Suetonius was adept at turning a phrase and moving his listeners. Aravind Ariga’s The White Tiger countermanded the ‘India is emerging’ rhetoric with scintillating insights into the realities of two India’s - the darkness and the brightness, the grinding poverty and escaping the Chicken Coop, where others dump on you, from abject poverty to riches. This Indian journalist, living in Mumbai, personalises the almost fictional Balram Halwai’s escape from village life to life as a tea-boy to eventually heading a taxi company. Balram Halwai is always a man who sees ‘tomorrow’ when others see today.
Balram became The White Tiger because the school inspector was pleased with his command of English and described him as the creature that comes along only once in a generation.
The White Tiger tells the Chinese Premier the lessons he learned on the street as a modern Indian entrepreneur in letter form. This letter is episodic and is written over seven nights in his chandelier furnished plush offices. Black humour, happenstance, realism, murder and lack of sentimentality are mesmerising tools of his narrative style.
Balram tells the Chinese Premier that India lacks drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transport, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy or punctuality, but it does have entrepreneurs.
He reassures China this is the century of the yellow and brown man because white men are marrying
Balram’s ascendancy was helped by his family paying for driving lessons and his targeting Mr Ashok, a relative of Mr Big, a landlord in his village, for a job as a driver. Balram quickly progressed to Driver Number One by exposing Ram Persad’s Muslim background. Balram progressed further by reading about Gandhi and Buddha.
Political corruption was rife. ‘Am I not a human being too?’ earned a protester a beating from the police when he was prevented from voting. Balram signed a confession that he killed a child when, in fact, his employer was driving. Why take the blame for their good solid rich masters? Balram refused an arranged marriage and stopped sending money to his village.
Dharam, a nephew, was sent to Balram as an apprentice driver. Balram killed Mr Ashok swiftly, believing he was to be replaced and took his political bribe money as seed capital. His justification - everyone who counts in this world has killed someone or other on their way to the top. A check on late night workers at call centres secured a lucrative market for his taxi company in Bangalore. The opposition – a hefty bribe for the police inspector cleared all uninsured drivers. The market was open.
Dharam a potential threat could be paid off. Was his family murdered by Mr Ashok’s clan?
Where will this end?