.

Let us begin.

Before we do that, sir, the phrase in English that I learned from my ex-employer the late Mr. Ashok's ex-wife Pinky Madam is:

What a fucking joke.

— — —

Now, I no longer watch Hindi films — on principle — but back in the days when I used to, just before the movie got started, either the number 786 would flash against the black screen — the Muslims think this is a magic number that represents their god — or else you would see the picture of a woman in a white sari with gold sovereigns dripping down to her feet, which is the goddess Lakshmi, of the Hindus.

It is an ancient and venerated custom of people in my country to start a story by praying to a Higher Power.

I guess, Your Excellency, that I too should start off by kissing some god's arse.

Which god's arse, though? There are so many choices.

See, the Muslims have one god.

The Christians have three gods.

And we Hindus have 36,000,000 gods.

Making a grand total of 36,000,004 divine arses for me to choose from.

Now, there are some, and I don't just mean Communists like you, but thinking men of all political parties, who think that not many of these gods actually exist. Some believe that none of them exist. There's just us and an ocean of darkness around us. I'm no philosopher or poet, how would I know the truth? It's true that all these gods seem to do awfully little work — much like our politicians — and yet keep winning reelection to their golden thrones in heaven, year after year. That's not to say that I don't respect them, Mr. Premier! Don't you ever let that blasphemous idea into your yellow skull. My country is the kind where it pays to play it both ways: the Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, at the same time.

So: I'm closing my eyes, folding my hands in a reverent namaste, and praying to the gods to shine light on my dark story.

Bear with me, Mr. Jiabao. This could take a while.

How quickly do you think you could kiss 36,000,004 arses?

— — —

Done.

My eyes are open again.

11:52 p.m. — and it really is time to start.

A statutory warning — as they say on cigarette packs — before we begin.

One day, as I was driving my ex-employers Mr. Ashok and Pinky Madam in their Honda City car, Mr. Ashok put a hand on my shoulder, and said, "Pull over to the side." Following this command, he leaned forward so close that I could smell his aftershave — it was a delicious, fruitlike smell that day — and said, politely as ever, "Balram, I have a few questions to ask you, all right?"

"Yes, sir," I said.

"Balram," Mr. Ashok asked, "how many planets are there in the sky?"

I gave the answer as best as I could.

"Balram, who was the first prime minister of India?"

And then: "Balram, what is the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim?"

And then: "What is the name of our continent?"

Mr. Ashok leaned back and asked Pinky Madam, "Did you hear his answers?"

"Was he joking?" she asked, and my heart beat faster, as it did every time she said something.

"No. That's really what he thinks the correct answers are."

She giggled when she heard this: but his face, which I saw reflected in my rearview mirror, was serious.

"The thing is, he probably has...what, two, three years of schooling in him? He can read and write, but he doesn't get what he's read. He's half-baked. The country is full of people like him, I'll tell you that. And we entrust our glorious parliamentary democracy" — he pointed at me — "to characters like these. That's the whole tragedy of this country."

He sighed.

"All right, Balram, start the car again."

That night, I was lying in bed, inside my mosquito net, thinking about his words. He was right, sir — I didn't like the way he had spoken about me, but he was right.

"The Autobiography of a Half-Baked Indian." That's what I ought to call my life's story.

Me, and thousands of others in this country like me, are half-baked, because we were never allowed to complete our schooling. Open our skulls, look in with a penlight, and you'll find an odd museum of ideas: sentences of history or mathematics remembered from school textbooks (no boy remembers his schooling like one who was taken out of school, let me assure you), sentences about politics read in a newspaper while waiting for someone to come to an office, triangles and pyramids seen on the torn pages of the old geometry textbooks which every tea shop in this country uses to wrap its snacks in, bits of All India Radio news bulletins, things that drop into your mind, like lizards from the ceiling, in the half hour before falling asleep — all these ideas, half formed and half digested and half correct, mix up with other half-cooked ideas in your head, and I guess these half-formed ideas bugger one another, and make more half-formed ideas, and this is what you act on and live with.

The story of my upbringing is the story of how a half-baked fellow is produced.

But pay attention, Mr. Premier! Fully formed fellows, after twelve years of school and three years of university, wear nice suits, join companies, and take orders from other men for the rest of their lives.

Entrepreneurs are made from half-baked clay.

— — —

To give you the basic facts about me — origin, height, weight, known sexual deviations, etc. — there's no beating that poster. The one the police made of me.

Calling myself Bangalore's least known success story isn't entirely true, I confess. About three years ago, when I became, briefly, a person of national importance owing to an act of entrepreneurship, a poster with my face on it found its way to every post office, railway station, and police station in this country. A lot of people saw my face and name back then. I don't have the original paper copy, but I've downloaded an image to my silver Macintosh laptop — I bought it online from a store in Singapore, and it really works like a dream — and if you'll wait a second, I'll open the laptop, pull that scanned poster up, and read from it directly...

But a word about the original poster. I found it in a train station in Hyderabad, in the period when I was traveling with no luggage — except for one very heavy red bag — and coming down from Delhi to Bangalore. I had the original right here in this office, in the drawer of this desk, for a full year. One day the cleaning boy was going through my stuff, and he almost found the poster. I'm not a sentimental man, Mr. Jiabao. Entrepreneurs can't afford to be. So I threw the thing out — but before that, I got someone to teach me scanning — and you know how we Indians just take to technology like ducks to water. It took just an hour, or two hours. I am a man of action, sir. And here it is, on the screen, in front of me:

Assistance Sought in Search for Missing Man
General Public is hereby informed that the man in the picture namely Balram Halwai alias MUNNA son of Vikram Halwai rickshaw-puller is wanted for questioning.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 14 comments:

Patusan, September 25, 2011 (view all comments by Patusan)
I hate to admit this, but I didn't even have White Tiger in the stack by my bed until my sister said the reliable readers in her book club loved it. A tragicomic view from the next-to-bottom rung of the globalized economic ladder. Not among the completely dispossessed, the main character is a survivor in the mass migration from the village to the metropolis. His first-person narrative fascinates us with detail and pains us with the narcissism of small differences as he unself-consciously aspires to advance in life while expressing his disdain for those above and below him. White Tiger gives that sense of universal humanity that the novel is the highest expression of.
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possumkid, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by possumkid)
Awesome black comedy of the way life is in India. For rolling around on the floor laughing and for insights into survival as an underdog on the sub-continent, this is THE book.
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Tori, July 15, 2010 (view all comments by Tori)
There is something about Balram that has stayed with me ever since I finished The White Tiger. He is at once abhorrent, disgusting, pitiable and yet somehow, I cheered him on every step of the way. I rejoiced for him, worried for him and felt like I was there with him when he commits his drastic act of defiance. I will not make excuses for him, but I will say that I forgave him entirely.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781416562603
Author:
Adiga, Aravind
Publisher:
Free Press
Author:
Mukherjee, Bharati
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Mystery & Detective - General
Subject:
Poor
Subject:
Businesspeople
Subject:
Mystery fiction
Subject:
Epistolary fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
The White Tiger, adiga, novel, Balram Halwai, India, caste, caste system, education, Indian business, outsourcing, booker prize, booker short list, service, servitude, indentured, Bangalore, contradictions and complications of Indian society
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
Publication Date:
20081031
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 9.99 lb
Age Level:
Between 25 and 35. Complexion: Blackish. Face: Ova

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The White Tiger Used Trade Paper
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$7.95 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Free Press - English 9781416562603 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

A remarkable first novel, ingeniously written in the form of a letter to the Chinese premier soon to visit India, Adiga's dark yet witty debut brings to Western readers the tense drama of a developing country and a character caught up in corruption and class struggle.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "First-time author Adiga has created a memorable tale of one taxi driver's hellish experience in modern India. Told with close attention to detail, whether it be the vivid portrait of India he paints or the transformation of Balram Halwai into a bloodthirsty murderer, Adiga writes like a seasoned professional. John Lee delivers an absolutely stunning performance, reading with a realistic and unforced East Indian dialect. He brings the story to life, reading with passion and respect for Adiga's prose. Lee currently sits at the top of the professional narrator's ladder; an actor so gifted both in his delivery and expansive palette of vocal abilities that he makes it sound easy. A Free Press hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 14). (May)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Extraordinary and brilliant....Adiga is a real writer — that is to say, someone who forges an original voice and vision."
"Review" by , "Fierce and funny....A satire as sharp as it gets."
"Review" by , "An exhilarating, side-splitting account of India today, as well as an eloquent howl at her many injustices. Adiga enters the literary scene resplendent in battle dress and ready to conquer. Let us bow to him."
"Review" by , "Darkly comic....Balram's appealingly sardonic voice and acute observations of the social order are both winning and unsettling."
"Review" by , "This fast-moving novel, set in India, is being sold as a corrective to the glib, dreamy exoticism Western readers often get....If these are the hands that built India, their grandkids really are going to kick America's ass....BUY IT."
"Review" by , "Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger is one of the most powerful books I've read in decades. No hyperbole. This debut novel from an Indian journalist living in Mumbai hit me like a kick to the head — the same effect Richard Wright's Native Son and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man had."
"Review" by , "There is a new Muse stalking global narrative: brown, angry, hilarious, half-educated, rustic-urban, iconoclastic, paan-spitting, word-smithing — and in the case of Aravind Adiga she hails from a town called Laxmangarh. This is the authentic voice of the Third World, like you've never heard it before. Adiga is a global Gorky, a modern Kipling who grew up, and grew up mad. The future of the novel lies here."
"Review" by , "Adiga's training as a journalist lends the immediacy of breaking news to his writing, but it is his richly detailed storytelling that will captivate his audience....The White Tiger echoes masterpieces of resistance and oppression (both The Jungle and Native Son come to mind)...[and] contains passages of startling beauty....A book that carefully balances fable and pure observation."
"Synopsis" by , The white tiger of this novel is Balram Halwai, a poor Indian villager whose great ambition leads him to the zenith of Indian business culture, the world of the Bangalore entrepreneur. On the occasion of the president of China’s impending trip to Bangalore, Balram writes a letter to him describing his transformation and his experience as driver and servant to a wealthy Indian family, which he thinks exemplifies the contradictions and complications of Indian society.

The White Tiger recalls The Death of Vishnu and Bangkok 8 in ambition, scope, and narrative genius, with a mischief and personality all its own. Amoral, irreverent, deeply endearing, and utterly contemporary, this novel is an international publishing sensation — and a startling, provocative debut.

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